It seems that whenever Rockets James Harden has the ball in his hands, about half the NBA‘s fans and observers watching him praise his nifty ballhandling, footwork and scoring skill while the other half laments that he commits an endless string of traveling violations.
Well, Harden is back on the floor, in Orlando for the NBA’s restarted 2019-20 season following the four-month hiatus as COVID-19 spread through the country, and he has a new gimmick that is sure to drive the everything-is-a-travel crowd up a proverbial wall.
The move is deceptive because it certainly looks like a travel. When Harden does it, he puts a foot down, head-fakes towards the rim, then takes two steps (which is legal) before putting up his shot.
Coach Nick Hauselman of BBallBreakdown.com took a close look at Harden’s crafty head-fake and pointed out that it is legal. What creates the deception is that Harden’s first step is a short step accompanied by the head fake and his second step is an extended one.
“What throws off the defense is a shorter first step then a longer second step to launch into the jump,” Hauselman explained on his YouTube breakdown. “The piece de resistance is the shot-fake in the middle of all this. There is nothing in the rules that prohibit any kind of fake, be it a pass- or shot-fake. And this manipulation is fine. In fact, it’s awesome.”
Eurostep is Critical to James Harden’s Game
Harden is one of the most effective attackers of the rim in the league, making 17.9 drives per game, according to NBA stats, which ranks seventh in the NBA. He shoots 53.5% on drives and goes to the free-throw line 4.4 times per game off the play. Harden scores 12.5 points per game on drives, most in the league, an important facet for a guy who also leads the league in scoring, at 34.4 points.
It is only fitting that Harden needs to come up with new and deceptive ways to deal with defenses hoping to cut off his path into the paint.
He has become one of the league’s top proponents of the Eurostep, the move popularized by former Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. With that move, Harden plants his foot and gathers the ball—which does not count as a step but looks like one—then takes the two allowed steps.
This one is a shining example:
Harden's Eurostep is too lethal 🔥 pic.twitter.com/BxyRR9C6Sz
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 7, 2019
There is also Harden’s step-back move which includes a gather before the legal two steps. Opposing broadcasters tend to overlook the gather and simply declare his moves as travels, which they almost never are. Such as this:
"It looked like he did two step backs." 😂 pic.twitter.com/k0V0AQLStB
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 18, 2018
NBA Addressed Harden’s Moves Before the Season
Just before the start of this season, the NBA put out new language on the definition of a travel to clarify the ability of players to use a gather before taking two steps. The most important line in the new language, as it pertains to Harden, was the last line: “The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after the player gathers the ball.”
The clarification did not mention Harden, but it was clear that he was central to the rule addition. In it, the NBA was expressly saying that Harden does not commit a travel when he gathers and takes two steps.
Harden spoke about the issue last September at Media Day:
It shouldn’t have been a point. Period. At all. The moves I do and I create aren’t travels, or the referees who get paid a lot of money, and are the best at what they do, would call a travel. So I don’t understand where this whole traveling thing comes from, I don’t understand where it comes from. Just because it looks awkward or looks different from what the world is used to. That’s called being a creator. That’s called changing the game. So live with it.
I’m tired of hearing that travel, it’s a travel. From coaches, from other players, from haters, fans, whatever you wanna call it Embrace it. It’s going to be here for a while. It’s going to be here forever.
Indeed, Harden is not giving up his penchant for needling those offended by his awkward steps. He’s embracing it and if the look he has shown in Orlando is any indication, expanding it.