Rockets: The Science behind James Harden’s amazing braking ability

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

An underrated aspect of James Harden’s game is his remarkable ability to stop on a dime, which allows his game to thrive in the Houston Rockets’ system.

When I think of James Harden‘s offensive game, what comes to my mind first are his patented step back and his rip-through drive to the hole. If you ask someone else, they might first picture his crossover dribble drive or drive and lob. The variety in The Beard’s offensive game is what makes him one of the most unguardable players in Houston Rockets‘ history.

One aspect of Harden’s game that has always made him so dangerous is his footwork. Has there ever been a player that’s been accused of traveling more often than James? It’s doubtful.

While his craftiness has made him unguardable and has earned him the right to be compared to the league’s best-ever offensive players, his ability to put on the brakes on the dime is also huge. Recently, Dr. Rajpal Brar, a doctor of physio and youth basketball coach, broke down Harden’s braking ability in detail as part of his 3CB Performance YouTube channel.

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In the video, Dr. Brar does a biomechanics breakdown of everything that goes into Harden’s ability to rapidly decelerate, which opens his options up in the open court.

Several different factors go into Harden’s quick stop, which he breaks down as follows: balance and low center of gravity, coordination and weight shifts, neuromuscular control and eccentric strength, and harnessing leverage.

Here are some highlights of what Dr. Brar breaks down in his video, but I strongly recommend a full viewing of the video to see slow-motion footage as well as diagrams and a walkthrough of his explanations.

Balance and Low Center of Gravity

“Balance is the body’s GPS system,” begins Brar. “The more accurate it is, the cleaner and more efficient the movement. James maintains a lower center of gravity throughout his movements, which facilitates his balance, coordination and weight-shift ability.”

This drive from Harden against Portland in 2018 highlights Dr. Brar’s point. Pay attention to how low Harden keeps his center of gravity as he begins his move at the top of the key against Damian Lillard.

Although Lillard is quick in his own right, he stands no chance here against Harden’s momentum.

Neuromuscular Control and Eccentric Strength

Another play that’s highlighted in this breakdown is one of Harden’s rudest moves ever. In a close win over the Phoenix Suns in 2018, Harden was being guarded by Josh Jackson out on the perimeter.

Although Jackson has size and speed, he’s left in the dust when Harden showcases his remarkable ability to stop on a dime. As Jackson loses his balance, James then uses a between-the-legs dribble to drive unimpeded to the hoop.

“I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw this play,” begins Dr. Brar. “Harden is driving left and kills all his forward momentum by decelerating to a stop on one leg while taking contact. Harden displays an incredible level of single-leg stance balance.”

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While some things can be taught, Harden’s body control seems to be a natural ability that he keeps improving year-to-year. Seeing as he was well on his way to a third straight scoring title, it’s tough to see anyone slowing James Harden down anytime soon.