Last season, Russell Westbrook won the NBA MVP Award because he averaged a triple-double. As of this writing, he is 16 rebounds away from averaging a second triple-double, and becoming the only player to ever do so twice in their career; however, something tells me that even if he somehow is able to do this (edit: He did), James Harden is still going to be league MVP. Which boggles the mind the more you think about it. Scoring aside (Harden is leading the league, upping his average by 1.5 PPG), his assists (8.7 compared to a league leading 11.2) and rebounds (5.4 compared to 8.1) are all way down this season. Meanwhile, Westbrook’s numbers have only dipped slightly, and should he record the necessary 16 rebounds to complete the triple-double, does the argument for Harden as MVP truly exist?
Of course it does! James Harden and his Houston Rockets have the best record in the NBA. So, as long as you can ignore that Mike D’Antoni was Coach of the Year last year, as well as the team’s off season addition of superstar point guard Chris Paul, all of the injuries to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard sitting out the entire season for the San Antonio Spurs, then you can come to the conclusion that Harden deserves all of the credit for their improvement.
If it sounds like I’m a little bitter, it’s because I am. To me, James Harden represents everything that is wrong with basketball today. Allow me to detail one reason why I hate him: He flops. A LOT. It’s so bad, at times he makes me forget the days of Manu Ginobili. There’s even a video going around of him and his “weird dunk celebration“, where he appears to be wiping his face from being hit on his way to the rim. When in reality, nobody ever stands within five feet of this man for fear of being whistled for a bullshit foul. His incessant flopping, not his talent, are what get him his open drives to the basket.
Not to say he isn’t talented. Harden is a fantastic basketball player. He just doesn’t need to resort to such desperate tactics to get free for baskets. I’m also willing to concede that he certainly isn’t the only player in the league who appears to have a weak grasp of his own equilibrium. Chris Paul (who also plays for the Rockets) has made a living off of making hard drives to the basket, only to bounce off of his defenders and scream in… pain? Terror? I’m not really sure. Kemba Walker is also guilty of this, and is probably a tier below Harden in how much he relies on it in his game. But, his flopping is much less documented. Probably because he plays in Charlotte, as even I am barely aware of what is happening there (fun facts you may not know about Charlotte: 1. Their team name is the Hornets again, not the Bobcats. Be honest, how many times have you accidentally called them the Bobcats? Or, how many times have you had to remind your friend that New Orleans team name is the Pelicans now? 2. Dwight Howard plays there, and is their starting center. 3. Buzz City is stupid. 4. That’s all I got. Consider yourselves contracted, Charlotte).
The other thing I hate about Harden is how, not only are you not allowed to play defense on him, but he is also allowed to travel all over the court. Just when the defender thinks he is getting ready to shoot, having to now quickly close out on the space the referees demand Harden needs to operate without fouling him, the league is allowing Harden to side-step away from the defender (using a “gather”, which is a motion that signals the ending of a dribble). So, while the defender is both trying to get back in defensive position and attempting to answer the question, “How was that not a travel???”, Harden has enough time to calmly sink the open jumper. And if the defender is somehow able to get back into a position to defend while simultaneously ignoring the question stinging the back of anyone’s head who just witnessed what Harden did to him, Harden can always flop and get the free throws.
I like to think that, even though I myself sport a beard, if I were to participate in a pickup game of basketball and pull this shit, everyone on the court would call the move traveling and demand the ball be turned over. In contrast, the NBA has seen Harden’s antics and are doing what they do best, which is covering their ass and putting their fingers in their ears (or, vice-versa I suppose). And in doing so, it’s causing us all to take into account the success the NBA is allowing Harden to have, view the move as legal, have discussions with other fans about why it’s being allowed, and legitimize it. There is a real argument that the move isn’t traveling at all. The people who don’t hate James Harden argue that he is simply making a gather move, so he is allowed to move in any direction he wishes as he does so. Check the video from BBALLBREAKDOWN where Coach Nick gets the skinny from retired official Ronnie Nunn about whether this move is legal or not:
Let the record show that I do respect the knowledge and opinions of Coach Nick. I also acknowledge Ronnie Nunn knows what he’s talking about, and certainly has a better grasp of the league’s rules than I do. I can accept the fact that Harden has found a rule that the league has had lying around forever, and is now using it to his advantage. But that doesn’t mean I have to be OK with it.
Charles Barkley used his fat butt to back down his defenders for the entirety of the shot clock, in an effort to set up his teammates or himself for an easy hoop. In 1999, the NBA changed this rule, and players now only have five seconds to back a defender down (unofficially known as the Charles Barkley Rule). Reggie Miller was annoying to defend as it was, but imagine playing perfect defense on that scrawny S.O.B., only to have him kick out his stick of a leg in an effort to make contact with his defender to shoot free throws. In 2012, the NBA changed this rule as well, deeming it illegal and an offensive foul (unofficially known as the Reggie Miller Rule).
Here’s the problem: Charles Barkley retired in 2000. Reggie Miller retired in 2005. Which means these assholes had the entirety of their careers to abuse terrible loopholes in the NBA’s rulebook. The league is now better because of these rule changes, sure, but why did it have to take so long that the primary offenders of the very rule they changed were not at all affected? The answer is simple: Although Barkley and Miller were the first to find these loopholes in the rules, other players started to copy them and use their moves. Changing the rule became necessary even as they rode off into the sunset because it actually became a bigger problem than when they played.
Commissioner Dan says to Hell with all that “Let’s wait until every team has one guy imitating Harden” shit, let’s change the rule now. Here’s my James Harden Rule: No player may be allowed to create new momentum after dribbling has ceased. Meaning, if a player is already dribbling right, and would like to step-back, that’s fine. His body is already in motion. Momentum has been established. I never had a problem with this move from Harden. What bothers me is when he’s in isolation, and looks to be gathering the ball to shoot, only to take advantage of the two steps he’s currently allowed to take while his opponent reacts to his gather.
Under my proposed James Harden Rule, using the gather move to create any new momentum would result in a traveling violation, because it is a traveling violation. The league just never anticipated a player hopping around the court like fucking Q-Bert abusing their gather rule, and so now they need to change it.
Think of the gather move in it’s simplest form: It’s a motion basketball players use to stop dribbling. If you’re moving while you’re attempting to stop, it makes sense that you can still be moving as you pick up your dribble; however, if you’re standing still and now decide to move left or right? I’m sorry, but you should’ve thought about that before you stopped bouncing the basketball. Now you’re stuck, and you can only blame yourself.
James Harden and his Houston Rockets are currently on pace to challenge the defending champion Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and make a run at a NBA championship. Harden himself is clearing out room on his mantle for his first NBA MVP Award. If all of these dominoes fall this year, will that finally be reason enough for the league to revise this rule? One can only hope.
Because, like I said earlier, I do think Harden is a talented player, but how good is he really? Take away his five feet of free space to move around in and his ability to hop about the court, and is he still the league MVP? I would love to watch an NBA season soon in which this question is answered. And then who knows? If his blatant abuse of the league’s lax rules on gathers causes the NBA to change it’s rules, creating a better product on the floor as a result, perhaps I actually learn to appreciate James Harden.
Right now though? Fuck that guy.
All facts were found, as always, at www.basketball-reference.com. I would also like to show gratitude for the great work Coach Nick does at BBALLBREAKDOWN. He operates a podcast, social media, YouTube channel, and it’s all like the content above. For more of my anti-Harden propaganda, follow me on Twitter, @cleanupglass.