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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This week, we break down all the implications of the Rockets signing DeMarcus Cousins and what it specifically means for James Harden's future with Houston. Be sure to watch the video above to find out how the Rockets' recent deals should be interpreted.

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