FALSE NARRATIVE

How the numbers tell a different story about James Harden in the playoffs

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Strong opinions usually follow the mentioning of James Harden's name. He's one of those athletes that fans seem to either love or hate, with no in between. Due to the emotion the name brings in sports debate, hyperbole can flow fluidly. In the age of social media, opinions from random fans who run social media or blog sites, podcasts, etc, can create a narrative that attach to athletes like the scarlet letter on Hester Prynne. Once branded, ye must wear hence forth, never to shed, past shame.

Whether in the media or a fan of the game, we can all be prideful to our opinions. We draw a line in the sand and never cross it...until "he / she" wins a title and the player is then purified of their sins.

There's many scarlet letters that adorn Harden as he enters the arena, nightly. Some of the most repeated are:

  • "Playoff choker"
  • "Shoots too many free throws"
  • "Shoots too many shots"
  • "Has too many turnovers"
  • "Doesn't play defense"

I wanted to look at the top 10 scorers in these playoffs and compare Harden to his peers, to see if these knocks on him still held up in 2020. Below are the top 10 scorers in the 2020 playoffs and where James Harden ranks among these elite players in each category: (per game)


PLAYER'S NAMEPtsFGAs / TS%FTAs / FT %RebsAssistsStealsTurnovers
Donovan Mitchell
37.622.5 / 72.7%9.3 / 94.6%4.35.51.23.3
Jamal Murray34.021.7 / 72.8%3.8 / 91.3%6.26.70.52.0
Kawhi Leonard32.821.7 / 63.9%9.2 / 85.5%10.25.22.32.5
James Harden31.821.0 / 64.2%8.6 / 83.7%6.68.01.82.6
Luka Doncic
31.021.3 / 59.6%10.7 / 65.6%9.88.71.25.2
Giannis Antetokounmpo30.620.0 / 65.1%8.0 / 62.5%16.06.00.63.8
Joel Embiid30.018.5 / 60.0%14.8 / 81.4%12.31.31.53.8
Anthony Davis
29.817.8 / 65.6%11.2 / 71.4%9.44.21.41.2
Nikola Vucevic28.022.2 / 60.4%2.2 / 90.9%11.04.00.82.6
LeBron James27.416.0 / 70.8%7.6 / 73.7%10.210.21.25.0

These are some of the most elite players in the game, all playing with the same variables. It's early in these playoffs, but to this point, Harden has given his team a 3-2 series lead, even though, Russell Westbrook missed the first four games of the playoffs, before returning in game five and seeing 24 minutes of action.

Harden's overall ranking among the top playoff scorers (above), so far:

  • 31.8 points (4th)
  • 21.0 field goal attempts (6th)
  • 8.6 free throw attempts (6th)
  • 6.6 rebounds (8th)
  • 8.0 assists (3rd)
  • 1.8 steals (2nd)
  • 2.6 turnovers (T-4th)
The Oklahoma City Thunder / Chris Paul series is a test for James Harden. Fair or not, Harden won't get a pass from his detractors if Houston goes on to lose the series, despite the Westbrook injury. If he and the Rockets move on, Harden, I believe, can win over some critics with his showing in "Brody and The Beard take on The BrowKing" (work in progress, apologies).

That chapter has yet to be written as Harden and Westbrook, still have to closeout a talented Thunder team. The book on Harden is fantastic, whether fan or foe or some point in between. I don't know how this chapter or the next ends, but as far as the narratives, to this point, they fall flat. We'll see if he arrives to the King's court and takes the throne or if he plays jester. Maybe the slaying of the King wins over the detractors. For others it may take victory over two kings, LeBron James and the reigning, King of the North, Kawhi Leonard with his new army.

And for others, two thrones will not be enough, as kingdom's fall to the power of the ring ..."my precious." Even with multiple kingdom's in the west, many won't respect Harden among the elite until he takes the reins over the nation with victory over the east following the conquering of the west. Then and only then, will he be forgiven and shed his final, scarlet letter.

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Houston gets another victory in Anaheim

Astros overpower Angels again as magic number dwindles

Kyle Tucker had 3 of Houston's RBI on Tuesday night, including a two-run homer. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

After a beatdown of the Angels on Monday in the opener, the Astros entered Tuesday's game looking to replicate that success. Though Los Angeles would put up more of a fight, Houston still used their potent offense to keep the game out of reach.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 90-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (8-3)

Losing Pitcher: Packy Naughton (0-3)

Houston's bats keep connecting to back up Urquidy

The Astros picked up on Tuesday's game where they left off on Monday, launching homers to take and extend a lead. A leadoff walk by Carlos Correa in the top of the second set up Kyle Tucker, who drove a two-run shot. Aledmys Diaz was next, making it back-to-back jacks to push the new lead to 3-0.

That gave Jose Urquidy a lead to work with, which came in handy as former Astro Jack Mayfield cut the lead to two runs with a leadoff solo homer in the bottom of the second. Other than that, Urquidy did well through five innings, allowing just two other hits over that span. LA got to him in the sixth, getting two singles to set up a three-run homer to end his night. His final line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 79 P.

The runs keep coming

He would still leave in line for the win, though, as before that bottom of the sixth, the Astros had put up seven more runs across the fifth and sixth. A leadoff walk in the top of the fifth was followed by a two-run homer by Jose Altuve, then later in the frame, an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz made it 7-1. They pushed that to double digits in the sixth, with a leadoff solo shot by Martin Maldonado, a sac fly by Carlos Correa, and an RBI groundout by Kyle Tucker, putting them up 10-1 before the homer allowed by Urquidy cut that to 10-4.

Astros win to reduce magic number again

In the sixth, Cristian Javier took over for Urquidy, finished that inning, and returned for a scoreless seventh. He ran into Shohei Ohtani to lead off the bottom of the eighth and left a fastball in the zone, which Ohtani turned around 445 feet to make it a five-run game. Javier still got through the inning, leaving just the ninth for Houston's second reliever of the night, Josh James. James would get through a scoreless inning, erasing a leadoff walk as the lopsided win paired with an A's loss reduces Houston's magic number to 4.

Up Next: The third of this four-game series will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Wednesday. Janson Junk (0-1, 2.25 ERA) will make his third career start for the Angels, while Luis Garcia (11-7, 3.37 ERA) will have the ball for the Astros.

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