It’s been impossible to watch the Brooklyn Nets this season without noticing James Harden’s dip in production.
A 3-time scoring champ, Harden has been an unstoppable force when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop for much of his career.
After another down night against the Washington Wizards where he managed only 14 points, Harden’s season average is at 17.2 per game. The recently turned 32-year-old hasn’t dipped below 20 points per game since 2012.
While Harden’s efficiency has nosedived in the early going, it’s his free-throw attempts that has the basketball world raising a collective eye brow.
In the offseason the league made a focus point the removal of offensive players drawing contact on non-basketball plays. For obvious reasons, Harden was quickly viewed as one of the players who could be impacted most by the changed interpretation, with the 9-time All-Star becoming a maestro at drawing contact on unnatural movements on the offensive end.
Of course, a player with Harden’s skill is likely to adapt over the course of the season, but there’s no question the rule change is impacting his ability to take over the Brooklyn offence.
Averaging 8.7 free-throws per game across his career, Harden has seen that number dip to a career-low 3.0 per night in the first four games of 2021-22. That mark is even lower than his rookie season in Oklahoma City when he came off the bench and only played 22 minutes per night.
Speaking after Brooklyn’s loss to Charlotte, Harden responded to questions around the impact the rule change is having on his game.
“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’m not the type to complain about it. I ask every official, if they see a foul, just call a foul. Sometimes I feel coming into a game it’s already predetermined or I already have that stigma of getting foul calls.”
Despite the early struggles, he denies he has to make changes to his game.
“I’m gonna keep playing, I can’t stop playing basketball. A foul is a foul no matter what league it is. I just got to keep playing, I got to play better obviously. I’m going to get to the basket, that’s my game.”
Head coach Steve Nash believes the lack of a whistle for Harden has been unfair to start the season.
“I think he’s gotta stick with it. I feel he’s unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls,” Nash said. “Some of them are definitely fouls still but they are just so aware and alert and he’s the poster child of these new rules.”
While Harden has seen his numbers dip, he’s not the only one, with free-throw attempts per game plummeting across the league.
In fact, according to StatMuse, the league average of 19.5 free-throw attempts per game entering Monday night’s play is the lowest in league history.
Harden, who ranked 7th for free-throw attempts per game last season, currently sits 69th.
He denies he needs to adjust his playing style, but if the officials continue to stick with their early season interpretation it’s likely going to be a talking point moving forward.