The Houston Rockets resorted to just the saddest damn evidence imaginable Monday night, in an effort to push back against James Harden’s well-earned reputation as an often distracted and indifferent defensive player:
What’s very funny about this is you don’t need a video of Harden almost literally stealing from a coffin to make the case that his defensive shortcomings are, by now, overrated. Houston’s all-switching defense helps minimize his deficiencies by requiring less of him on screens—when teams go at Harden, they tend to go at him in isolations and on the block, where he’s generally up to the job. Harden ranks a respectable 18th among point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, ahead of De’Aaron Fox and Mike Conley, guys who are generally credited with playing smart and tenacious defense. Harden’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus (0.7), per Basketball Reference, is in the range of Patrick Beverley’s healthy 1.0, and is far, far ahead of Conley’s putrid -0.9. He’s doing fine!
Yes, defensive metrics are wildly imperfect, but they’re certainly much more respectable as evidence of Harden’s effort than a video of him picking the pocket of Dirk Nowitzki’s used-up, desiccated corpse. If you can’t find a more impressive video of Harden’s defensive effort than this one, maybe it’s time to concede that his detractors have a point.