Houston Rockets: How James Harden became the NBA’s most hated player

James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have one of the game’s best players in James Harden. However, he’s recently become the most hated player in the league. Let’s examine.

Prior to coming to the Houston Rockets in perhaps one of the most lopsided trades of the decade, James Harden played third wheel to OKC’s tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They were a terrific trio and one of the most prolific in the league. All three guys were capable of lights-out shooting that could take over a game.

However, OKC saw Harden not as the guy but as guy. He wanted big money like a star player even though he was their sixth man off of the bench. OKC did not agree with that value and three days prior to the start of the 2012 season, he was sent to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and first and second round pick.

The Rockets immediately signed him to the extension he wanted and history began to get written. Houston welcomed him instantly and the Rockets immediately became his team. He led a team that had sophomore Chandler Parsons as it’s second-best player to a 45-37 season. They scored the second most points in the league, had the best pace, and the sixth best offensive rating.

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That’s pretty much exactly what Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale had in mind when they acquired him from the Thunder. Since his first season as a member of the Houston Rockets, he has only gotten better and better. And as Harden has gone, so have the Rockets.

One of the things that the Rockets wanted to do was cut out any medium or long-range twos from their offense. It was a less efficient shot that wasn’t too far away from a three-pointer that yielded more points at similar efficiency. Harden provided just that. He either attacked the basket in a slashing manner or knocked down threes at a great clip.

The Rockets designed their team in this manner and fill out the roster with players that will maximize this style and maximize Harden. He began to reach his peak during the 2016-17 season where he put of his first of several MVPesque performances. He averaged over 29 points and 11 assists that season.

Those two things will always be at the forefront of Harden’s games, scoring points and assisting his teammates. He is an elite scorer both at the hoop and behind the arc. He also excels at getting to the charity stripe and is fairly efficient in knocking down those free shots as well.

Harden received a lot of flack early in his Houston Rockets career for his lack of defensive chops. The complaints stemmed from lack of care for that end of the court, an arrogance that he believed he could just outscore the opponent, or that he just wasn’t good at defense. This is where the hatred for Harden began.

Disliking a player for a perceived lack of effort is extremely understandable. However, this hatred has morphed far beyond this initial level of hatred to an extreme level of disdain that not too many players have reached in their career. The most interesting part about this is that the hatred has reached new heights just months after Harden brought home his first and much-deserved MVP trophy.

One of the biggest reasons for this increased hatred the way that Harden exploits the current set of rules surrounding fouls on an offensive player driving to the basket. Harden incredibly adept at attacking the basket and drawing contact with opposing players while he does so.

His penchant for doing this has received immense amounts of criticism and subsequent hatred by his peers, basketball fans, and media members alike. Can it be frustrating that he has found a way to excellent at exploiting a flawed system? Yes, absolutely, yet Harden receives the flack for it.

Case and point, the Houston Rockets matchup against the Lakers a couple of weeks ago. Harden was drawing fouls at an extremely high rate in that game and it was driving the Lakers insane. In 35 minutes, he went to the line 19 times and knocked 18 of those. The LeBron James and the rest of the Lakers were so done with it that they began to guard him with both arms behind their backs.

Lakers protesting in such a dramatic fashion has exacerbated the complaints and hatred directed towards Harden. Ever since then, the floodgates have opened for the hatred to spill out onto the Houston Rockets star, culminating in the following tweet after Harden’s clutch performance against the Thunder on Christmas day.

On the surface, that doesn’t appear too great but a slightly deeper dive paints a different picture. Sure, that was a lot of shots for a lot of points but he did on a 43% conversion rate, only one percentage point off of his season average. Westbrook has similar lines at a much higher frequency than Harden yet doesn’t receive this type of disrespect.

This follows a string of unmitigated bias against Harden and the things he accomplishes because he isn’t successful in the typical manner most players are successful. Harden has found ways in the way the NBA is currently constructed to be extremely successful at his craft and people just don’t like the way he does it.

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It’s rare for a player to receive as much hate and disrespect as Harden does. Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and LeBron have all received their share of hate for the way they just dominated the game. Harden is reaching that level of hatred in the league. He has simply eclipsed that rare market that makes players so polarizing that they hated for no legitimate reason.

Harden is one of the best players in the world right now and might go down as one of the best offensive players the league has ever seen. Yet, in spite of this, the disrespect and hatred are piled up on him like mounds of wrapping paper after Christmas day. Hate the game (and the rules) but don’t hate the player. Or do, fuel the fire that drives the greatness that is James Edward Harden Jr.

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Many hate him. Many love him. Regardless, the Houston Rockets star is one of the greatest players in the league and has found a way to thrive in today’s NBA unlike any other player in the league can.