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Monday, May 02, 2022

Harden's "Concert Tour" Continues as Heat Rout 76ers

"We on award tour with Muhammad, my man/Going each and every place with the mic in their hand/New York, NJ, N.C., VA."--A Tribe Called Quest, "Award Tour"

Jalen Rose had the line of the season when he said that James Harden's field goal numbers look like concert tour dates. Every time I watch Harden play now, I think of the classic A Tribe Called Quest song "Award Tour," but I insert my own lyrics as if Harden is the lead singer:

"We on award tour with Daryl Morey, my man/Going each and every place shooting bricks with either hand/Philly, Toronto, Miami."  

Harden's "concert tour" rolled into Miami for a May 13 tour date as he shot 5-13 from the field in Miami's 106-92 game one second round win versus his Philadelphia 76ers. Harden finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and five turnovers. Even with Joel Embiid out of the lineup because of a concussion and a fractured orbital bone, Harden was no better than the third best player on his team. Tobias Harris scored a game-high 27 points on 11-18 field goal shooting. As Shaquille O'Neal said during TNT's halftime show, Harris has the "triple green light" now because "He's the go-to guy." Harris showed once again that he can attack off of the dribble, make jumpers, and create plays for his teammates. Tyrese Maxey did not have a great game, but he kept attacking, and he finished with 19 points on 6-15 field goal shooting. In contrast, Harden--who is angling for a contract extension worth hundreds of millions of dollars and that would pay him past his 38th birthday--shot 1-4 from the field in the second half as the 76ers went from enjoying a 52-51 halftime lead to losing by double digits.

The Heat, playing without injured All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry and with a sore-kneed Jimmy Butler, did not play their best game, but they pulled away in the fourth quarter as Harden watched and waited for someone to save the day. Tyler Herro led the Heat with 25 points on 9-17 field goal shooting. Bam Adebayo, who should have received more opportunities in the absence of Embiid, finished with 24 points on 8-10 field goal shooting, plus 12 rebounds and four assists. Butler had 15 points and nine rebounds, but he shot just 5-16 from the field while looking nothing like the player who averaged more than 30 ppg in the first four games of the first round versus Atlanta before sitting out game five due to a knee injury.

Remember, when this season began we were told that Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving formed the nucleus of what could be the greatest offense ever. That is just another example of the extent to which many media members are deeply invested in the "James Harden is an all-time great" narrative; they voted him to the All-NBA First Team when he was not one of the league's top two guards, they gave him an MVP, and they even put him on the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team. These media members are never going to admit that they were wrong about Harden, so the new narrative emerging recently is that Harden--who is just 32 years old--has lost a step and does not have the skills that he supposedly used to have. However, anyone who has followed Harden for his entire career can apply the eye test and understand that Harden now is the same player that he has been ever since he fled Oklahoma City to be the number one option in Houston. For years, he relied on (1) being rewarded with free throw attempts after plowing into defenders, (2) traveling on his so-called "step back" move to gain space to shoot three pointers, and (3) being rewarded with three free throw attempts after falling to the ground like an assassination victim during his three point field goal attempts. In short, he did not master basketball but rather he mastered "flop and flail." This enabled Harden to "efficiently" score 25-30 points during games when he shot 5-17 from the field but made 15 or 20 free throws. Also, this made defenders so wary of being called for fouls that many coaches--most notably Gregg Popovich--instructed their players to guard Harden with their hands behind their backs. Obviously, it was a lot easier for Harden to make shots when his opponents literally played with their hands tied. It is telling that Harden's field goal percentage was never very good even during the years when defenders often avoided contesting his shots.

Harden has not slowed down, but the game has caught up with him. For example, consider what happened at the 6:11 mark of the first quarter of tonight's game: Harden made the exact same move at the exact same speed that he has done for a decade, but this time Harden was correctly whistled for a charge after he plowed into P.J. Tucker. The NBA has--finally--decided to officiate correctly. Now, when Harden has a "concert tour" date like his 5-13 performance versus Miami he ends up with 16 points instead of 30. 

