James Harden Arrives to Game vs. Lakers Wearing Pink and Black Sweatshirt

It’s difficult to find the words to describe the sweatshirt that Houston Rockets star James Harden wore to the Toyota Center prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden isn’t the first NBA player to wear a crazy outfit, but he certainly turned some heads with this choice.

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Harden leads Rockets past Thunder (Yahoo Sports)

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 16: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets goes up for a shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 16, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Houston Rockets prepared for Monday night’s showdown with the gritty Memphis Grizzlies with one of the NBA’s ugliest games in years.


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James Harden posterizes Aron Baynes with monster dunk (Video)

Houston Rockets guard James Harden brought his teammates on the bench to their feet by throwing down a monster one-handed dunk over San Antonio Spurs center Aron Baynes during the second quarter of Thursday night’s game at the Toyota Center.Harden drove the baseline and was set up perfectly with the pass from Donatas Motiejunas, and Baynes had no chance to stop him.Harden scored 20 points as the Rockets blew out the Spurs 98-81, which was undoubtedly made easier by the fact that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were given the night off to rest.Video via NBA.
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WATCH: James Harden posterizes Aron Baynes

James Harden threw down a dunk on Thursday night that rocked the Toyota Center.
During the team’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, he set up in the corner and then blew by Danny Green as he received a perfect bounce pass to lead him to the hoop.
Aron Baynes was in his way. But that didn’t stop Harden, who proceeded to elevate and dunk over Baynes…

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Watch: James Harden posterizes Aron Baynes with vicious dunk

James Harden threw down a dunk on Thursday night that rocked the Toyota Center.
During the team’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, he set up in the corner and then blew by Danny Green as he received a perfect bounce pass to lead him to the hoop.
Aron Baynes was in his way. But that didn’t stop Harden, who proceeded to elevate and dunk over Baynes…

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Rockets’ James Harden Throws It Down over Spurs’ Aron Baynes

At 5-0, the Houston Rockets are off to a terrific start this season, and they’re continuing their hot start with a big game against the in-state-rival San Antonio Spurs.

In the third quarter of Thursday night’s game, with the Rockets up 21, James Harden skied toward the rim and threw down over Spurs big man Aron Baynes despite being bumped mid-flight.

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The Bread-and-Butter Plays for James Harden

Within the Houston Rockets‘ offensive system, James Harden‘s leash is virtually non-existent. 

The team’s focus on three-pointers and two-point attempts in the restricted area governs shot selection, but Harden is otherwise free to create in one-on-one and pick-and-roll at will. 

Most of this is based on the analytical notion that these two locations are the most efficient spots on the floor. 

But the Rockets take their mathematical approach to basketball multiple steps further; even their play designs, or lack thereof, is a function of economy. On most teams, the average pick-and-roll play yields a higher points per possession average than a drawn up set. 

That’s why much of Houston’s offense is a big—typically Dwight Howard—flying out to set a ball-screen, while shooters dot the three-point arc in the corners and along the wings.

It doesn’t hurt that Houston has Harden running the show. He’s a fantastic ball-handler with unlimited range, and he’s already drawing fouls on nearly a quarter of his total possessions used, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Though he’s a volume shooter, Harden is remarkably profitable in his attempts. He was 29th in the league last year in pick-and-rolls used (only five non-point guards were ahead of him), according to Synergy Sports, while still pouring in 0.905 points per possession—good for the 86th percentile in the league.

 

Where Harden Excels

The focal point of Harden’s dominance as an offensive player rests in his ability to drive and finish or draw fouls. What he lacks in pure speed is more than made up for in ball-handling, strength and ingenuity.

If you’ve ever watched him attack the rim, it’s never at a blinding pace. He’s more of a methodical player with elite footwork. The euro-step—a tactic in which a driver uses his first step to explode in one direction before darting at a new angle with the second—is the staple of his arsenal.

But the euro-step, popularized by Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili, is now common through the league and widely utilized to avoid charges or slip around bigger rim-protectors.

Harden has twisted its advantage to his own game by adding a layer of deception. 

When most NBA players drive to the rim, they’ll cradle the ball to their bodies to protect against strips. Only when it’s time to unload a layup or floater will they expose the ball.

While this does limit turnovers, the consequence is less power and freedom on the attack. By tightening up his body frame, the player is bracing for contact instead of dishing it out. 

Harden’s approach is in direct contrast to that of most players. Instead of hiding the ball within his midsection, he holds it out with two strong hands as he euro-steps. 

Defensive players, keen to make a play and strip the unprotected basketball, will swipe at the ball. But Harden is already a bull, and his body is on the move. More often than not, defenders try to multitask in dealing with his shifting physicality while gunning for the strip. 

The result is usually a foul of one of two kinds: Either the defender rakes Harden across the arm, or he illegally impedes Harden’s path as he tries to better position himself to make a play on the ball.

