Title: Raptors Tactical: How do you attempt to slow James Harden?
Date: January 25, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I wrote about how they tried to slow down red-hot James Harden in a loss to the Rockets.
James Harden has become one of the most singularly interesting defensive questions in basketball this season. That he’s been a remarkable challenge on that end of the floor is not particularly new, but the degree he’s taken his offensive production over the last few weeks, and really all season, has tilted a common superstar question to perhaps its most extreme: Is it better to let a star go off and shut everyone else down or sell out to stop a star and dare lesser players to beat you?
The question is not quite as reductive as that. While the Houston Rockets also employ Chris Paul, their offence was built around Harden’s preternatural ability to create points as a one-man shop. He is among the league’s deadliest pull-up shooters, perhaps its best at getting to the free-throw line, and essentially functions as a point guard when Paul is off the floor, as he has been for more than a month now with an injury. The Rockets are built to lean on Harden extensively.
During that time, Harden has carried an unseemly scoring load and still worked well as a passer. Houston becomes somewhat of a middling team overall when thinned out as they are, but that makes the Harden dilemma no less difficult. Even down his best roll man and (apparently) the only player who can assist on his buckets in Clint Capela and Paul, respectively, Harden’s knack for carving into a defence has somehow grown. That he’s still surrounded by quality catch-and-shoot weapons hasn’t simplified the questions he and high-usage stars pose; it’s only served to test the strength of coaching wills when they pick one strategy over the other.