It's not too late for media members to admit that they were wrong about Harden--well, actually, it is a bit late, unless the league is going to retroactively reallocate awards to their rightful recipients. Adrian Dantley, who drew legitimate foul calls and had a real--i.e., non-traveling--step back move should have been on the 75th Anniversary Team (as should have Chris Bosh, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Dwight Howard, Bernard King, and Tracy McGrady). Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, and Damian Lillard are other overrated active players who should not have made the 75th Anniversary Team. Maybe a new generation of media members will do better in 25 years when the 100th Anniversary Team is selected. 

The only "award" on Harden's "concert tour" should be "Most Overrated MVP" ever. This is not just about one game; anyone who has ever read my work knows better than to even dare suggest that I would base an overall evaluation of any player on his performance in just one game--even a game seven. For many years, I have criticized the high variance style favored by Daryl Morey and James Harden. Harden is who I said he was. Maybe someday more people will understand that truth, and adjust their historical rankings accordingly to give deserved credit to the players who were truly great.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:24 PM



At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 1:43:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

I call Harden the MOAT - Most Overrated All Time :)

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 11:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That acronym fits, and a moat is a perfect image for how Harden's teams sink in the playoffs.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 4:08:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I agree with your analysis of Harden's game, but it is no longer accurate this year, and likely as far back to last season after he injured that hamstring.

In the first round versus the Raptors, Harden averaged 19 points on 13.2 shots per game, which is a far cry from his halcyon days in Houston where he averaged 28.4 points on 20.4 shots.

Harden actually was more explosive and had a higher vertical in the paint than he currently does. He also no longer has that first step. He hits 33.3% of floaters this past season, which is down from 46.7% from the last 4 years. In Houston, Harden blew by his defender on 48.2% of his drives on scoring attempts. This year, it's down to 33%. He is only making 48.1% of driving layups compared to 55.7% over the last four seasons.

If you cannot (or will not) see the difference between the 2017 version and the 2022 version, you are faithful to your narrative at the cost of the truth.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 4:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Look away from the spreadsheets, and watch the games. Harden is making the same moves at the same speed now that he did before. The difference is that he is not being rewarded with foul calls, which results in, among other things, (1) fewer free throw attempts for Harden, (2) less foul trouble for the opposing team, and (3) fewer uncontested shots for Harden (because defenders are not in foul trouble and are not hesitant to guard him closely).

Harden's numbers reflect that the game is being officiated correctly now, not that there is some change in his physical ability or skill set.

Correctly officiated, Harden can score an inefficient 18-22 ppg, and if his team permits/encourages him to monopolize the ball then he can accumulate 10 apg for a team that is not particularly effective/efficient offensively.

I write the truth that far too many are unable to see and/or refuse to admit.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 5:59:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Come now. Certainly Big Frame James has always been a bit fraudulent and it is quite clear that the loss of those easy free throws have hurt him plenty but it's equally clear that he's gotten quite a bit fatter and slower relative to his so-called prime. One of my main stones thrown at him really is that he's never had the work ethic truly great players do and it's resulted in a steep athletic decline once his thirties crept up on him and his metabolism stopped covering up his fondness for strip club buffets.

This is nothing to do with Mr. Awet's "spreadsheets" though it may have something to do with Mr. Harden's love for spreads and sheets, namely big meals and late mornings.

You say watch the games. I say you needn't even do that much. Just find a picture of Harden from his best Houston days and hold it up next to one from today. You'd have an easy time guessing which one would step faster and jump higher.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 7:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Harden's physical appearance has fluctuated throughout his career, but he has never had a lean, athletic-looking body, nor has he ever had blazing speed or a propensity for dunking over people. The fundamentally sound parts of his game are based on shooting skill and the necessary strength to finish in the paint through body contact. He is a good passer, though not as good as some people suggest. He developed into a stout post defender, but he has always been a subpar and disinterested perimeter defender. He has never had great work ethic in terms of expanding his skill set or being in tip-top condition. His playoff choking is directly related to his inability to stay mentally focused when facing adversity.

