TNT NBA analyst and former player Jamal Crawford spoke about James Harden this week on a broadcast and wondered why he didn’t get the same love that Luka Doncic is receiving for virtually doing the same thing.
Does Luka Doncic Get More Love Than James Harden ?
“The stuff you see with Luka [Doncic] doing right now, you go back and look Harden is doing all the same things. Why do we not give [James] Harden his love when he was doing all the same numbers in Houston?”
.@JCrossover: "The stuff you see with Luka [Doncic] doing right now, you go back and look Harden is doing all the same things. Why do we not give [James] Harden his love when he was doing all the same numbers in Houston?" pic.twitter.com/w53KB5Mg7G
— 𝐓𝐚𝐥𝐤𝐢𝐧' 𝐍𝐁𝐀 (@_Talkin_NBA) February 1, 2023
Let’s deal with some facts.
This season Doncic is averaging 33 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists per game on 50/35/72 shooting splits. He is second in the league in EPM and has a 38% usage rate, tops in the league. Doncic will start in this month’s All-Star game and barring injury will be first team All-NBA. He’s also one of the MVP favorites.
What he’s doing is incredible and he’s carrying the Mavericks to a top four record in the west. He is justifiably receiving a lot of adulation in certain media circles.
From 2017-19, Harden’s three-year peak with the Houston Rockets, he finished top two in MVP voting all three years, winning it in 2018. He was first team All-NBA all three years, All-Star starter all three years, won two scoring titles and led the league in assists during that period.
In his MVP season he averaged 30 points, five rebounds, and eight assists on 44/36/85 shooting splits. He led the league in EPM, and usage rate at 35%.
Harden received all the accolades his play warranted. He won every award and honor imaginable. But what he didn’t get, and what is at the crux of Crawford’s musing, was the universal love by media members.
Was Media Hating On James Harden?
If you remember back to his time in Houston, Harden’s brand of heliocentric hoops was not aesthetically pleasing. His step-back threes were derided, as were his foul-drawing tactics. Harden averaged almost 11 free throw attempts per game during that period. Coincidentally Doncic is averaging 11 free throw attempts per game this season.
Part of Harden’s problem was his brilliant offensive play coincided with the Golden State Warriors early dynasty. The Warriors and their “beautiful” ball movement was “refreshing” in contrast to Harden’s isolations.
Doncic is doing the exact same thing now that Harden was then and there doesn’t seem to be any animus directed at his style of play.
Doncic and Harden’s games are very similar and rooted in the same thing, brake speed.
In sports we understand acceleration as an athletic trait, but many don’t understand deceleration is also an athletic trait.
Sports performance lab P3 measured the brake speeds of many NBA players. Of all the players in their database, peak Harden in Houston and Doncic have the fastest stop time by far. Harden was first, Doncic was second and then there was a wide gap before you get to the next grouping of players.
It is that ability that allows them to draw fouls and stop their bodies before defenders realized they’ve stopped moving. It’s actually quite brilliant.
Is heliocentric ball a style that wins in the playoffs?
Harden did play in multiple conference finals in Houston and the Rockets had a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in 2018 until Chris Paul’s hamstring gave out. Harden was playing the same style of ball he’d always played.
Doncic also made the conference finals playing heliocentric ball last season. Can you win the ultimate prize? The jury’s still out.
But if you’re a fan of Doncic’s game and detest Harden’s game you might want to do some introspection and ask yourself why that is.