Brooklyn Nets star James Harden is off to a rough start this season, in part because he’s having to adjust to the league’s new rule changes aimed at eliminating non-basketball moves and foul baiting. On Monday night against the Chicago Bulls, he finally got a call to go his way and responded with a sarcastic celebration.
In the middle of the second quarter, Harden came off a high screen from LaMarcus Aldridge and put his head down to get to the rim. As he split the Bulls’ defenders, he broke out one of his signature maneuvers, where he raises his arms in an effort to create some contact and draw a foul. Referees haven’t been giving him that call this season, but this time he caught Tony Bradley reaching and the big man clearly raked him across the arm.
Harden finished at the rim for an and-one, and as he walked to the baseline after the whistle he raised his arms to the heavens as if thanking a higher power. It was pretty funny, and also a clear sign of just how much Harden has been frustrated by the new reality.
The rule changes, which have generally created a more physical game with fewer free throws, have been one of the biggest early-season storylines. While there’s been a lot of praise for the shift, there have also been some notable critics. Unsurprisingly, Harden is among the latter.
Last month, Nets coach Steve Nash said Harden had become the “poster boy” for the rule changes, a statement Harden agreed with.
“I ask every official if they see a foul just call a foul,” Harden said. “Sometimes I feel like coming into a game it’s already predetermined or I already have the stigma of getting fouls calls. I just ask for officials to call what they see… I can’t stop playing basketball. A foul is a foul no matter what league it is.”
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Through his first 10 games, Harden is averaging just 4.8 free throws, which is the fewest he’s shot since his second season in the league — back when he was coming off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In seven of the last nine seasons, Harden was averaging double-digit free throw attempts.
Though there have been many positives with the new officiating approach, it does feel like things have swung a little bit too far in favor of the defense and physicality. There’s a difference between refusing to bail guys out when they flail around for calls, and letting defenders do whatever they want. It will be interesting to see if the situation normalizes over the course of the season. If it does, that will be good news for Harden and the Nets.