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James Harden: When Defense Offends

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Sydeffect, Oct 3, 2013.

  1. Sydeffect

    Sydeffect Member

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    http://thegoodpoint.com/james-harden-defense/

    Excellent article explaining Harden's Defensive problems and how he can fix them.

    VERY LONG THREAD

    On the Sep. 27, at media day, James Harden announced that he and the coaching staff were “all on the same page” about him guarding the opposition’s best wing player.

    Upon reading a discussion about this on an NBA forum, I came across comments such as “And the league’s best players give a resounding cheer”, and people talking about how “Harden will never be good enough to guard the best wing players in the league”. Others would reference the 2012 Western Conference Finals, when Harden got lit up by Manu Ginobili to the tune of 18.5 points per game in 30 minutes on 50/42/93 shooting.

    So with all this talk about Harden’s defensive woes, and how that’s what is really holding him back from being right up in the MVP discussion, I decided to head over to Synergy Sports and check out some film, paired with stats, of Harden defending spot ups, isolations, and pick and rolls, to really put the pieces together and figure out why he’s gained a reputation as such a bad defensive player.

    Defending the Pick-and-Roll

    Being a guard, Harden is often faced with defending the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. In fact, guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler accounted for 22.4% of his defensive possessions, and he wasn’t too bad at it, giving up 0.8 points per possession, ranking him at 129th in the league. The Rockets never really developed a team philosophy at defending the pick-and-roll either, it was always just “get through and recover, and Omer Asik will be there to help at the rim”. This led to numerous pull up jump shots, from Harden not showing respect to the shooter (more on this later) and either being nonchalant about going over the screen (as shown below, defending Russell Westbrook) or just waltzing under it altogether.


    [​IMG]

    The Rockets not having a team philosophy on the pick-and-roll would really show at times, such as on this Tyreke Evans/DeMarcus Cousins pick-and-roll. What are Asik and Harden trying to do here? Trap it? It’s the only possible explanation for trying to fight through a screen for the poor-shooting Evans.

    [​IMG]

    And here’s one more instance of Harden trying to fight over the top of a screen, being way too slow, and Reggie Jackson ultimately hitting a nice floater over Asik

    [​IMG]

    Defending Isolation

    Harden was actually ranked pretty highly in defending isolation (0.72ppp, 73rd in the league), but I think that was merely an instance of Synergy defensive stats being flawed. Harden gets blown by a lot on D, but he has one of the league’s best defensive centres in Asik to cover up for his mistakes. This missed Kevin Durant layup is a prime example of what I’m talking about – Durant easily gets by Harden along the baseline, but Asik shows us what a great defensive presence he is by meeting him at the ring to contest the shot. However, this counts as Harden defending an isolation, resulting in a miss, when really it was just bad defense on his part.

    [​IMG]

    Harden also doesn’t show much respect to shooters, and gives guys a lot of room on the perimeter. Take a look at him guarding Andre Iguodala here, he’s practically begging him to shoot the long three.

    [​IMG]

    Iguodala is not exactly an elite shooter, so you can’t really blame Harden for stepping off, but if you give guys that much room on the perimeter, it gives them room to get a full head of steam going to the basket, something Rajon Rondo has become really good at over many instances of defenses having no respect for his jumper. However once again, they’d be met by Asik at the ring (and now Dwight Howard), so it’s not really going to be an issue toward Harden’s isolation defense ranking.

    And taking a look at one more instance of Harden getting credited for a bad defensive sequence. Here he is getting blown by Kevin Martin, but who is then met at the ring by Asik who knocks the shot away.

    [​IMG]

    Obviously getting beaten to the baseline isn’t as bad as being beaten to the middle, but if Harden is really going to be guarding the opposition’s best wing players, getting blown by this frequently on D is just inexcusable.

    Defending Spot Ups

    The last category that Harden defends at a high volume is the spot-up, and it is by far the one he defends the most, 38.5% of the time, which is unfortunate because he is absolutely horrific at it – he gives up 1.07 ppp and is ranked 296th in the league. Not only this, but his opponents shoot .404 from the three-point line with him defending. This stat in particular is extraordinary, because Harden is so long, quick, and athletic. Usually players like that are great at closing out around the three-point line.

    So how can he be so bad? It’s simple – he’s a horrible defender off the ball. He is often caught well out of position trying to help, losing his man on cuts, and helping one pass away. What do I mean by that exactly? Let’s take a look.

    Here’s an example of Harden helping one pass away – we see Durant drive, and Harden is guarding Derek Fisher near the corner. When Durant beats his man off the dribble, Harden comes over to help, but he doesn’t really do anything, instead all he’s done is given Fisher way too much room and he hits the three.

