If you just look at the box score, you’ll probably assume that James Harden had a monster game against Golden State on Monday. Harden finished with a team-high 28 points, a game-high 11 assists and shot 13-of-15 from the foul line, which suggests he was an active and engaged leader for a Houston squad trying to steal home-court advantage from the shorthanded Warriors.
If you actually watched the game, though, you know that wasn’t exactly the case. At all.
Indeed, Harden had a decent stat line – though his 1-of-8 performance from three left much to be desired – but he was a liability defensively and seemed disinterested in Houston’s 115-106 loss.
Has Harden checked out defensively because he sees the writing on the wall for this season, or is this just who he is?
“I think it’s the latter,” CBS Sports NBA insider Ken Berger told Damon Amendolara and Jason La Canfora, who were filling in as hosts of CBS Sports Radios The Doug Gottlieb Show. “There’s video evidence of James Harden not caring about defense going all the way back to October. He’s been that way a lot of the year. Look, he’s never going to be a great defensive player. It’s not who he is, it’s not why he’s on the floor. He’s there to create and score, and he’s one of the best at that. But you got to put forth at least a little bit of effort and be in the right place and be connected with your teammates on defense.”
“That’s been an issue for the Rockets all year long,” Berger continued. “I still have nightmares about watching Dwight Howard in a Lakers uniform on that team when they had (Steve) Nash and Dwight and Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. They were supposed to be a team that could win a championship, and all I remember about that team is them getting in transition and Dwight Howard pointing at about three different people about why they didn’t do their job. When it comes to defense, if you just do your job – if everyone just does his job – you become a better defensive team even if you’re not a great defensive team. I think that’s one of the issues that the Rockets have.”
Last year, the Rockets went 56-26 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. This year, they went 41-41 and barely made the playoffs.
So, just how toxic is Harden? Is he someone who will always score a lot of points but never win anything?
“Well, I don’t think we can say that yet,” Berger said. “Scott Brooks coached him in Oklahoma City. He was a sixth man then. He was sort of third fiddle to (Kevin) Durant and (Russell) Westbrook, so a little different scenario. Now he’s the lead guy in Houston and that takes on a whole different level of responsibility. So I think he’s too young and it’s too early in his career to say that (he’ll never win anything). If you want to put like a Stephon Marbury label on him, I think that’s too extreme. But look, it’s fair to say he’s warranting the criticism he receives.”