Houston Rockets: James Harden’s defense is effective but has dropped off

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets guard James Harden has had an terrific season so far but although he’s effective on defense, it has dropped off. How? Let’s take a look.

Houston Rockets fans — if I ever made a notion within itself, it’s certainly one that indicates how lucky the franchise was able to land him via the trade heard ’round the world back Oct. 27, 2012, one of the red-letter dates in team history.

Despite the criticisms we have of James Harden, he’s going to go down as one of the greatest NBA players in history — notwithstanding this era of the Association — and is a lock to be a future Hall of Famer.

And, of course, it’s a certainty that no other future member of the Houston Rockets will ever wear No. 13 again as it accentuates a legacy of player that has grown as a person and is absolutely commensurate to a unique brand that he can say is truly his.  What not a better way to use something so simple as about a pound of facial hair — or allegedly so — as the signature to what one is recognized by?

When you hear things like “fear the beard,” or “Beard had a great game last night,” one already knows who they’re talking about.  It’s actually quite incredible if you ask me and that’s just one facet of what makes him great.

But enough of my flattery of one of my favorite players of all-time, let’s get down to business.

There still continues to be a narrative out there that Harden is not committed to defense and that may have won you a case in a argument four seasons ago but not now.  He has shown a keen eye of where the ball is going and can clamp down whenever the situation warrants it.

I think he’s asked to do so much at times that it can zap a lot of energy out of him just to lock it down on the other end of the hardwood.  That’s not an excuse but it does give credence to the moments as it appears to us that he has taken off a few possessions when it comes to staying focused on his assignment.

When Trevor Ariza was still a member of the Houston Rockets, I can recall countless times where he’d have to go leave his man to go cover Harden’s as the Beard would either just stand there, anticipating a rebound off a missed shot.  You’d oftentimes see him wait for the eventual rebound in order to have it passed to him so that way he could bring the ball back up the court.

You don’t see that as much now with Chris Paul in the fold but it was happening.

But to say Harden is ineffective on defense is wildly inaccurate and actually quite laughable.

I still recall the Houston Rockets matchup back Feb. 2 where Harden was assigned to guard 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert and as well as his touted near eight-foot wingspan.

He was able to honorably keep Gobert at bay on defense and was even able to block him on a possession while posting him up during that game.  He ended up with an amazing four blocks for that match up which is an impressive feat within itself, especially with him being a guard.

And to take the conversation further, Alykhan Bijani also known as Rockets Insider, made an interesting calculation of Harden’s post-up defense by saying that, well, it’s pretty darn good.

Bijani indicates that he’s in 91st percentile with his post-ups and he holds opponents to 35.1 percent shooting when in that position.  In addition, he also forces turnovers on 20.4 percent of post-up possessions.

He also adds that Harden leads the league in deflections at 3.9 per game and is second in total steals (121).  The Beard trails just Paul George (135) in that category.  This would certainly explains Harden’s uptick in steals percentage going from 2.4 (2017-18) to 2.8 (2018-19).

Those stats are nice to tout but there still some areas that he has dropped off from last season — considered to be one of the best overall efforts of his career as a starter — and that must be noted.

To put mind over matter, his defensive rating has nose-dived — along with the rest of the team — from 105.7 in 2017-18 to 111.5 this season.

Here’s some other important trends to notice with Harden per game over the past two seasons:

Opponent’s points off turnovers

2017-18: 11.9

2018-19: 13.8

Opponent’s points in the paint

2017-18: 35.7

2018-19: 41.0

Opponent’s fast break points

2017-18: 9.2

2018-19: 11.2

Opponent’s second-chance points

2017-18:  8.8

2018-19: 10.4

This trend concerns me a bit but because the guy is so gifted on the offensive end, those said

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defections make up for it.  Since the team is so prolific with the three-pointer, they can definitely afford the expense of points in the paint but it’s still something I think Harden should shore himself up on.

All in all, I don’t think I could ever see Harden be an ELITE defender but I see him being an EFFICIENT defender, night-in and out.  With the way this team has been constructed in addition to the mindset, having him be a NBA top defender doesn’t necessarily have to be one of his top priorities.

However, it’d help his overall persona as a ballplayer and it’d definitely put the Houston Rockets in the express lane on the way to Title Town.

But this is honestly something we’ll all have to live with and I’m perfectly fine with it.  I won’t stop watching the grandiose stature of Harden and my favorite team because of one minuscule aberration.

Harden is a hell of a defender and you can take that to the bank.

And I’m done.

Next. Rockets: Where Harden ranks on the Top 30 all-time list. dark

Harden is averaging 36.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists with a shooting line .438/.363/.873 through 57 games this season.  He’s also drawing a career-high 7.6 fouls per game which can certainly correlate to the frenetic pace of his free throw makes (569) and attempts (652), a trend that has been ongoing since the 2014-15 season.