James Harden is a stand out basketball player. Both because he puts up stats that make him one of the best in the game, and because he has a way of playing that is distinct to him. Harden averages more three-point attempts than anyone other player in history. Not only is he brazen in his number of attempts, but he matches it in style.
The Wall Street Journal said, “James Harden specializes in doing things that most NBA players have never done and never been able to do.”
There is one other distinct thing Harden is known for, and fans really can’t stand it. It’s helped make him one of the highest scorers in the game, but it’s also forced NBA officials to make re-evaluate how the game is played.
How James Harden is changing the game
Harden has another skill is often recognized for: drawing fouls. So much so that it’s become one of his on-the-court tactics that’s defining him as a player and forcing changes to the game. He manages to get to the free-throw line a lot during each game, which is changing the way that the game is played as well as how it’s called. Harden has made it to the free-throw line more than any other player in the league. Because of this, Hoops Hype reports the 2018 NBA MVP “has recently forced officials to change the way that his games are called by referees.”
At a game in San Antonio, the star shooter took 15 free throws in the first half alone, making all 15. This performance drew criticism from the Spurs fans, who apparently weren’t happy that Harden was taking so many free throws. One fan even yelled at him, “No one wants to see a free throw contest!” Considering the circumstances, Harden could have easily gotten angry at the fan’s remark. However, he remained calm and fired back with a clever response, “Nobody wants to see fouls, either!”
How many free throws does James Harden average?
When you look at the stats as well as game footage, you have to concede that Harden is not constantly being egregiously fouled or targeted by the other team’s defenders. Hoops Hype states, “Harden has taken 14.5 free throws per game for the Rockets so far this season. That is the most since Wilt Chamberlain (17.0) during his 1961-62 campaign.” It’s a strategic way to play the game, but many fans question if he’s really earning those free throws.
To get a real answer to that question would probably require reviewing hours of film to see how many fouls occur versus how many free throws Harden accumulates. Because aren’t the real questions: How many of his free throws are the result of technicals and strategic game play and how often was he exaggerating his responses?
Some Harden supporters might ask: what’s wrong with Harden taking free throws? Yes, if free throws didn’t exist, Harden wouldn’t score as many points, but if three-pointers didn’t exist, would Steph Curry be “as good” as he is now? Eliminating entire portions of the game would absolutely affect players’ performances and rankings. Most players have a speciality. Harden’s just happens to be free throws.
Why are fans annoyed?
It might be that it simply isn’t as much fun to watch. It’s no question that a free throw slows down the pace of the game considerably and fans are showing up and tuning into the game to watch the action. Depending on how many free throws Harden accumulates in a game, it could make the whole thing feel like it’s dragging.
Compared to other top players, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Harden may be making more free throws, but he’s also attempting quite a bit more three-pointers — Harden attempted 1,028 total in the 2018-19 season while Antetokounmpo attempted a total 686 in the same season. He also doesn’t shy away from field goal attempts: Harden made 1,909 field goal attempts in the 2018-19 season, a career high, and successfully made 44.2% of those.
James Harden does score a lot of points from free throws, but without them, he is still one of the highest scorers in the league. The next time a fan gets frustrated at Harden’s game play, he really should pull out his stats book. That, or say nothing and just take another free throw. Swish.