Without a doubt, James Harden is the best scorer in the NBA right now. In fact, he has a case for being the single greatest isolation scorer over the past decade. Since joining the Houston Rockets, James Harden has been on an absolute tear in his career. He blossomed from a former Sixth Man of The Year to a consistent MVP candidate every single season. His ability to score and assist the basketball means he is in a unique class when ranking the all-time greatest shooting guards.
Harden's stats are eye-popping and he's truly the most impactful offensive player at the shooting guard position that we have seen since Kobe Bryant. But why does James Harden and his incredible offensive skillset not translate in the postseason? Why does James Harden have so many critics who don't believe he can't lead a team to the NBA title? As crazy as it might sound, it is because James Harden is overrated, and here are the 5 reasons why.
5. Questionable Killer Instinct
James Harden has always been a great regular season player, even during his 6th Man days with the Oklahoma City Thunder. James Harden's talent is transcendent and he is an MVP player every single season because he has the skills to dominate any game offensively. But for whatever reason, he doesn't seem to replicate this ability in critical moments. There are legitimate doubts about his killer instinct because he doesn't seem hungry enough to take and make big shots to gain the victory.
Most importantly, James Harden has had moments where he doesn't show up for his team. That is why many critics point to Harden's tendency to "choke" in the postseason, although that just means he doesn't perform to the standards he sets during the regular season. Whether it's his disappearance in the 2012 NBA Finals or even his horrific shooting night in Game 7 in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, Harden's killer instinct is certainly questionable.
4. Countless Postseason Disappointments
It is not easy to win in the NBA, and that is why only a handful of franchises have managed to win NBA championships. We find it too easy to critique great NBA players when they fail to deliver for their team because it is just plain exhausting. But James Harden is a special talent with heavy expectations because of how he dominates the game of basketball. Not to mention, the way he plays the game also leads people to criticize him more because of how he tends to draw fouls so much. All of this puts extra pressure on Harden to deliver.
While his earlier years of Houston with Dwight Howard didn't lead to much success, he got a pass because Howard was past his prime and the team wasn't quite ready. But with Mike D'Antoni and Chris Paul on board, Houston had a real shot and they pushed the Golden State Warriors juggernaut to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals in 2018. If Harden managed to play to his normal standards, Houston probably wins the series despite the rest of the team shooting poorly.
Fast forward and the Chris Paul situation didn't work and Harden got Russell Westbrook instead. Clearly a massive revamp in the team, Russ and Harden were dominant but once again Harden did not seem to be the type of leader to keep everyone in check. The Rockets had a few hiccups during the regular season and ultimately finished 4th in the conference and barely scraped by a weaker OKC Thunder led by Chris Paul. Harden's game-winning block in Game 7 was great, but the Rockets were expected to win the series and if they didn't, it would've been a massive black mark on Harden's career. Of course, Harden and the Rockets were beaten down by the champion Lakers in the second round.
Overall, Harden has had some terrific talent around him yet he couldn't make an NBA Finals. While it isn't easy to just make the Finals every year without a Superteam, Harden's greatness does not translate in the postseason and that is a major reason why he is overrated.
James Harden's defense is truly shocking at times. There probably has never been a player as talented as Harden who has shown a complete lack of respect for the defensive side of the game. Harden has an entire blooper reel of poor defensive plays, something that is unacceptable for a franchise player that is expected to lead by example. Harden is so special offensively that it is natural to give him a pass, but some of the possessions he gives up are sometimes painful to watch.
Even though Harden has improved as a paint defender over the years, we have seen Harden give up on defensive plays far too many times over his career. Harden can turn it up on defense and be excellent on the floor when he wants to, but he simply does not care about that end of the floor consistently. We have seen how a player like LeBron James can be so special defensively in last year's NBA playoff run and turn it on when it matters. Harden's Game 7 block on Lougentz Dort in the first round was impressive, but his overall lack of effort on defense at times is unacceptable.
James Harden is still an incredible talent, one of the greatest shooting guards ever, and one of the best one-on-one players we have ever seen. As good as he is offensively, he does not have the pure leadership intangibles that some of the greatest players have. Because if he did, the Rockets would have found a way to make at least one NBA Finals appearance with his leadership.
Harden's lack of leadership as a superstar player becomes evident when you compare him to some of the other great shooting guards of all time. Michael Jordan is the greatest leader and winner in sports history while Kobe Bryant possesses a killer will that was unique and special. Even though Jordan and Bryant were unique, Harden doesn't come close to other of the greatest shooting guards as well. Jerry West was a special leader who led by example by leading his team to multiple Finals appearances. Of course, Dwyane Wade has 3 rings and 1 Finals MVP Award and always performed best in pressure moments.
Whether it's performing on defense or dealing with adversity, great leaders are hard to critique because of the example they set on the floor. That is why a player like Chris Paul can exit the first round and still be applauded for his leadership. Harden simply does not have the body language nor the mental intangibles of an all-time great leader, which is a massive reason why he has not lived up to his championship expectations.
1. The Era Of Basketball
James Harden has incredible stats, and that is a testament to his greatness at being a primary offensive option every single game. He is averaging 34.3 PPG this season with 12.4 3-point attempts per game. He also averages 11.8 FT per game, meaning he gets his points from the line and from three. For his career, he averages 25.2 PPG on 44.2% from the field. He also shoots 36.3% from three in a whopping 8.8 attempts per game. These types of numbers are incredibly rare to find, and unsurprisingly it is being done in the era of 2020 basketball.
Harden's style of play is perfectly catered to by today's rules. Fouls are called much easier and perhaps no player in history is better at drawing fouls than James Harden. That is why we have seen James Harden throw up crazy shots from three hoping to draw fouls instead of looking to get a good shot off. He is also very clever at flailing his arms and head to coerce referees into giving him fouls, something that every non-Rockets fan can't stand about him. The league is also geared towards a lack of defensive resistance meaning Harden can go out there and play scrimmage-style basketball and drop 50 points with ease.
James Harden is a superstar and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but his style of play in today's era has helped him become one of the greatest regular-season performers in history. Harden that unfortunately hasn't translated into the Playoffs because silly fouls aren't called as much, teams can defend Harden a bit more cleverly, and his leadership or killer instinct always seems to come into question.