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The guide to combating (nearly) any James Harden free-throw argument

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Equip yourself with knowledge.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

What brings you here today?

I know you’ve read the title, but I have to ask, why are you reading this article?

If it’s to find that I will defend James Harden, but ultimately concede that he should shoot less free throws, then you’re in the wrong place. This article will annoy you and leave you fuming. If you do read it, I’ll be expecting a colorful email from you (Editor’s note: Hate mail happens more often than you would think).

Are you here neutrally and looking to see the other side of the argument? Cause if so, this is a good place for you to be. This will be as grounded and as logical as it possibly can be from someone looking only to defend Harden.

Maybe you’re a James Harden fan or just a fan of basketball and looking to defeat mindless talking points that people regurgitate aimlessly? Then welcome, brothers. You’re in the right place. Through this article and the great people in the comment section, we can help create and bolster your arguments.

Before we begin, let me start with some pointers that will help you before you even begin your discussions.

1. Don’t puff into a ball of rage as soon as you hear someone mention Harden and his free throws. First and foremost, this should be a friendly debate or a quick shut-‘em-down kind of approach. If your face is red and their face is red, or you’re exchanging expletives, then y’all are taking this game too seriously and need to chill.

2. Identify their argument first, and then hit them with some well-informed facts and analysis. Don’t let them catch you off balance because they will devour you with no mercy.

3. Limit these talking points to IRL conversations as much as you can. I’ll try my best to find some moments in which it’s OK to engage with someone online, but for the most part, you’re probably not going to win there. If it’s one of those comments that are ALWAYS posted underneath Bleacher Report posts, then they’re just there for likes. Any factual statements you provide will make you look like a dweeb, and they’ll probably just respond with some bad photoshop of Harden and the refs, get 200 likes, while your Basketball Reference link gets 5 likes, and you’ll just be bitter and angry the rest of your day.

4. If you have to respond to someone online, avoid people with these profiles: People with their team’s/teams’ records as their screen name. Anyone who doesn’t have their government name listed anywhere. Anyone with an anime character as their avi. Sometimes people with athletes as their avi is cool, but again check to see if they have their actual name listed. That’s just for Twitter, though. For Facebook, you should just delete your account immediately. They’re mining your data, bro.

5. Just like your opposition’s arguments, most of these arguments are simply just talking points and not entirely complete. The opposition’s arguments are nothing arguments. It’s just statements that doesn’t affect or change anything one way or the other. Most likely they’re trying to be funny, they hate Harden passionately, they just box score watch and don’t actually watch games, or they listen to some talk show host and repeat their ideas. You may able to win some, but you won’t be able to win them all. What I hope to do here is establish some quick, informed responses to shut down weak arguments, or help you create a foundation you can build off of.

Now, we can begin.

James Harden shoots a lot of free throws

This is the most basic nothing of comments. They’re merely stating facts, insinuating it’s a bad thing, and leaving it up to you to catch their drift. It’ll most likely be presented as a hyperbole. If he drops 45, they’ll say, “Wow, I can’t believe he shot 45 free throws.” Or something along the lines of “How many free throws did he take? This can be arbitrary, but it can also be easy to take head-on.

If they’re referring to a game (online-friendly argument), maybe check a box score, hope he shot a “regular” amount, and reply with that. You can’t argue with facts. If he was being blatantly fouled, like he often does, ask them, “Where did you see a bad call?” Or you can be super duper smart, like our own Jeremy Brener (I’m pretty sure it was Jeremy), and list out the type of foul shots he took.

If they’re talking about Harden shooting a lot of free throws in general, then point out that every single great scorer in NBA history has probably had a season in which they shot double-digit free throws. Seriously, Allen Iverson shot 11.5 free throws a game one season. Corey Maggette once averaged 22.2 points and shot 10 free throw attempts a game that season. I can’t make that up. It’s commonplace, and it’s really easy to point this out to anyone.

You can also make them watch some film. Harden seriously does get fouled that often, and if they watch a game, they will understand that he does deserve those calls. Does he embellish a bit? Sure. But everyone does, and Harden has to more than others because a freight train like him would never get a call if he didn’t react to anything. Just ask Shaq or Dwight Howard or LeBron James.

Harden wouldn’t be as good if there were no free throws

“Steph Curry wouldn’t be as good as if there were no three-point shot.” “All Shaq did was dunk.” “LeBron wouldn’t be as good without his athleticism.” (Online-friendly arguments)

This is by far my favorite argument because they’re literally eliminating portions of the game, or someone’s game, that everyone has equal access to and turning it against the athlete. Once, I saw someone point out that LeBron was a more efficient scorer than Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, and someone else replied with, “Yeah that’s only because he cares so much about his field goal percentage that he will take more layups and dunks.” Well, wouldn’t you want your team taking more dunks and layups?

Maybe start your argument with, “Why would you do that?” Free throws are a way to protect offensive players from being subjugated to excessive physicality and allowing them freedom of movement. It’s literally part of the game. That’s like an NFL team winning by a field goal, and someone on the losing end saying, “Well, if they were forced to make a touchdown, they wouldn’t have won the game.” But they still won the game by scoring in a legitimate way.

You can also point out basic stats. (Online-friendly arguments) If you did remove free throws, Harden would still lead the league with 25.6 PPG, just a bit over Curry’s free-throw-less 25.2 PPG. Harden also takes a staggering 23.5 field goal attempts per game and is the only player to take at least 21 shots a game. Field goal and free throw attempts combined, 33-percent of Harden’s shot attempts are free throws. Comparatively, Anthony Davis hovers a little over 30-percent of his shots being free throw attempts, Joel Embiid is at 34.8-percent, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is at 35-percent.

