I hate watching James Harden play basketball.
With every fiber of my basketball aesthetics-loving, flow and pace-worshipping, strong sense of fair play-having NBA fan soul, I hate every single goddamn thing about James Harden’s game.
I want Chris Paul to score 40 a game against the Warriors, singlehandedly carry the Rockets to a win in seven games, then when LeBron James does to Harden what Michael Jordan did first to Charles Barkley in 1993 and then again to Karl Malone in 1997, embarrassing him for having the audacity to win the MVP despite not being the best player in the league, I want to cheer my head off when Cleveland wins Game 5 on Houston’s floor and LeBron hoists up that Finals trophy and gets named Finals MVP right in front of all those Rockets fans who try to defend Harden’s wretched, unwatchable, disgusting clown show he calls championship-contending basketball.
I’m sure James Harden is a swell person, and I’m sure he’s a bunch of fun to be around as a teammate considering he’s had so many goofy moments the Rockets have lovingly shared on Twitter for fan and media consumption.
But as a basketball player, I hate him.
Let me share with you, the reader, what grinds my gears about Houston’s overrated diva:
He Commits Offensive Fouls but the Defense Gets Called
Watch this patented cheapass Harden tactic where he brings his arm up under the defender, pushes off, then flops like a soccer player while drawing the whistle:
If the refs had any sense of justice, they’d see that initiation of contact for what it is and at best call an offensive foul on Harden and at a bare minimum make it a no-call so Harden gets stuck with a turnover.
James Harden is going to break Jerry West‘s record for made free throws in a season one of these days, and it is going to be because he just went for broke and tried that cheap Shaqtin’ crap so often that he, a very proficient free throw shooter at 85.4 percent for his career, makes enough of them to break the record.
And he will deserve…well, not an asterisk; West played in the three-to-make-two era, which all but guaranteed he’d get two points per trip to the line. But he’ll deserve a think piece from some crabby Seattle-based basketball writer who hates him.
Since coming to Houston, Harden has averaged 8.7 of his 27.9 points per game when going to the stripe. At least five of those points are completely unmerited and possibly six or seven of them, pushing him from a so-called elite scorer down into the middle of the very good but not quite great pack, the place where guys like Victor Oladipo and DeMar DeRozan live.
He Is Trash in the Playoffs
There’s nothing quite like watching Harden fall apart in the playoffs every single year, but he doesn’t even do it in an entertaining way.
Harden is a career 42 percent shooter in the postseason, and that number drops to 41.2 when you take away his run in Oklahoma City.
Yes, Harden once actually led the league in two-point percentage (68.3 percent!) in the playoffs when he was the Thunder’s sixth man in 2011 and gave the Mavericks all they wanted in the conference finals.
This year? 40.7 percent overall, 34.4 percent from three, and last year he was even worse, shooting 27.8 percent on 10.5 attempts per game beyond the arc.
Mike D’Antoni coaches a tremendously entertaining style of basketball. I love when three-pointers are flying fast and furious, the scoreboard like a pinball machine as the stadium crew tries desperately to keep up with the breakneck pace of the beautiful transition basket from out in Sugar Land.
But watching Harden brick seven out of ten a game, all the while trying to draw one of those stupid fouls so he can hit at the line and pump up his true shooting percentage so the stat nerds who don’t watch the game at all—yes, that’s coming from ME, a guy who runs a site so steeped in analytics I could’ve called this place Analytics Tea—can say “look how efficient James Harden is despite his low percentage from the field!”
Shut up. Just shut right the hell up. Getting bailed out by the refs because he happens to suck at basketball in exactly the right way to game the system isn’t efficient. It’s cheap. And I’m not having it.
He Shakes My Faith In My Own Work
I am a freaking crusader for the ball-don’t-lie nature of advanced basketball statistics. There are no gods but the Basketball Gods and Basketball Reference is their Prophet.
And there’s James Freaking Harden shooting 40.7 percent from the field, stinking out the joint, getting bailed out by the refs and Chris Paul and Clint Capela and Mike D’Antoni making a fool out of Quin Snyder…
…and he’s leading the team in PER, Box Plus-Minus, and VORP.
I mean, have you SEEN Chris Paul play in these playoffs?!
But there’s Harden, leading all players who have gotten significant minutes in the postseason on his team in turnover percentage.
There’s Harden, with his 36.5 Usage Rate like he’s Kobe Bryant or Russell Westbrook, yet somehow still managing to be the second-best (or even third-best, if you’re as in love with what Clint Capela does to make Houston’s four-out offense work as a good stat wonk ought to be) player on the team.
And he’s hogging the narrative.
I hate it.
But I’m Still Rooting For Houston
Well OK, that’s a total lie. I turn into a Warriors fan the minute the Pacers get knocked out of the playoffs because I love watching them play and have from the moment Steve Kerr took over as coach.
I want Stephen Curry to stand in San Francisco and hit threes in Oakland. I want Kevin Durant to continue to flip the bird at Westbrook as a permanent “screw you, you were and are a terrible teammate” gesture (I love Russ, but as a piece of performance art on a bad team, not as a contender in his own right. Triple-doubles make me giddy.)
I want Klay Thompson, who I once compared in print, and not even favorably, to Monta Ellis, to score 50 points in a quarter on 16 three-pointers and a couple of four-point play and-ones he picked up just because the defense tried to stop him and couldn’t.
And I want Draymond Green to kick James Harden in the nuts.
But deep down inside, I’m hoping for a Rockets-Cavaliers Finals, because I want James Harden embarrassed on a global stage. I want LeBron James to add a fourth ring in nine Finals appearances to his legacy as the GOAT, and I want comparisons to Charles Barkley and Karl Malone to dog Harden for the rest of his career, slowly driving him mad, until someone starts in with the “best players never to win a title” lists in 2025 and Harden’s name is on all of them.
Because that clown-ass drawing contact and shooting 7-of-25 from the field and 12-of-12 from the line and ending up with 30 points stuff has got to go.
I hate James Harden. May the rest of the league see things my way.
Go LeBron. Sorry, Boston.