Why James Harden is the best isolation scorer in the NBA

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images /

James Harden of the Houston Rockets, who is the league’s leading scorer, is the best isolation player in today’s NBA. Here’s why.

After one of the most dominating offensive seasons in NBA history last year, James Harden has somehow found a way to get even better this year.

With Chris Paul by his side, The Beard has boosted his efficiency. Harden is averaging a career-high and league leading 31.5 points to go along with 9.3 assists, and he’s averaging over a turnover less than he did a season ago.

James is averaging his highest field goal percentage (45.5 percent) since the 2013-14 season, while averaging a career high in 3-point percentage (39.4). Also, Harden’s effective field goal percentage (55.6) and true shooting percentage (62.6) are his highest since he’s been in Houston. And last but not least, Harden’s is averaging a career-high in player efficiency rating (30.9).

There are a lot of things that have factored into James Harden’s increased level of play. His weight loss in the offseason should get some of the credit, along with having Paul as a backcourt mate and a deeper roster. But one of the most overlooked aspects of Harden’s game is his ability to pick defenses apart in isolation plays.

James Harden is the best one-on-one player in the NBA

For an NBA player, trying to defend James Harden one-on-one on the perimeter has to be one of the scariest feelings on the court. Harden is the most difficult player to defend in isolation in the league, and it isn’t really close.

As previously mentioned, Harden is averaging 31.5 points a game this year, and about a third of those points are coming in iso’s. After leading the NBA is isolation points in the last two seasons at 6.4 and 6.6 points per game, Harden has taken it to another level. The Beard is scoring a league leading 10.5 points per game in iso’s this season, and he’s already scored 84 more isolation points than the next best player.

He’s also extremely efficient as an iso scorer, as he leads the league in points per possession (1.26), effective field goal percentage (60.2) and score frequency (52.2) among players with at least 50 isolation possessions.

Because Harden can do everything on the offensive end, he forces defenders to pick their poison. Harden’s 3-point shot has been spot on this year, as he is leading the NBA is both makes (4.3) and attempts (10.8) per game. Harden also leads the NBA in points scored off of pull-up shots per game (11.5) and he’s making 38.8 percent of his pull up 3’s. Just ask Mike Malone, the coach of the Denver Nuggets, how lethal Harden’s step back 3-pointer is, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“If you find yourself guarding James Harden and your two feet are inside the 3-point line, you’re dead. You’re dead.”

So naturally, the obvious answer is to force Harden to drive, but he’s just as devastating as a finisher. James Harden has scored more points than any other player on drives this season (284). He’s also leading the NBA in free throws made per game (8.0) and he is second in free throws attempted (9.3). Also, Harden is averaging 2.5 assists off of drives per game, which is second in the NBA. So if a help defender cuts him off, one of Houston’s sharpshooters will make him pay with a corner 3.

Next: Houston Rockets: Ranking the top 10 players on the current roster

James Harden’s ball-handling, shooting skills and passing are part of what makes him so impossible to stop in isolation. Harden has a counter for everything a defense can throw at him, and that makes him the most unstoppable offensive force in today’s NBA.