The Proof That James Harden 'Travel’ Is Actually Totally Legal

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Credit: USATSI

Credit: USATSI

James Harden is without any hesitation one of the most talented players in the world, being considered the best scorer in the league at this moment. He’s a scoring machine, no doubt about it, but there is increasing concern about the way he’s getting some of those points, becoming a topic of debate for NBA fans.

It’s not a secret that Harden’s offensive arsenal has been built on a barrage of step-back and side-step three-pointers combined with an unprecedented ability to draw fouls. However, his euro-step layup is the move that’s been drawing a lot of attention recently.

He has made that move an art; it has become so effective that it’s led to many opposing fans, players, and announcers calling for it to be whistled as a travel.

We saw another episode of this on Saturday night, when the Houston Rockets beat the Utah Jazz, 120-110. The Beard scored 38 points, but there was one play that sparked the debates. As Harden attacked the Jazz defense and used a euro-step layup to score a bucket, Utah’s announcers were pleading for a traveling call on TV.

When you first see the play, it sure looks like Harden is taking three steps before he scores the ball, which totally should be called a travel. But if you look at the NBA rule book and watch the play again you can notice the play is absolutely legal.

It all comes back to the “gather” step. Here’s how the NBA rule book defines a gather:

For a player who is in control of the ball while dribbling, the gather is defined as the point where a player does any one of the following:

Puts two hands on the ball, or otherwise permits the ball to come to rest, while he is in control of it;

Puts a hand under the ball and brings it to a pause; or

Otherwise gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.

Incorporating the Gather into the Traveling Rule

The gather will be expressly incorporated into the traveling rule to clarify how many steps a player may take after he receives the ball while progressing or completes his dribble:

A player who gathers the ball while progressing may (a) take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball or (b) if he has not yet dribbled, one step prior to releasing the ball to start his dribble.

A player who gathers the ball while dribbling may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.

The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after the player gathers the ball.

That last line is very important. NBA officials don’t start counting steps until the gather is complete. Harden and other stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo have been able to get advantage of that when driving to the basket, and this is the biggest proof of that.

If you see the play again, Harden is gathering the ball as he makes his first step. That is legal according to the rule book and does not start the count on how many steps Harden is allowed to take.

He then takes two steps and lays the ball in. It does appear he drags his back foot into his final step, but that’s not illegal, either.

Fans need to remember that next time someone claims Harden is taking three steps.