In last night’s win over the Nets, James Harden dropped a bloated stat line that, by week eight, feels routine: 36 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds. He served the usual slew of crafty pocket passes, cottony lobs and floaters, crossovers and pull-up threes. If there’s anything worth noting, it’s that he rarely seemed to dial the speed level past “brisk jog.” Behold as smooth a highlight reel as you’ll see this season:
“Deceptively athletic,” goes one common James Harden refrain. I don’t know about you guys, but to me he looks very, very, obviously athletic, with a knife of a first step and a springy step-back and, on special showcase this season, a habit of rifling passes through traffic while in mid-air. The only thing remotely “deceptive” about this athleticism that he has it while also having the grooming and demeanor of a blissed-out Himalayan yogi, and a marginally higher body fat percentage than the most of the NBA’s rippling freaks.
But maybe what those people are actually reacting to is his economy of movement: Harden seems to know exactly just how much effort to exert at any given point to achieve the desired results. (On offense, that is.) Though his twitchy misdirection, Harden creates vanishingly tiny windows of opportunity, and then acts rapidly and decisively to exploit them. But once he’s got his guy beat and sees the space to do what he wants, he can ease up on all the speed and unseemly effort. Right after he dismantles Trevor Booker with crossover, you can almost see the bastard smiling a tiny white smile through his beard as he takes those easy, gliding steps to the hoop:
Harden won’t explode up to ravage the rim like Westbrook, but he doesn’t really need to. And when you’re playing the fourth-most minutes per game in the NBA—behind only Anthony Davis, Zach LaVine, and Kyle Lowry—it’s probably wiser not to.