Houston Rockets: Enough is enough, James Harden is an elite defender

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

The Houston Rockets haven’t been the greatest defensive team lately, but James Harden has been showing why the narrative about his defense needs to change.

We all know the YouTube video that was circulating social media several years ago. It showed clip after clip of James Harden missing defensive assignments and flat out not caring on others. It brought to light the Houston Rockets’ star’s lack of defensive intensity and became an internet joke.

Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, where not only did James Harden show he can play decently on-ball defense but can be elite as a post defender. Coming into the recent game against the Dallas Mavericks, everyone was naturally focusing on Harden’s scoring. The game didn’t lend itself to much defense being played, but Harden had probably one of his best games on defense in quite a while.

Harden locks down Porzingis and the Mavs

In a game where the Rockets gave up 85 points in the first half, you may wonder why I’m praising Harden’s defense. Yes, the Rockets’ team defense was deplorable in the first half. There were missed assignments, lazy switches, and no help defense, which led to multiple easy baskets. Harden, however, was one of the few consistent Rockets on defense all night.

? 49 PTS (14-20 FGM)
? 9 REB, 8 AST
? 3 STL, 3 BLK@JHarden13 does it all in the @HoustonRockets overtime victory! #OneMission #WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/41rVp1KhNN

— NBA (@NBA) August 1, 2020

Harden had the second-best defensive rating at 118.2, and he was second in defensive rebounding percentage at 17.0. Harden also locked down Porzingis on several occasions. Harden held Porzingis to 1-7 shooting when he was the primary defender. Harden’s defense has improved exponentially since that infamous YouTube video.

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Opposing players are shooting 28/88 (32 percent) against him this season, and Harden forces turnovers on 13 percent of possessions. Against the Mavericks, Harden had three steals, three blocks, and nine defensive rebounds. On multiple occasions, Harden also stopped dribble drives and forced his player to pass the ball back out.

Crunch time defense

Harden’s defense was even better in the fourth quarter and overtime against Dallas. Harden had the second-best defensive rating in the fourth quarter at 72.7 and the best defensive rebounding percentage. His intensity late in the game was great as he had four rebounds, one steal and two blocks in the fourth quarter alone. The Rockets’ overall defense was much better in the fourth, holding the Mavericks to only 30 points combined in the fourth and overtime.

James Harden will never be given full credit for his defense — that is just the reputation that has unfairly been attached to him. There’s one thing we can’t deny, though. Harden has proven on multiple occasions that he can be an elite defender.

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If that continues in the Orlando bubble, we may see the best version of Harden that we’ve ever seen.