James Harden has dominated opposing defenses in seemingly every game this season. Offensively, he is one of the most complete players the NBA has ever seen.
James Harden earned his first MVP Award last year after leading the NBA in scoring and leading the Rockets to the league’s best record. Somehow, The Beard managed to elevate his game to another level over the offseason.
Harden is averaging a league leading 36.3 points per game this season. If he can keep scoring at this pace, he’ll become the first player since Kobe Bryant in the 2005-06 season to average at least 35 points per game in a season.
Harden’s ability to put points up on the board is great, but it’s his consistency that really makes him so amazing. Harden has scored at least 30 points in 24 consecutive games, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to have such a streak. Over that stretch, Harden has eclipsed 50 points three times, including a 61 point outing in Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23.
In order to put up numbers of this magnitude, Harden has refined his offensive skill set to an elite level. He does things that no other player in the league, or maybe in NBA history, can replicate. Here are two things that James Harden does better than any other player in the league.
2. Step-back 3-point shot
James Harden’s step back 3-point shot is the most unstoppable shot in the league and is probably the most difficult shot to defend since Dirk Nowitzki‘s one-legged fadeaway.
Harden has already made 230 3-pointers this season and all but 29 have been unassisted. The vast majority of his 3s are made off the dribble and his step-back 3-pointer is an important part of his repertoire.
Harden has made 135 of his 327 step back 3-pointers this season, which is a scorching 41.3 percent, outpacing his 36.7 percent average from downtown. Conversely, Harden has made just 28.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. The Beard has managed to turn a step-back 3-pointer, once considered league wide to be a bad shot, into perhaps the most unstoppable shot in the game.
What’s even more impressive about Harden’s step-back 3 is his ability to draw fouls as a 3-point shooter. According to NBA Miner, Harden has converted on 12 4-point plays this season, more than double the next best player (Stephen Curry, J.J. Redick and Terrence Ross all have five). Speaking of drawing fouls, that leads us right to the next slide.
1. The ability to get to the free throw line
Yes, it might be controversial on NBA Twitter, but James Harden has mastered the art of drawing fouls. Harden is averaging 11.9 free throws per game this year, which leads the NBA, as he has for the last five seasons.
As previously discussed, Harden is the best in the league at drawing fouls on 3-point attempts, as his efficiency with the step-back 3 often causes defenders to lunge at him and hit him on the arm or crowd his landing space, which will draw an automatic whistle from the referee. However, Harden draws most of his fouls in the paint.
When The Beard drives, he holds the ball out on his way up to the rim. Exposing the ball in basketball is like throwing a bait to fish, his defenders can’t help but to bite and take a swipe at the ball, usually hitting Harden on the arm instead and sending him to the line. All great scorers get to the free throw line often, and even when Harden’s outside shot isn’t falling, he can still put points on the board at the charity stripe.
Amongst Harden haters, there seems to be this argument that Harden wouldn’t be as successful of a scorer if not for all the free throws, but that just isn’t true. If you take away free throws from every player’s stats, Harden would still lead the league in scoring at 26.0 points per game.