The article is titled simply “The Case Against James Harden’s Game” and yes, it’s from a news organization in Utah. Let’s be clear and fair though, the writer — Doug Robinson — fully admits that Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is currently “killing” and “tormenting” the Utah Jazz. He just doesn’t like the way Harden is doing it, using what he calls an “ugly brand of basketball.”
Harden has faced these accusations before. As his game drives opponents insane, Harden gets accused of elite hoops chicanery and attacks on the very sanctity of the sport — especially with his stretching the definition of traveling to the breaking point. Robinson quotes Clippers announcer Don MacLean saying of Harden:
“This style, what Harden does, is manipulating the game somehow,” he began. “Almost like cheating it somehow. And I don’t really have a thought beyond that other than I’m watching something that isn’t basketball…”
The case against Harden’s game has a touch of “case against change itself” bias — don’t forget Harden’s contemporary Steph Curry has also been accused of “ruining the game” — so often that he calls his new Under Armour shoes the “Ruin the Game” version. Robinson cites a slew of stats that say Harden has the ball too much, gets fouled too much, shoots too much, etc. But does it matter if it’s a winning formula? In football when a team has a great running back, they give him the ball. Over and over. Couldn’t that work in basketball? Seems that Michael Jordan used to take a lot of shots.
But Robinson brings in the hoops historians when he writes: “I’m not saying Harden isn’t talented; I’m saying he has the ugliest game since Adrian Dantley. It was excruciating to watch Dantley.”
Dantley, known as A.D., was an undersized forward with the sizable derriere and pound-down post game. He was no ballet dancer on the court, surely, though he had a quick first step. For the record, Dantley was also a 6x NBA All-Star who led the NBA in scoring twice (1981,1984) and scored 23K career NBA points. (A first team All-America in college, Dantley averaged 30 ppg one season and was the leading scorer on the USA Olympic team that won the gold medal in 1976.) Sure, the Pistons had to switch Dantley out for Mark Aguirre to finally win an NBA title. But Harden is a respectful student of the game, and if the worst you can say about him is that his game is as ugly as A.D.’s game, then he’ll probably just smile and say thanks.