Houston Rockets superstar James Harden has redefined basketball based on the way he can draw contact from his defenders on the court.
This has been an increasing trend for the 2018 NBA MVP, who has been able to get to the free-throw line more often than any other player in the league. It has defined his style as a basketball player and has recently forced officials to change the way that his games are called by referees.
Harden has taken 14.5 free throws per game for the Rockets so far this season. That is the most since Wilt Chamberlain (17.0) during his 1961-62 campaign.
On a recent podcast, The Hoop Collective’s Brian Windhorst noted that Harden is averaging four additional free-throws per game since last season (via ESPN):
“He is also on pace for one of the highest free throw seasons in the modern era. Now, free throws are a lot different than they used to be … The modern player with the most free throws ever was Dwight Howard in the 2010-11 season. Other than that, you are going back to Chamberlain. But he certainly could end up with the most free throws ever in the modern era.”
According to Cleaning the Glass, Harden has been fouled on 18.3 percent of his shooting attempts. He currently leads the league with 123 personal fouls drawn so far this season, which is good for 8.8 per game.
After 14 games, Harden has been awarded free throws on 18.6 percent of the offensive possessions he has finished this season. Among all players with at least 200 possessions finished, that is the second-highest rate in the NBA.
Perhaps most surprising is that the guard has also drawn a foul on a career-best 3.7 percent of non-shooting fouls per team play. He has drawn 1.47 non-shooting fouls per 36 minutes, per PBP Stats, significantly more than any of his previous campaigns.
As noted by Ben Cohen, it has become the most efficient way of scoring for Harden (via The Wall Street Journal):
“His statistics over the last six years help explain why free throws are such a priority for him. Harden’s shots around the basket are worth 1.22 points, and his 3-pointers return 1.09 points per shot. They’re both fabulously profitable shots. But they’re not as valuable as when he goes to the line for two shots (1.73 points) or three shots (2.59 points). Harden’s free throws are just about the best shots in basketball.”
The fact he has been able to get to the line even without taking field goal attempts has been a remarkably effective way for him to add points to his overall scoring distribution.
Overall, especially considering he is a much better free-throw shooter than Chamberlain, he may be able to shatter his own career-best points per game despite the addition of Russell Westbrook.