None of this is new, and none of this has changed since a few months ago when the "experts" assured us that Durant, Harden, and Irving were going to win a title while rewriting the "advanced basketball statistics" for offensive efficiency.

What changed is that this season the NBA took major strides toward officiating correctly. This impacted Harden the most because he was the worst offender, but Damian Lillard was affected and some other players have also been affected.

My point about spreadsheets is that the numbers on a page/screen tell us what happened--assuming that the numbers are accurate and relevant--but not why or how. We know that Harden is scoring fewer points and shooting a worse percentage. I am refuting the narrative that the reason for this is that he suddenly got old. The reason is that Harden is not being permitted to get away with the same things that he used to be permitted to do. The play at the 6:11 mark of the first quarter yesterday is just one example. Harden still draws fouls because (1) the officiating is not perfect and (2) he does have the ability to, at times, draw legitimate fouls. However, perhaps the most significant point is that we no longer see the farcical images of defenders "guarding" Harden with their hands behind their backs so that the officials cannot possibly call a foul. Harden, like every other basketball player, shoots a lower percentage when there is a hand in his face.

This isn't complicated. Just look at footage from not long ago when the Spurs "guarded" Harden with their hands behind their backs, and look at footage from yesterday's game. Harden still get to the same spots on the court, but he is not rewarded with as many fouls and he is more often shooting over a defender's hands.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 8:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog for someone looking to be an objective viewer of the game is a joke. If Harden is as bad without "these new rules" (and totally ignoring his grade 2 hamstring injury) as you claim, why are you as obsessed with him as you are? Why not write about the same tour dates for Russell Westbrick? The most inefficient volume scorer of all time, if this isn't too "stat-guru" heavy of a take for your blog to feature.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2022 9:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I generally ignore ignorant comments that cite no evidence, particularly from people who don't provide their real names, but your comment is so stupid that I decided to respond.

1) I am not "obsessed" with Harden. Media members who gave him undeserved honors may be "obsessed" with him, though. I have posted several million words of content in over 2600 articles on this website. A small portion of those words are about Harden, and much of the Harden content is not just about him but about larger issues pertaining to media coverage, "advanced basketball statistics," and Daryl Morey's ludicrous assertions about Harden's value.

2) I have written many articles about Russell Westbrook in which I objectively evaluated his game, and his place in basketball history. Apparently, you missed all of those articles.

3) Who did the "new" (i.e., correct) rules affect more this season, Harden or Westbrook?

You cited no evidence to support your opinion. Let's look at some facts.

Harden's shooting splits this season are .402/.326/.892. His career shooting splits are .442/.361/.860. So, Harden remains an elite free throw shooter, but his field goal percentage and three point percentage declined significantly. I have already explained why that happened.

In contrast, Westbrook's shooting splits this season were .444/.298/.667. His career shooting splits are .438/.305/.783. So, Westbrook's field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage were in line with his career norms. His free throw percentage inexplicably dropped several years ago, but that has nothing to do with the way that fouls are called or not called.

Regardless of what one thinks of Westbrook's shot selection and/or shot efficiency, he did not become a less efficient shooter this season. So, there is no story there, except for people who think that calling him "Westbrick" passes for clever and insightful basketball analysis.

In contrast, Harden's efficiency declined significantly this season, something that I predicted after the NBA announced how the rules would be enforced differently. Further, Harden has always struggled in the playoffs. Jalen Rose's quip is clever, all the more so for being grounded in reality.

Saying "Westbrick" is not clever, nor is it grounded in reality.

You are probably visiting the wrong website. You are looking for mindless writing that confirms your uninformed biases, and you are not going to find that here.


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