James Harden has awed the crowd on numerous occasions with his crafty ball handling, unique footwork and smooth lefty jumper. There are times when everyone in the stadium KNOWS that he is going to look to score. Yet, even during these times, the defense is still unable to stop him from getting a good look at the basket. Let’s break down one of Harden’s signature moves in crunch time, the step-back jump shot, and discuss what makes his move so effective.
Here, Harden has just over 4 seconds to get a shot off against the San Antonio Spurs. You’ll notice that the defender is playing him straight up. He does some fancy ball handling to get the defender reaching AND to turn his feet. By turning the defenders foot, Harden can use the defenders lead foot to his advantage.
Eventually, Harden is able to get the defender to force him one way. By using his explosive first step, he accelerates to the right, beating the defenders foot, which forces the defender to turn his shoulders and the rest of his body in order to recover.
Here you see that Harden clearly has the Spurs defender beat. However, as he turns the corner he sees Tim Duncan in great help position. With the shot clock in mind, Harden prepares to make a hard plant forcing the momentum of his defender to create an offensive advantage. This is how he creates the separation necessary to get off his jump shot.
Harden plants hard and is already pushing himself away as the defender is forced to stop abruptly, with all of his momentum going to the left. The defender now has to gather himself before he can recover to contest Harden’s jump shot.
Look at the defenders feet compared to James Harden’s. There are several feet now separating the two as the defender attempts to recover, but it’s too late as Harden is already in to his shooting motion.
By the time his defender is able to recover, Harden has elevated off the ground and releases the ball well above the defender’s outstretched arm.
Granted, James Harden is an extraordinary athlete, but that just one of the reasons his step-back jumper is so difficult to stop. He has a high basketball IQ, tremendous court awareness, and great footwork allowing him to take advantage of his defender and every second on the shot clock.