James Harden’s Offensive Creativity

James Harden's Offensive Creativity
US player James Harden (R) of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Houston Rockets speaks to the media after a training session in Tokyo on October 6, 2019, ahead of their exhibition games against NBA champions Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Natsuko FUKUE / AFP) (Photo by NATSUKO FUKUE/AFP via Getty Images)

Throughout basketball history, transcendent offensive players have cemented their legacy as a result of an individual move. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar patented the skyhook. Hakeem Olajuwon perfected the dream shake. Manu Ginobili brought international flare with the Eurostep. Although these players didn’t create the move, they did them so well they became known for them.

James Harden’s offensive creativity has been on display since he entered the league. During his early seasons with Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden mirrored Ginobili’s Eurostep. After perfecting that move, he began experimenting with the step-back jump shot. Often criticized for traveling, he turned it into a nearly unstoppable move.

Harden continues to push the envelope entering his 11th season. On social media, videos were leaked of Harden working on a one-legged fadeaway jump shot. During two preseason games, he debuted the much talked about, one-legged jump shot. He looks to put his stamp on the shot Juan Carlos Navarro perfected in the international ranks.

James Harden’s Creativity 

Understanding when to use a move is often more important than the execution of the move. Ginobili’s Eurostep was deadly. However, if the defender anticipates the move coming, it would turn into an offensive foul. Having counter moves to an intelligent defender is imperative.

In two playoff series last season, Harden faced multiple unique defenses; including the Utah Jazz unconventional play from behind on his left hand. He continues to have defenders forcing him to his right hand, making it difficult to rise for a jump shot. A few traditional solutions are driving hard to the right hand, dribble into a step-back, or jab into the defense then attack right.

Harden spent the offseason working on ways to attack the defenders who play high on his left hand. This type of defense virtually eliminates any pull-up jumpers. For Harden to attack with his right hand and pull-up into a jump shot, the ball will naturally move towards the defender.

An example of this was the last possession of Game Two in the 2019 Western Conference Finals, Andre Iguodala forced Damian Lillard to his left hand knowing he needed to take a three to tie it. Lillard dribbled left and attempted to rise into a jumper, only to have Iguodala strip him when the ball came back to the right.

 

Harden wants the threat of a pull-up jumper when his left hand is taken away. This is the scenario when he will utilize the one-legged jump shot.

Breakdown of the One-Legged Jump Shot

The move starts with Harden in a right-handed triple threat position. The ball is in his right hip pocket and squared to the hoop providing the threat of three options: passing, shooting, or dribbling. When the defender gets too high on his left foot, Harden jabs with his left foot with a knee to knee ball fake. This puts the defender on their heels and provides the separation Harden needs to get off a shot.

After the jab, he puts the pull down in the center of his body with his left hand to build momentum. Then, crosses over with his left foot to rise for the jump shot. Here is an example of when he used it against Rodney McGruder and the Los Angeles Clippers.

The key to this move is his ability to rise on balance with a slight fade. He covers enough ground with the crossover step to get off a clean look. But, what makes it difficult to defend is the control at which he rises. In the clip, you can see McGruder hustling to defend the shot. And, because Harden is in control rising, he cannot help but foul him.

Effectiveness of the Move

The move is undoubtedly unorthodox, as it is something that hasn’t been consistently used in the NBA. However, the execution thus far has shown positive signs for future use. The move will open up three-point attempts he was unable to get off previously.

During the regular season, he averaged 12.1 three-point attempts off pull-ups on 36.3 percent shooting. In the playoffs, he averaged one less three-point attempt on 35.2 percent shooting. The defense focused on ensuring Harden didn’t get going, especially with his pull-up jump shot. With the addition of the one-legged three, Harden will be able to keep those attempts consistent from the regular season to playoffs.

In addition to the attempts remaining consistent, but the foul shot attempts will also remain consistent. McGruder will not be the only player to foul Harden on this move. His quick jab will put plenty of defenders on their heels, which makes recovering on balance a difficult task.

Harden will likely use this move one to two times a game as he grows comfortable with it. But, the threat of this move will cause defenders to question playing high on his left foot.

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