James Harden: The Greatest Isolation Player of All Time?

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets point guard, James Harden is having a potentially MVP-worthy season. He’s averaging 31.2 PPG, 8.9 APG and 5.2 RPG, while leading the Rockets to a 15-game win streak.

Harden’s ball handling skills and shooting ability make him a Top 5 player easy. This has analysts questioning whether or not Harden should be considered the greatest isolation player of all time. Rockets GM, Daryl Morey seems to think so. He explained to media last week that he thinks James Harden is hands down the greatest isolation player of all time.

According to, this season, Harden has accrued a total of 148 isolation possessions and 1.24 isolation points per possession. He’s totaling 48.16 more than a league-average player. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo are three top isolation players who still only average 44.64 isolation points.

That’s how skilled he is at ball handling and beating defenders off the dribble for contested triples. Although he accumulates a lot of fouls as a result, he’s still dominating the offense.

Isolation plays are one of the most exciting parts of the game. They’re not necessarily the most effective. A great defense is generally built around forcing extra passes. Whether watching the big guys back his way toward the basket before hitting a surprise turnaround jumper or watching the smaller guys show off incredible dribbles before hitting the hoop, it’s an impressive view if it works.

It’s fairly difficult to guard a player who can successfully drain an easy jumper or force a quick switch. A difficult ball handler can force everyone out of the paint, clearing a path so he can take the defender on one-on-one. Players who have mastered the offensive play with tight handles and a quick first step are valuable finds.

But isolation plays are only impressive and valuable if they result in more points per possession than other types of action. These plays are hard to master making players who excel at this type of play ridiculously valuable to a team.

The Rockets are currently on a season high record. And James Harden is at the helm of each victory. Harden has mastered passing all of your defenders, so take note Western Conference, the Rockets are coming.

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