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James Harden and the pocket pass

In recent years I’ve observed basketball as a game of strategic calculation more so than spontaneous aesthetic beauty. How are teams defending the pick-and-roll? What offensive movement is taking place on the weak-side while the ball sits on the opposite wing? Who is picking up who in transition?

Automatically, these are the questions I ask myself while watching an NBA game, whether it be with friends over beers in a noisy sports bar, or by myself, sitting on a couch balancing Tweetdeck and a sandwich on my lap. Years ago it was different. These technical aspects of the sport were still important, but at the time I wasn’t chronicling any action in written form (which makes watching it a much more contemplative experience).

At one point I watched basketball more for pure enjoyment than anything else (though that reasoning still makes up a huge chunk as to why I tune in); guys like David Robinson and Tim Hardaway doing things with the ball that made me throw my feet in the air and squeal every time they were scheduled for national television.

For extended stretches, watching the Houston Rockets this season has brought me back to how it used to be. I still approach their games from a critical viewpoint—taking notes on what makes Houston’s transition offense so successful and why they struggle on the defensive end whenever Omer Asik takes a seat on the bench—but the prodigious talent who is James Harden has me acting like a kid again, giggling and doing real life SMH motions ad nauseum.

My absolute favorite action that pops up half a dozen, if not more, times per game? The pocket pass. Now that Steve Nash has become an ephemeral shell of his former self, nobody in basketball delivers it on the money like Harden, and nobody makes it look easier. This single move is appreciated more than any other, equally, through my eyes as a fan and a writer.

For all the reasons Daryl Morey gave him a five-year maximum value contract, Harden’s ability to split two pick-and-roll defenders with a beautifully timed bounce pass is probably the least appreciated. Personally, it’s my favorite part of watching him play. It brings out the inner child in me who loves basketball for all the simplest reasons.

When Harden recognizes the roll man defender is committed to either getting the ball out of his hands or forcing a difficult shot, he slides a pass right to his open teammate, instantly putting him in a position to score. It’s lovely. Not only does Harden refuse to force the issue and settle for a low percentage shot, but most of the time he gets teammates involved without even looking in their direction. (Seriously, how do you defend this guy?)

For those who don’t know what a pocket pass is, it’s when a ball-handler hits a rolling screener with a bounce pass from his hip. When done right, the play becomes basketball caviar. I’ve compiled five clips for your viewing pleasure below. Enjoy, whether you prefer taking basketball in as an analyst or pleasure seeking fan.


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Total comments: 7
  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    Even though some times it's the cause of an ugly turnover and easy points for the opponent, the way that Harden executes it it's beautiful, it seems so simple and yet, it has to be precise, specially when you are throwing the ball to Asik (which by the way, with this play, has scored way more points that we all predicted before the season, really, nobody thought he would compile that much double-doubles).

    Since the Dallas game, we've been talking about hero ball and all that stuff, but the truth is that Harden is making everyone around him better, and that is the definition of star player. Glad OKC opted to keep Ibaka :D

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    I want to jump like T-Rob just once in my life....I imagine it's how I feel on a trampoline :D

  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago

    Thomas Robinson has way better hands and finishing ability making him a superior PnR parther, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we start seeing some Robinson causing a ruckus on the PnR.

    totally agree.........would also work real nice with howard............keep hope alive :lol:

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Thomas Robinson has way better hands and finishing ability making him a superior PnR parther, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we start seeing some Robinson causing a ruckus on the PnR.

  • Jeby says 1 YEAR ago Those passes have turned Asik into a passable (pun gun!) offensive player this year. Hopefully they can do the same for Thomas Robinson.
  • feelingsupersonic says 1 YEAR ago That's bound to happen since this is a new team. What he does though is let all his team know that if you're playing two man with him you better find the space, roll hard and be ready to take it up or find the weak side guy. It is so early in the development of Harden and the Rockets that I think that turnover becomes more rare next season.
  • Ostrow says 1 YEAR ago

    He does it to much in my opinion. A lot of times he doesn't look and just kind of throws it a prays. It works a lot, but when he throws it and no one is there, or he throws it in to a leg I get frustrated.

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