James Harden is best known for having a phenomenal beard, drawing some questionable fouls, and appearing alongside Oscar from The Office in State Farm Insurance commercials. James Harden is also perhaps the most unstoppable offensive force in the NBA today.
Harden isn’t just good, he is scoring at a historic rate. He also isn’t hurting his team. The Houston Rockets have run into the brick wall called the Golden State Warriors in recent years, but they are a perennial powerhouse in their own right.
So why shouldn’t your son or daughter emulate James Harden? To understand this claim, let’s dig deeper into Harden’s game, what he does well on the court, and why that doesn’t always translate to other players.
The Case for James Harden as the NBA’s Best Scorer
In the 2018-19 NBA season, James Harden has a 32 game streak where he scored 30 or more points. The game where he lost the streak? He scored 28. That is good for second all time behind Wilt Chamberlain's legendary 65 game run.
While points-per-game is the go to stat for scoring, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. Chamberlain had many, many more scoring opportunities during his playing days than Harden due to the drop-off in modern NBA possessions per game.
A better metric for scoring efficiency is scoring rate per 75 possessions. Michael Jordan set the record in 1987 with 34.8 points per 75. Harden is one of only a few players to ever break 30 points per 75 games in a season.
Harden is incredibly efficient shooting from beyond the arc, driving to the basket, and from the free throw line. Simply put, there is no way to defend this man.
Elite Scoring Skill Set Required to play like Harden
So what actually makes Harden so great? It is the same reason why we believe youth basketball players should not be molding their game after him: he has a physical and mental toolkit jam packed with offensive options. Here are just a few:
Step back three: this is honestly the primary reason for writing this article. No, your six year old nephew should not be shooting step back threes in winter ball. Most NBA stars cannot master this movement, let alone the average youth player. Harden’s stepback is legendary at this point, creating separation for his deadly three point shot.
Explosive crossover and first move: guarding Harden in isolation is virtually impossible because he has the option to shoot (see above) or blow by you with a lightning fast first step.
Strength and body control: yet another area where youth players might watch Harden in awe is his ability to draw contact and still make shots. This is an elite level strategy which requires strength, balance, ball control, body control, and top level understanding of the rules of basketball.
The Wayne Gretzky Analogy
Wayne Gretzky’s nickname is The Great One. If you think this is hyperbolic, let us assure you: it is not. Gretzky has an unbreakable stranglehold on NHL scoring records in a way unmatched in other major sports.
First all time in NHL career points with 2,857. Second place is Jaromir Jagr (who played 8 more seasons) with 1,921. The differential is 936 points.
First all time in NHL career assists with 1,963. Second place is Ron Francis with 1,249 assists in three more seasons. The differential is 714 assists.
First in career goals with 894. Gordie Howe had 801, which is the closest margin of defeat only coming up 93 goals shy of the great one.
Of the top 11 scoring seasons in NHL history, 9 were recorded by Gretzky. (Two were by Super Mario for those who were curious).
Why does this matter? Because Wayne Gretzky was a terrible NHL coach. There was simply no way to teach other players to play like Wayne Gretzky...even when they were coached by Gretzky himself!
Harden is much the same. He is a generational talent, but one that no youth basketball player should model their game after. The skill set to become a player like Harden can only truly develop much later in life after years of hard work and dedication.
Fundamentals, Defense, and Youth Basketball
To wrap things up, we mean no disrespect to James Harden with the writing of this article. In fact, we believe that the main reason youth ballers should not watch Harden is because he is simply too good.
When I played basketball, my teammates would get in trouble for trying to play like Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson. This generation will almost certainly get into trouble with coaches for trying to play like James Harden.
Youth coaches and parents should focus on developing players’ fundamentals, effort, and mental mindset. Ensure your young basketball players that the flashy stuff will come, and that James Harden had to learn to dribble with his weak hand before he could blow by NBA defenders for an easy slam.
Youth Basketball Development with Hustle Training
Pittsburgh startup Hustle Training is quickly rising to one of the most popular sports drill apps out there. Their website, along with their mobile app puts players and coaches at the top of their game by providing skilled workouts and drills crafted by coaches, trainers, and professional athletes, and informative articles to take your team to the next level.