The former occurs in the video above. After Harden deftly maneuvers around a middle ball-screen, he euro-steps around Tyler Zeller of the Boston Celtics while positioning the ball low and out in front. 

Zeller’s left arm gets caught tracking the ball, and he mimics Harden’s left-to-right movement. With his arm in an illegal guarding position, Harden immediately rips through to draw the foul.

 

The One Play To Watch For With Harden

Houston’s offense is certainly more free-flowing and open than the typical NBA scheme, but that doesn’t mean head coach Kevin McHale doesn’t have a few quick-hitters up his sleeve to keep the ball moving. 

As the team’s main ball-dominator, Harden isolates or calls for a screen at will. He’s also a late-clock relief option and capable of bailing out a bad possession with his own creativity.

When a structured play is called for him, Harden will typically start off the ball. One minimal design the Rockets rely on is a slice cut off the wing.

The design calls for a screen parallel to the baseline on the wing, with Harden curling off it toward the rim. A point guard with the ball at the top of the key hits him right as he’s coming off the screen shoulder-to-shoulder. 

Notice how Harden briefly lifts his hand while facing Trevor Ariza along the baseline. This dummy movement is meant to throw off his defender, Wesley Johnson, before Harden whips around to fly off the screen. 

Howard, meanwhile, is jogging in as the trailing big for what seems like a drag screen—an early offense screen in which the big approaches the ball-handler from behind and on an angle perpendicular to the baseline.

His defender, Jordan Hill, reacts by dropping off to the free-throw line in preparation for the pick-and-roll. When Howard screens for Harden instead, Johnson is left with no help to deal with the slice cut.

As Harden receives the ball and Howard pivots to dive toward the rim, Hill faces a difficult two-on-one situation.

 

What Harden Brings To Houston’s Defense

Harden has become the go-to target for lackluster defense, mostly due to one viral video detailing the worst of his struggles. The truth is probably a bit kinder than his reputation suggests.

This is not to say that Harden is an elite defender, or even a good one. His effort at times is poor, and defense is largely a matter of effort.

Still, Harden’s strength does provide a beneficial quality to the Rockets’ team scheme. 

Even though Howard is an elite rim-protector, his presence alone isn’t enough. He can’t stop every drive or block every shot, and relentless rim pressure usually leads to foul trouble. 

Howard is at his best looming on the weak side and threatening from the periphery. That means perimeter players can’t get bullied to the rim and must at least veer their opponents toward indirect routes to the basket.

When Harden is an engaged, there aren’t many ball-handlers who can out-muscle him to the hoop. 

Jeff Green tries just that on the play above (while using the ball-cradle mentioned earlier). Green, despite a multiple inch height advantage, is unable to gain any ground closer to the rim. In fact, he ends up fading away and Harden gets a piece of his shot.

This is the advantage pure strength can provide when wielded properly. 

Ever since he joined Houston, Harden has taken the necessary steps to establish himself as one of the league’s best offensive players. He lacks a weakness on that end of the floor and can score 30 on any given night. 

It’s on defense that he’ll have to continue to prove himself. With more teams playing four out and one in,  fielding multiple perimeter stoppers to alleviate penetration is a must. Howard is a great piece in the middle, but having perimeter stoppers who can lock up on the wing is the sign of a truly great defense. 

Harden already has the keys to the offense and is thriving as Houston’s primary option. He has the tools to be similarly effective defensively, but only time will tell if he gets there. 

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Nerlens Noel Rejects James Harden With Block Of The Year Candidate (Video)

Nerlens Noel is healthy, and that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA.
The Philadelphia 76ers big man missed all of last season with an injury, but he’s back and making a big impact already. Where Noel’s been at his best is around the rim as a defensive presence — just ask James Harden.
The Houston Rockets guard tried to attack the basket Monday night, but Noel was having none of it. Noel elevated to protect the rim and rejected Harden with an emphatic block.

Safe to say Harden won’t be trying that one again any time soon.
Noel’s offensive game seems to be a work in progress still — he’s averaging just 8.0 points per game on 41 percent shooting through five games. His defense, hwoever, is another story, as Noel is averaging 2.6 block and 2.6 steals per game so far this season.
None of that is making a huge difference on the Sixers’ record, though. Philadelphia is now 0-5 after Monday’s loss to Harden and the Rockets.
Photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports ImagesFiled under: NBA, Philad

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Nerlens Noel forces Harden to eat his own dunk

Thunderous block from the Sixers big man.

      
 

 

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Harden scores 35, Rockets top 76ers 104-93 (Yahoo Sports)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 3: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets shoots against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 3, 2014 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Play time is over, Houston. The Rockets are off to their best start since 1996 thanks in part to a lightweight schedule. Up next, games against NBA finalists Miami and San Antonio that will serve as an early-season proving ground for a team with designs on playing deep into the postseason. James Harden had 35 points and nine rebounds and Dwight Howard added 11 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Houston Rockets past the Philadelphia 76ers 104-93 on Monday night.


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