Friday, January 28 2022

James Harden recorded a triple-double in the Brooklyn Nets‘ win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. But in many ways, his well-documented rough start continued, as he shot just 3 of 10 from the field, turned the ball over nine times and submitted an early candidate for the worst play of season. 

The possession began, as so many have throughout his career, with Harden isolating at the top of the key. This time, though, his series of dribbling moves weren’t enough to take him past Saddiq Bey, and he was forced to circle back to the perimeter. He tried to go into his isolation routine again, but soon dribbled the ball off his foot. 

Harden initially went after the loose ball, but as it crossed into the backcourt he just… gave up. Bey couldn’t believe his good luck, and sped over to pick it up and head the other way for the easiest points he’ll score all season. 

“The ball was loose and the whistle hadn’t gone, so I decided to try to make a play,” Bey said.

You can sort of get Harden’s thinking here, as he doesn’t want to touch the ball because he knows it will be a backcourt violation. But a dead-ball turnover is always better than a live-ball turnover, and it’s unreal to just walk away before the whistle blows to stop the play. 

Harden’s goof at the end is going to get all of the attention, and for good reason. But mental lapses like that really aren’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The actual concerning aspect came much earlier, when Harden was locked up on the perimeter. He broke out a series of impressive dribbling combos that would have cooked opponents in years past, but Bey was not fazed in the slightest. 

Throughout his career, Harden has had so much success because of his ability to beat his man off the dribble and get into the paint, where he can either finish, draw a foul or kick it out to an open shooter when the defense collapses. This season, though, he doesn’t have that same initial burst with his first step — at least not yet. Perhaps it will return once he plays himself into better shape, but if it doesn’t that’s bad news for him and the Nets. 



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