    [​IMG]

    What Harden should do, is fake the help – that is, jab a step in Durant’s way and quickly recover to Fisher. Even if Durant still gets by, Asik is right there to help out at the ring.

    Here we see Durant get a flare screen from Kendrick Perkins, who was being guarded by Carlos Delfino. Harden doesn’t even attempt to fight through the screen, so hopefully that means he called out a switch, which is what it looks like, as Delfino tries to contest the shot. If that’s the case then it’s a good play by Harden.

    [​IMG]

    Harden is guilty of ball-watching far too often, standing in no man’s land which puts him well out of position to recover and close out on his man. On this play, he doesn’t even need to be out of position., ut he is, and Durant makes the simple swing pass to get Thabo Sefalosha the wide open look.

    [​IMG]

    And here is the exact same thing in the next game of the series. Compare the two, he makes the exact same mistake in the next game. And it wasn’t just these two times, this happened over and over again.

    [​IMG]

    Still not convinced? Here it is once more, earlier in the series, but on this one, Perkins sees him out of position (probably the only play Perkins contributed to on the offensive end for the whole game), and sets a back-screen for Sefelosha to get him even more room, and he has all the time in the world to get set and take the three.

    [​IMG]

    Okay, so Harden helps one pass away and gets out of position a lot. That’s not too bad, right? Heaps of players do that. Well, check out this sequence. Once again, Harden is guarding Sefalosha, and he’s on the left wing. Just notice where they both are at the start of the play. Sefalosha cuts along the baseline to make the spacing a bit better, and Harden is busy staring at the ball and uselessly swiping at Durant. In the time it takes Durant to swing the ball, then the ball to get thrown cross court to Sefelosha in the corner, Harden still isn’t able to get him in time, and he gifts him another wide open shot.

    [​IMG]

    Go on, watch it again – just stare at Harden for the whole play. He has absolutely no idea where his man is. This is perhaps the worst defensive sequence by any “star player” that I have ever seen.

    The obvious conclusion


    James Harden is not a good defender, he deserves the reputation. But fortunately for him, helping one pass away, being out of position, losing his man, those are all things that can be fixed without hard physical work. That’s just about reviewing film and working on team defensive philosophies at practice. As for guarding isolations and not being beat off the dribble, if he’s improved like he said he has, then maybe we could see a new and improved defensive player in the coming season. He has the ideal body for a great on-ball defender, he just needs the effort. Not that it’s going to matter too much with Howard standing in the key behind him this year.
     
    4 people like this.
  2. gengar

    gengar Member

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  3. AggNRox

    AggNRox Member

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    defense = effort. he showed no interest in defending his man.
     
  4. Bill Worrell

    Bill Worrell Member

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    [​IMG]

    Let some 1 else play the D
     
  5. hbomb

    hbomb Member

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    excellent article. thanks for the read.

    I think Harden will significantly improve in his defense this year.

    However, i don't think Harden will ever truly be a good defensive player. Defense is a mindset, it should be at your core.

    The good news is that, due to Howard's presence and Lin/Beverly's (hopefully) improved defensive backcourt presence, Harden's individual defensive deficiencies won't hurt us as much as it probably should. Unfortunately, it will hold Harden back from reaching a top 3 player spot.
     
  6. sirbaihu

    sirbaihu Member

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    I think for this article to be effective it should include Harden's Thunder days. Most of what I'm seeing in these gif's appears to be mental. And I think last season 1) Harden was very much more focused on providing scoring, 2) got gassed 2/3 through the season and started taking plays off. This season he should be less gassed and less offensive minded thanks to the arrival of Dwight Howard, plus, he and the coaches have surely seen more film of these kinds of lapses than we just did in the gif's. He'll be way better defensively this season. But I expect he'll still take it easy on defense sometimes.
     
  7. WinkFan

    WinkFan Contributing Member

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    2/3 of the way through the season, he hurt his foot against GS. His play dropped off from that point on.
     
  8. meh

    meh Contributing Member

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    I really find "analysis" that discount volume to be quite lacking. The question should not be how well or how badly Harden played against certain sets, but also the VOLUME at which those plays occured against him. There's a difference between players making 5 3s at 40% clip and 2 3s at 40% clip against him. And I can't see it being discussed.

    Granted, I believe Harden is a horrible defender. But from a team standpoint the important thing should be "quality x quantity". It would be a much more meaningful analysis if one can provide how much teams exploited Harden more than they would an average, decent SG at those high quality clips.

