Los Angeles Clippers’ commentator Don MacLean claims that Houston Rockets’ star, James Harden, is ‘manipulating the game.’
Rockets’ star James Harden, like many other stars around the league, is no stranger to criticism. He has been criticized for poor defense, flopping and struggling in the postseason, among other things.
As the Rockets marched there way to a blowout on Wednesday night, Clippers’ commentator Don MacLean offered the hottest of hot takes on James Harden. In summary, he said that Harden doesn’t play basketball the proper way and is cheating the game, via Dime Magazine.
"This style, what Harden does, is manipulating the game somehow. Almost like cheating it somehow" ? pic.twitter.com/Rygn1GL9TU
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) April 4, 2019
“I just feel like this style, what Harden does, is manipulating the game somehow. Almost like cheating it somehow. And I don’t really have a thought beyond that other than I’m watching something that isn’t basketball. To me, basketball is player movement, ball movement, designed plays. Not just a guy walking it up and isolating every time. That’s why I brought up that point earlier, that who else could do this? It’s not like that within the system, he’s getting all these numbers. The system is built for him.”
Everyone will have a different take on this, but in my opinion, this is a bad take from MacLean. Basketball should be played in the most efficient way possible, given the make up of the team and league rules.
In the ’80s and ’90s, hand-checking was still legal and most teams played two traditional big men together. As a result, driving lanes were clogged and the game was played inside out. Talented centers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing dominated the game. Even smaller players, like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, did the vast majority of their scoring from the mid-range or closer.
Around the turn of the century, hand-checking was banned and defensive three seconds was introduced. Even the time to get the ball past half-court was decreased from 10 seconds to eight. This past year, the NBA has emphasized ‘freedom of movement,’ which restricts the amount of physical contact defenders have with their opponents off the ball. Arm and shoulder grabs are being whistled for fouls a lot more often now.
As a result of all of these rule changes over the last 15 years or so, the NBA has become a more perimeter-oriented league. Mike D’Antoni took advantage of the rule changes when he was still coaching the Suns, as Phoenix played at a breakneck “seven seconds or less” pace and shot 3s at an unprecedented rate.
The Rockets don’t play as fast as Phoenix did (actually, the 2018-19 Rockets’ pace is faster than the 2004-05 Suns, but Houston doesn’t play fast compared to the rest of today’s NBA, whereas that Phoenix team led the league in pace). However, the Rockets shoot a lot more 3s than any other team and they run a lot more isolations. In fact, Harden alone has scored 1,366 points on isolation plays this season, more than any other team in the league.
As a result of this offensive philosophy, James Harden has made more 3-pointers (363) and more free throws (732) than any other player this season. Harden is also leading the league in scoring at 36.3 points per game, the highest scoring average since Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 season. Harden is also extremely efficient, leading the league in player efficiency rating, win shares and box plus/minus.
Houston’s coaching staff has encouraged Harden’s style of play because clearly, it works. Not only does it allow Harden to put up insane numbers, it also leads to wins. While the critics complain, Harden is on his way to adding another scoring title, and hopefully another MVP, to his resume.