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James Harden blames bad start on lack of ‘pickup’ ball, but anyone can see impact of new free-throw reality

Keep in mind when Daryl Morey mentioned that it was “simply factual” that James Harden was, or is, a better scorer than Michael Jordan, and for that matter the best scorer in NBA historical past? That was wealthy. 

On the time Harden was profitable scoring titles in Houston and, analytically talking, truly validating Morey’s declare. However only a few folks would have agreed with Morey’s evaluation, which was based mostly on a strict points-per-possession method. That method, in fact, included free throws, which for years Harden piled up by taking his contact-selling methods to outright theatrical ranges. 

Effectively, that is not working anymore. Over the offseason, the NBA resolved to cease rewarding offensive gamers for drawing contact, or extra usually merely creating the phantasm of contact, by the use of non-basketball strikes and pure taking pictures motions, and Harden will not be the identical sort of scorer because of this. 

Via 4 video games this season with the Brooklyn Nets, Harden has scored 83 factors on 78 photographs. Having solely gotten to the free-throw line thrice per sport, down from the double-digit makes an attempt he averaged in Houston from 2014-20, he is averaging 16.6 factors on 35 p.c taking pictures, together with 33 p.c from 3. 

Harden, in fact, is not going to attract a correlation between his decline in phony foul calls and his manufacturing. After Brooklyn’s loss to Miami on Wednesday, Harden attributed his tough begin to the season to his incapacity to play “pickup”  video games over the offseason, when he was compelled to rehab his hamstring. 

Hear, having to rehab an harm over an offseason sucks. It does preserve you from working in your sport. However the darkish reality behind this sluggish begin is that Harden has by no means been an elite shooter. He is 36 p.c from 3 for his profession. He elevated himself to a historic degree of scoring on sheer quantity, each from 3 and the free-throw line. 

You possibly can see him nonetheless flailing away as a matter of behavior, chucking photographs up with no intention of really making them the second he feels contact, and on the whole attempting to control contact, or, once more, the looks of contact, over simply taking pictures a traditional shot in hopes of listening to these once-friendly whistles. However they’re simply not coming, as captured on this thread by @NateDuncanNBA:

Now let’s be clear about this: Harden is not only a product of quantity and free throws. He is an incredible participant, and his play and numbers will choose up. He is nonetheless not totally wholesome. His quantity was at all times going to lower, unbiased of the league’s crackdown on bogus calls, by advantage of enjoying subsequent to Kevin Durant.

However to counsel that this new actuality of not having the ability to pile up factors on the free throw line — to not point out the larger leeway it now offers defenders to really problem his reputable photographs with out concern of him collapsing to the bottom like he stepped on a land mine — is not a big a part of a brand new Harden equation, nicely, that is simply naive. 

I imply the man has actually made extra free throws over the course of his profession (6,585 getting into Wednesday) than he has subject targets (6,537). For reference, Michael Jordan made 12,192 subject targets over his profession in opposition to 7,327 free throws. Harden is, fairly clearly, disproportionately depending on freebies. In fact getting much less of them goes to influence his sport. And to date, it has been for the more serious. 

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