FIBA World Cup, NBA / Aug 4, 2014 / 2:00 pm

Report: James Harden’s Defense Impressing With Team USA

James Harden, Kevin Durant

James Harden, Kevin Durant (USATODAY)

It seems impossible now, but there was a time when James Harden was considered a capable defender. Before he was traded to the Houston Rockets and began shouldering the heavy offensive load of a superstar playmaker, Harden showed flashes of strong defensive ability with the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’ve been totally absent the past two seasons, of course, but that doesn’t mean Harden lacks the physical ability to be an impactful presence on that end of the floor. And in training camp with Team USA last week, Harden reportedly impressed the coaching staff with his long-dormant defensive ability.

This encouraging news is courtesy of SheridanHoops.com’s Bobby Gonzalez.

I spoke to several members of the USAB staff, and behind the scenes they were amazed at how good James Harden has become as an overall player since his last tour with Team USA two years ago. The fact that he came in and was focused on being a lockdown defender blew them away…

But now I am being told Harden is getting it done on [defense], which has always been the major complaint about his game.

It’s no surprise that Harden has committed defensively thus far with USA Basketball. There’s no better way for star players to learn new habits than playing with the national team, a sentiment routinely echoed by its members since the Redeem Team righted the ship at the 2008 Olympics. Constantly competing with and against players of the highest caliber forces All-Stars to raise their on-court games and gain a better appreciation for the work ethic of their peers.

Harden’s supposed defensive impact is just the latest example. His oft-comical deficiencies on that end have never been related to physical limitations. Harden is long, strong, and incredibly coordinated – he should be a net zero defender at the very least. But the evolution of young players takes time, and expecting Harden to give utmost effort on that end while adjusting to carrying such a burden on the other was never realistic. Still, his engagement on defense was simply embarrassing last season:

Now, star offensive players are expected to conserve energy on defense – to an extent. Nobody in the league knows how and when to flip his on-off defensive switch like LeBron James, for instance. But even on James’ worst defensive nights you’ll rarely see him completely lose his man off the ball or consistently fail to execute simple help rotations. Those are the aspects Harden needs to clean up first and foremost, and his play with Team USA is a sign he might be ready to do in 2014-2015.

Might is the operative word there. Will Harden revert to his listless defensive tendencies when asked to do a lion’s share of playmaking with the Rockets? Time will tell. For now, Harden’s performance on that end for USA Basketball is a reminder that he can be a helpful defender when he so chooses. Here’s hoping Harden makes the same choice as the NBA season gets underway in late October.

(Video via How U)

Will Harden improve defensively in 2014-2015?

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  • UncheckedAggression

    He’s always been capable of playing good d. They put him on Lebron in the finals for a reason and he did a much better job than I expected. Those flashes have NOT been absent the last couple years, it’s just that there are far more examples of him not giving a damn.

  • SweetdickWilly

    The question is whether this is real defense and not just lunging for steals. People think that’s what defense is in terms of perimeter play nowadays. It’s easy to look like a star against inexperienced and sub NBA talent.

  • rich carter

    harden definitely has the tools to be a good defensive player but I don’t see him taking that side of the game seriously as long as he is the primary option on offense for houston. That is just what happens to most players who used to be capable defenders or has the tools to be good defenders but abandoned that part of the game when they became the ‘man’. it is what happened to guys like T-Mac, melo, vc, etc. Only the best of the best takes defense as seriously as they do offense. mj and kobe before he got old comes to mind. This is the reason why I was hoping that melo would come to houston. if harden didn’t have to be the primary scoring option for the rockets and shared the scoring burden with melo he might go back to playing actual defense.

  • 33OK33

    A plain and simple act of just being able to give Harden “his due” for his defensive focus in USA play seems to “stick in the craw” of some of the writers and posters and they seem to be unable to just give Harden credit for what he is doing without stabbing him in the back in the same article. (ex: video being shown, again, here) I. am. amazed.

  • 33OK33

    Watch the film of the USA practices that have been shown and you’ll not find a smidgeon of indication of “…just lunging for steals”. And, he’s playing against the best of the best, not exactly “sub NBA talent” as you suggested! Sure looks like “real defense” to me. (And, evidently, to the coaches as well.)