The master of getting to the free throw line is having trouble doing just that this season so far.
James Harden is struggling to get foul calls. That’s something you never thought you would hear, right? Well so far this season, he is attempting just 5.8 free throws per game. That is nearly half of what he has been averaging the last few years.
It isn’t any fault of James Harden, either. He is still driving to the paint with the same force and ability as he always has, the whistle has just not been blown for him. As a result, he is shooting less free throws now than he has since his second year in the league when he was just getting 27 minutes per game.
‘James Harden Rule’
One of the likely reasons for fewer foul calls on the Beard is due to the implementation of the ‘James Harden Rule.’ This offseason, the NBA decided to crack down on 3-point fouls and continuation calls. These have been two huge parts of Harden’s game over his career, especially recently. The 3-point foul is something that Harden has perfected but it is now harder to receive the whistle.
A few times when James Harden has gotten fouled, the shot he was taking was ruled to be after the whistle and negated. Expect that to be a common theme this season, especially with Harden. Getting the foul called is still nice (at least when it happens).
James Harden's Usage Chart. Has yet to draw a shooting foul on a 3pt shot this year (after leading the league with 124 last year). But he does have by far the most unassisted 3-pointers this year (green dots) pic.twitter.com/EKBgoLhaUG
— Krishna Narsu (@knarsu3) October 25, 2017
Officials singling out Harden
James Harden has been the benefactor of some close calls over the years. The way he drives to the paint and looks for contact assures that he will get just that. While Harden is still getting the same amount of contact this season (if not more), he is not receiving calls. Could the NBA have instructed the officials to not call as many against Harden?
I know, that sounds super conspiracy-like, but it isn’t too impossible to imagine. James Harden makes more free throws in a year than many teams attempt. He has mastered the art of drawing contact and that isn’t always pretty basketball to watch. With the Rockets on National TV for about half their games, does the NBA want James Harden to be taking 10-15 free throws a night?
The officials could also be fed up with James Harden’s ref-baiting tactics. Once again, it’s not like Harden is driving to the paint less. If anything, it’s more. He’s attempting around one more shot from inside the 3-point line per game this year than last year.
In yesterday’s game vs. the 76ers and the game before vs. the Grizzlies, there was no denying that James Harden got fouled on quite a few drives. He shot just 13 combined free throws in those two games.
Let’s be fair though, the season is still early. Harden is still averaging over 26 points per game. He also always finds ways to get to the line. Will he be able to get those attempts back up this season?
*All stats via Basketball-Reference*