Nikola Jokic and James Harden are in rare company with their skillset and star-power on the basketball floor. As two of the best offensive players at their positions, their ability to get a quick bucket and create for opportunities for others has been a staple of their game.
Unfortunately, that same energy cannot be matched on the defensive end where, statistically, they are the two worst rim protectors in the NBA.
Through a handful of games into the 2019-20 NBA season, opponents are shooting a whopping 80% at the rim when being primarily guarded by Jokic and Harden (NBA.com/Stats). That figure is by far the worse among qualified players competing in over 30 minutes a night and having to defend more than four shots at the rim each game. Among the worst (just underneath Harden and Jokic) are Miles Bridges, Myles Turner, P.J. Washington, Lonzo Ball, and Luka Doncic, to name a few.
While both players are expected to be in the MVP race this season, assuming their teams are near the top of the Conference, the lack of defensive intensity is a serious concern.
After swapping Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook this summer, the Rockets are hoping they finally have enough to win the West. But if Harden doesn’t step up defensively, it will be harder for them to reach their goals this season.
As for Denver, they want to continue the tear they were on last season and prove that it wasn’t just some fluke. Alongside a talented and deep roster, Jokic is certainly the gear that moves everything for the team. But if he’s not protecting the rim for them, it creates a huge vulnerability for his team.
Hopefully, these stars will improve on the defensive end of the floor — no doubt, their respective teams will need every ounce of production they can give.