The luxury of adding James Harden back in January has turned into a necessity for Brooklyn due now that Kyrie Irving will not play for the Nets this season till he becomes a “full-time participant,” that is get vaccinated.
Harden, who was recently named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team and Brooklyn’s current point guard, is known for his offensive gifts and skills. But with the Nets looking to find solutions to replace Irving’s production, Harden’s game has taken a hit — his ability to draw fouls and capitalize heavily at the free-throw line.
The hit comes in wake of the league’s recent officiating changes on certain foul calls. Officials will no longer blowing their whistles loosely as 3-point shooters lunge into defenders in an “abnormal movement” for foul calls. And so Harden has struggled to get calls on drives to the basket as well. That’s a big change for the Nets. Harden ranks 14th all-time in free throws made, third among active players.
Steve Nash believes it’s “unfair” to label his superstar guard as the poster boy to the foul call changes.
“I feel like he’s unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls but some of them are definitely fouls still. But they are just so alert and aware and he’s the poster child of these news decisions. I get it, there’s a line but some of them are still fouls,” Steve Nash said.
“He’s just got to stick with it. He’s got to keep going to the basket and do what he does because a large portion of them are still fouls and if he doesn’t get fouls, he can still make plays. He can still finish, pass and do all the things he does,” Nash added.
The Nets 111-95 home opener loss to the Hornets Sunday evening was the latest example of the referees not giving Harden the benefit of the doubt. He only attempted one free throw in the loss and in the first three games of the season, Harden has averaged just 3.0 free throw attempts - a big dropoff from last season (7.3) and his overall career (8.7).
The Nets superstar guard believes he can sense the officials sometimes putting a “stigma” around him and looking for foul calls coming into a game. He hopes the referees simply call what they see if a foul.
“Yes, for sure, but I’m not the type to complain about it. I just ask every official: if they see a foul, call a foul. Sometimes I feel like coming into a game, it’s already predetermined or I already have that stigma of getting foul calls, but I just ask officials to call what they see,” Harden said. “I can’t stop playing basketball. I mean, a foul is a foul no matter what league it is. But it’s bigger, I’ve got to play better obviously. That’s it.”
“It’s still basketball at the end of the day no matter how much of a big deal we try to make it, a foul is a foul. It’s pretty simple,” Harden said. “I feel like putting too much emphasis on certain people to where you look at it as clear fouls. For me, I just got to keep going. No big deal.”
When Kevin Durant was asked about the lack of calls Harden has received, especially attacking the basket, KD said he doesn’t believe anything has really changed aside from the tighter whistles on “abnormally” lunging for 3-point fouls. Durant, who was seen chatting with an official about whether a swipe-through is still a foul, thinks Harden needed to adjust his game due to the lack of whistles.
“For the most part, I don’t think anything has changed since the three-point rule that they changed. I think James had to adjust his game because they aren’t calling fouls for him. I just think that one rule coming off the three-pointer as a pump-fake was what they changed. I don’t think the rule change affects anyone's game, to be honest,” Durant said. ”That swipe though is still a foul.”
Outside of the lack of foul calls, Harden is coming off an offseason-long Grade 2 hamstring strain rehab, which resulted in less time practicing, more time rehabbing in the off-season. The Nets superstar admitted he’s been a little hesitant since he’s working on building his hardwood confidence back. He doesn’t see it as a worry.
“I’m just getting my confidence back. I’m a little hesitant. You guys can see it,” said Harden on his lack of confidence. “Just going through a lot of ups and downs last year and then coming into training camp healthy and making sure my conditioning is where it needed to be. Just making sure my confidence continues to build. That’s all that matters,” Harden said.
“We’re at game 3. My confidence will rise and will continue to get better as games go on and I feel more confident and get that burst of speed like I’m normally used to. No worries at all.”
- Nets’ James Harden won’t blame struggles on NBA rules crackdown - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ James Harden has just eight free-throw attempts through three games - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Rule changes have taken away James Harden’s secret weapon: free throws - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News