The ever-evolving James Harden

That’s pretty frightening.  I was expecting the figure to be significantly lower, but this seems to be a case where the data backs up the eye test.  My guess going in was that the Harden stepback was a creature similar in nature to the Kobe game-winner.  We think he’s making most of them because when it happens, we remember it.  But this is really happening.  If they’re tracking this accurately (I don’t have time to go through all 124 logged attempts), Harden is actually hitting the majority of these types of shots.  That’s absolutely incredible.  It’s almost mind-boggling.  This means James is connecting on the majority of his attempts at the most difficult shot in all of basketball.

We all saw what he did last night to Ricky Rubio, putting the Spanish guard on skates with a vicious jab step.  It makes one wonder what the future holds for Harden.  I’ve noted numerous times that his game should age like fine wine, over time.  He’s basically a case study in building from the ground up, from a solid foundation.  In his early twenties, he mastered the basics of the game–at even a historic level–doing his damage at the rim and from deep.  Now, as he ages, he’s fine tuning the details, maximizing upon the areas defenders had been giving him.  Most of the chatter has surrounded his commitment on the defensive end this season.  But if you’ve been watching closely, Harden’s offensive skill level has dramatically improved.  Obviously the stepback is there, as I noted above.  But the ball-handling is also more deft, with the Beard now more often going to a Tim-Hardaway double cross between the legs as his move of choice.  In recent weeks, I’ve also seen Harden stepback more and more to his dominant hand, arguably the hardest thing in all of basketball to do.  (Harden used to only stepback to his right, a much more comfortable motion because the ball can simply be brought back over to the shooting hand).

It’s exciting to wonder what can come next if he stays healthy.  Harden’s game isn’t reliant upon athleticism, but rather strength and skill, two traits which don’t deteriorate.  To reiterate my thoughts from the past, I’d like to see him come back with a postup game, because I do think that could be very effective from the few times I’ve seen him do it.  Operating from down low could also take some tread off the tires and help the Beard conserve energy.

James has become such a good one-on-one player that it makes me wonder how this will play out in the postseason.  Most people would agree that in today’s age, with the sophistication of NBA defenses, one can’t win a title playing isolation basketball.  We just saw the Spurs crush the Miami Heat playing a free-flowing team game.  The Rockets surely won’t change things in the postseason.  And how could they?  They can’t take the ball out of Harden’s hands the way he’s been going.  But if it doesn’t work, will he adjust next year?

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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