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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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