Heat Check: Is there something wrong with James Harden?

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By , Audacy Sports

I talked about this the other night on BetMGM Tonight but upon further thought… I think this deserves some further reflection.

Is there something wrong with James Harden?

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Because one of the NBA’s 75 All Time best players is starting alarmingly slow. Slower than Luka Doncic; even slower than Dame Lillard, who’s currently shooting 2-24 from three.

Through four games Harden is hitting only 34% from the field (32% from three) and averaging just 17.3 points per game, over 7 points less than last year.

You remember last year, right? The Blue Jump Suit era, when he successfully executed the opposite of the hunger strike, basically using being fat and unhappy to get out of Houston.

That James? The same James who literally wasn’t trying to play good basketball? That out of shape James averaged 28 for the godawful Rockets in his first four games, shooting 48% and 41% from three. And he got clowned for looking like he was wearing a fat suit.

But guess what? He still made shots. This year, coming back from his hamstring injury that hampered him during the last part of last season? He’s not.

Something is going on. Before the season started Jimmy Butler called Harden “the most unstoppable player in the league right now” (LOL at Jimmy’s new generous compliments) but right now, Harden looks VERY stoppable. He doesn’t look himself and even has come out and said he doesn’t feel like himself.

I’m just getting my confidence back … I’m a little hesitant. You guys can see it. Just going through a lot of ups and downs last year and then coming into training camp healthy and making sure my conditioning is where it needed to be. Just making sure my confidence continues to build. That’s all that matters. We’re [at] game 3. My confidence will rise and will continue to get better as games go on and I feel more confident and get that burst of speed like I’m normally used to. No worries at all.

This all dates back to April 1st, 2021, when Harden went down with a hamstring injury that was still keeping him out of playoff games two months later.

When you’ve been as durable as Harden and then have THAT kind of setback, mental confidence in your own body takes a while to come back.

Steve Nash weighed in on it, saying in a presser after Brooklyn beat the Wizards that Harden is “still an excellent player even if he’s not at peak form and we still believe in him. And he’ll get there in the next few weeks.”

I would hope that he’s still an excellent player. Harden is making 40 million dollars a year and you mortgaged your future for him, but I digress.

A reporter later followed up, asking for clarification on whether Harden’s injury had anything to do with the slow start. Nash said “one hundred percent,” adding that it can take the same amount of playing time as was missed to get back to normal.

EXCUSE ME? April to July … that’s 4 months, meaning James might not be fully himself again until January 2022.

Yikes.

Add in the new rule change that people are blaming on Harden? And for the first time, James is also struggling a bit with confidence. Asked if the rule changes affected him, he said:

“Yeah for sure, but I’m not the type to complain about it — It’s hard to already have this stigma…. It’s still basketball. 

Basically he can’t even complain to the refs about being fouled, because it’s called the Harden rule and if he complains, it's just going to make it worse.

Let’s go through the stats shall we.

Through four games, Harden is averaging 2.8 free throws a game. Last season he was at 7.3 per game (good enough for Top 10 in the league) and is at nearly 8.7 attempts per game throughout his entire career.  His 11.8 attempts per game in 2019-2020 was the most in twenty years.

At least we know we’re not crazy that he hasn’t been the same James.

James Harden is one of the best players in the league at drawing contact, swipe throughs, and lean ins and truthfully, it was annoying to watch. But I hate to see this rule change happen while he’s trying to get his groove back. When he’s in peak form he’s one of the most fun players to watch cook, and as his success goes, the Nets success goes.

Let’s hope whatever’s wrong with James Harden gets fixed quick. The league is much more fun when James Harden is balling out.

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