James Harden is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history. With his incredible step-back and uncanny ability to draw fouls, you could say Harden is a walking bucket. Actually, his ability to draw fouls isn’t just uncanny; it’s ridiculous. From 2015-2020, Harden averaged 10.7 free throw attempts per game, and converted 9.2 of them. This means that Harden scored roughly nine points every game from free throws alone. So, how does Harden draw so many fouls? Let’s look at some of his most used moves:
First off, we have the infamous arm hook. This is a move where Harden hooks his arm around his defender, and then tries to shoot. When he shoots, the arm he has hooked comes up with him, making it a foul on the defender despite the fact he is the one who initiated contact! This is a large part of how he draws so many fouls, and it makes defenders wary of guarding him too closely, giving him room to hit his deadly three ball.
Have you ever signed up for a new streaming service, or gotten a new phone, and saw 20 pages of terms and conditions that the company wants you to read through, and you just click the accept button to avoid the hassle? Chances are, if you’re an average human being, you have, and in the end the company could end up selling all of your information to the highest bidder. However, the NBA rule book, which has its own unique rules and conditions, isn’t generally read by the players. The one player that does appear to have read the rules is Harden. The NBA has a rule that almost no other basketball league in the world has, and that is the zero-step.
What is the zero-step, you may ask? A zero-step is an extra half-step that a player gets to take, and players have recently utilized this. When a player is gathering the ball from the ground, they get to take a step that does not count as one of their two steps, which is why it’s called the zero-step. After the zero/gather step, they get to take their two steps, which makes it look like a three-step Euro-Step travel to the average observer. The zero-step is also what enables Harden to do his famous double step-back, giving him at least three feet of room on every shot. However, despite what it looks like, it’s not a travel, and what looks like the refs favoring an MVP is actually a man who read the rules and exploits them.
A final technique of how Harden draws fouls is when he purposely runs into defenders, drawing contact. The most petty example of this came when Harden was bringing the ball up the court in 2018, and ran in front of a defender so that the defender crashed into him, drawing a foul. People hated this, but once again, it was legal. Because the NBA favors offensive players over defense in this current era, these are all defensive fouls, whereas long-time NBA fans believe these are offensive fouls and killing the fun of basketball1. As it turns out, it looks as though the NBA is listening to these older fans.
The NBA has realized what Harden has been doing, and it appears as though they are going to put a stop to it. According to the official NBA twitter account, the league might change various rules regarding fouls, including the following:
- When a shooter takes shots by either leaning into or jumping into a defender in an abnormal way;
- An offensive player either abruptly goes sideways into a defender, or simply stops in front of him, giving the defender nowhere to go but running into the offensive player;
- Shooters kick their legs either out or to the side in an unnatural way to draw contact with a defender;
- An offensive player uses his non-shooting arm to hook the defender.
Do any of these sound like something Harden does? Yes, pretty much all of them. They helped him lead the league in scoring for three consecutive years, and average 36.1 points per game in 2019, rivaling Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kevin Durant. While these rules listed above will be implemented into the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, they have yet to be implemented into the NBA rule book. But if they do, then they will allow Harden to join some of the most elite company ever; the rule changers.
Every so often, there are NBA players that are so dominant the league has to change the rules to stop their dominance. Let’s take a look at this list of (mostly) NBA greats:
1944: The NBA had to change its rulebook to stop their first ever superstar, George Mikan, from making it impossible for other teams to score. Thus, the goaltending rule was invented, and the paint was widened from 6 to 12 feet so Mikan couldn’t camp out in the post and block shots all day.
1962: The NBA had to change their rules about free throws because Wilt Chamberlain routinely dunked his, which did not seem fair to the league. The paint was also moved from 12 to 16 feet wide, so that it was harder for Chamberlain to camp out down low and block shots.
1999: The NBA introduced the five-second rule, saying that a player couldn’t post up another player for more than five seconds. This rule was introduced to stop the dominance of Charles Barkley, who routinely used his large frame to back down other players until he got close enough to the basket to score an easy layup. This is a large reason why Barkley averaged over 20 points per game for 10 straight seasons, from 1986-1996.
2004: In large part because of Derrick Harper (and the Bad Boy Pistons featuring Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Joe Dumars), the hand-checking rule was introduced, opening up the game for smaller players and making it easier for drives to the hoop and perimeter scoring action.
2012: Vlade Divac almost single handily created Anti-Flopping rules; and in doing so convinced almost every modern NBA star that they are actors on the world’s biggest stage.
This isn’t even accounting for the Hack-a-Shaq rule, Allen Iverson‘s palming, Reggie Miller‘s leg kick-out, and many more, including Kevin Durant’s rip-through move. This was a move that at the time counted as a shooting foul, but because of how often and effectively it was done, was removed to a non-shooting foul.
Using those incredible scoring techniques that may be outlawed soon, Harden has been able to rack up some incredible stats, such as over 20 40+ point games on 50% shooting from the field, and a 60-point triple-double in Madison Square Garden. However, we may see Harden’s scoring and attempts at the free throw line go way down if these new rules are implemented into the regular NBA. This could be the end of an era of scoring as we know it.
Or, Harden could find some other new rules to exploit, and make Adam Silver lose his mind for the next few years until he can stop that too.
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1: For more about this topic, I highly suggest reading Sprawl-Ball, by Kirk Goldsberry.