Simply put: he still scores a lot of points without free throws, and he shoots a proportionate number of free throws compared to other prominent scorers.

“Back In My Era”

I threw this one in the middle because, while it’s not commonly used, it’s been used enough times to warrant its own section. Essentially, the argument is circled around the idea of “our players used to have to work for their points” – whatever that means.

Remember this: there have always been high volume free-throw shooters in every era. I will warn that I am not making high volume free-throw attempts a common thing – it’s something that’s reserved for the elite, so don’t get the rebuttal wrong. What I am saying is that the overwhelming majority of NBA seasons have had at least one guy who averages at least 10 free throw attempts a game, and there have been plenty of seasons in which someone averages at least 11.

Here are some notable names that I picked from:

The Logo, Jerry West, averaged over 12 free-throw attempts a game in two separate seasons, ‘61-’62 and ’65-‘65. In ‘61-’62, the same year West averaged over 12 a game, Wilt Chamberlain was shooting 17 attempts a game. Oscar Robertson averaged at least 11 a game in four different seasons. Charles Barkley averaged 11.9 a game in 87-88, a year after Michael Jordan averaged that exact amount in ’86-’87. For the first 13 seasons of his career, Shaq averaged at least 10 free throws a game, 9.3 for his 19-year career, and shot a career-high 13.1 a game in 2001.

I think you get the point.

Take Ol’ Uncle Mortimer to the side, have him name some of his favorite players, pull up their stats on NBA.com, and destroy him with facts. Great scorers shooting a ton of free throws isn’t foreign to any generation, and this is probably the least egregious it’s ever been in NBA history. Harden just happens to break that mold.

Harden tries to create contact

Well… yeah.

Every single player tries to create contact when they can, and a lot of them try it at least once a game. This is a very commonplace occurrence, and it’s actually part of the game too, but the argument will be skewed against Harden. Again, he’s hardly the first to create contact.

In fact, *GASP* rules were created before Harden became the player he is today to keep offensive players from abusing foul-calling. (Somewhat online-friendly argument)

Famously, the Kevin Durant rip-through, one that Tracy McGrady also excelled at, was made illegal in 2011 to allow the defender to occupy some space. Even then, it wasn’t completely dealt away with; now it’s simply a foul on the floor with no shots. If the defending team is in the penalty, though, it’s very beneficial to the offensive player.

The Reggie Miller rule (funny how these are named after players) wasn’t created until 2012, a full seven seasons after Miller retired. The rule prevented players from kicking out their legs during jump shots, creating contact, and getting the foul. After Miller’s career, Bruce Bowen, a role player, was famous for extending his leg to get the foul. Let that sink in: a role player was famous for abusing this rule.

And still to this day, you have guys pump fake defenders up into the air, lean in to them, and get the call. Players are still using the rip-through to get the foul. If a defender turns their back to the ball-handler in a clear line to the basket, the offensive player will just barrel into them and get the easy foul.

What separates Harden from the rest is that he’s so skilled at getting the contact. Do you think if more players could do it, they would? They absolutely, 100 percent would. Just take a second a look at how the most common fouls out on the three-point line occur against Harden. At no point in time should a defender’s arms should be resting on top of the ball-handler’s arms. If you’re defending like that, you deserve to get the call against you.

He’s a flopper

Please don’t kill yourself arguing this one. It’s not one you’re going to win. I’ve mentioned it in a variety of ways. Yes, he creates contact, but everyone does. Yes, he embellishes contact, but they probably wouldn’t get half the calls correct if he was stone-faced.

Don’t waste your time on this one.

The Refs Are On His Side

I saved this one for last because it’s the most ridiculous argument of them all.

1. How exactly do those meetings go? Do the top referees go into a building while the rest are outside waiting for the smoke to emerge, letting them know a new favorite has been chosen? I’m all for conspiracies and cynicism, but I would imagine it’s really difficult to get every single referee to uphold a season-long conspiracy to constantly get calls wrong.

2. There’s zero proof that this is a thing. Again, everything presented until now lets you conclusively decide that you don’t really have to be a favorite to get calls; you can just be a great scorer or someone really good at drawing contact.

For Harden specifically, nothing has shown that he’s the favorite of the NBA. For the past five years, Stephen Curry has been the darling of the NBA, along with LeBron James the entirety of his career. On multiple occasions. Harden has lost out several possible MVPs to other candidates who were more heavily covered favorably throughout the season, and he’s even missed out on being on any All-NBA team in ‘15-’16, even though he had a career year. This narrative just doesn’t fit James Harden at any point in his career.

This would probably be the hardest one to realistically argue because it’s hard to argue with conspiracies. The best you can do is just tell them how dumb that argument is.

Some other things you can do is point out nights in which other players have big free-throw shooting games, especially if it’s against the Rockets. Maybe show when a player steps out of bounds three times, recovers a ball while out of bounds, and the refs still allow the ball to be active. Show video of a player actively berating and verbally assaulting a ref just to get no technical called.

There are so many ways to pull the conversation back to your side, but you just have to get creative.

I hope that you found some great talking points and stats to back your arguments. If you’re on the opposition, I hope some things grounded you here and allowed you to take the tin foil hat off for a minute.

If I missed anything, please feel free to add them to the comments.