    Simply from a simple team result standpoint, 45 wins seems to imply that those numbers were not put on Harden at a high volume. That is, opposing wing players weren't exploiting the matchup at an insane rate even though Harden sucks at defending.
     
  9. conquistador#11

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    i think it's more of a team defense thing because both jeremy and bev do the exact same thing when it comes to over helping in the post, like there are so many great centers around and defending p&R. there is a pattern there.
     
  10. Roxnostalgia

    Roxnostalgia Contributing Member

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    He would be a better defender if he let Jesus in his heart.



    Also he should throw dem 'bows.
     
    #10 Roxnostalgia, Oct 3, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2013
  11. DREAM ON!

    DREAM ON! Member

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    With Dwight/Asik behind him always he can take more risks. I like that he is up to the challenge!
     
  12. tomato123

    tomato123 Rookie

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  13. Ultimate6thMan

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    Excellent write up OP! I thought you pointed out EXACTLY what I saw most games all season long last year from Harden. He would give up so many open shots that he just didn't need to be that far away from his player. I don't know if he felt that he needed to help more, if that was McHale's defensive philosophy, or if he was just trying to be a leader on the court. Whatever the reason, the good thing about most of what you pointed out is that it is EASILY remedied.

    With his statements about being a better defensive player this year and taking on the other teams best perimeter player, I think maybe he has watched a lot of film like this and knows that he can be MUCH MUCH better. Add to that coach McHale's increased focus on defense this training camp and our other coach calling Harden out, I think that is a recipe for success for Harden this year on the defensive end.

    But most importantly, add in Dwight Howard and Omer Asik at twin towers or at least having one of them behind you at all times, and I think that Harden does have the talent to rise up to be one of the best defensive players in the league because of his unique size, length and strength. He is already good at rebounding and steals. This would definitely put him in the conversation for league MVP if he can perform anywhere close on the defensive end that he does on the offensive end!
     
  14. Yellow

    Yellow Member

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    Spot on and I hope Harden will prove it was mostly because he was:
    A) carry most of the offense
    B) wanted to prove he was a great player on offense
    C) not properly coached and cut some slack because of the reasons just stated

    Point C could be seen throughout many games, especially the playoffs where Harden was hurting the team badly and had 10 turnovers. McHale didn't really seem to be bothered by it and has stated many times that he wanted James to learn from his mistakes and let him make them. This year I think McHale is going to be harder on everybody, especially Howard and Harden. This his been reported on several occassions this off-season. Let's wait and see, though he will never be a top defender as some have said it is a mindset and mentality that he just does not have. You can't teach that.
     
  15. X35 JANA

    X35 JANA Member

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    Fantastic post. The author of the article posted it elsewhere also, and revealed that he's only in high school. :eek: Lots of potential and I look forward to seeing more of his analysis.
     
  16. CXbby

    CXbby Contributing Member

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    Ridiculous hyperbole.

    In fact, half of those highlights are examples of the Rockets philosophy of packing the paint, as opposed to Harden's defensive breakdown. McHale just recently commented on the team "selling out" to protect the paint last year.

    With Howard, there is less of a need for that. So watch as Harden's closeouts "magically" improve this year.
     
    #16 CXbby, Oct 3, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2013
    1 person likes this.
  17. Sydeffect

    Sydeffect Member

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    The kid that wrote this article is only 15 wow.
     
  18. hikanoo49

    hikanoo49 Member

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    Harden is about the worse All Star defender I have been for probably last 15 years

    Guy gives zero effort, no hustle plays, bad technique and just wants to dribble the ball around for 23 seconds and then get fouled

    He has so much potential and can really become one of the great ones if he can get his head on straight. Probably all them paid hookers has turned his brain into mush but we need this guy to be a complete player for us to have a chance at a championship

    What worries me is that Mchale/Harden in interviews never addresses this problem. At least with Dwight, you hear him talk about improving his FTs. With Lin, you hear him trying to improve his 3 and his left hand. With Harden, it is as if everything is perfect. Quite delusiional
     
  19. CXbby

    CXbby Contributing Member

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    That explains a lot.

    Copy&pasted some synergy stats and cherry picked a couple of gifs to call it "analysis". Middle school level at best.

    Lock thread/ban OP/evacuate to Katy

    On a more serious note:

    Can we ban this b**** already? This is why we need neg reps.
     
  20. Nook

    Nook Member

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    This.....

    If that is the "worst" you have seen, then you are not paying attention. Kobe Bryant did far worse, as have a number of supposed superstars.

    Further, you obviously do not understand the Rocket's defensive strategy, a number of times Harden was supposed to pack the paint, and it showed in the PPS in the paint.
     

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