James Harden might be better than any guard in NBA history at getting to the foul line. He’s averaged nearly nine free-throw attempts per game for his career and has peaked at almost 12. But the NBA has made a concerted effort to cut back on explicit foul-hunting this season, at it has shown in Harden’s numbers. He is averaging only 8.1 free-throw attempts per game this season, higher than he did a year ago, but otherwise the lowest figure of his career after getting traded to the Houston Rockets in 2012.
Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves again yielded very few free throws. Harden attempted only four all game, and following the Brooklyn Nets’ 136-125 loss, he voiced his frustration with what he perceived to be missed calls. “I don’t know. I don’t even want to talk about it,” Harden told reporters after the game. “But it’s definitely — when I get to the basket, it’s the same calls the guys are getting. Obviously, you can’t call all of them. But there’s ones where there’s clearly stiff-arms and trips and things like that. But on the other end, there’s no consistency. So it’s frustrating.”
Nets head coach Steve Nash echoed Harden’s frustration. “I think there’s nights where it’s fair, and even including the points of emphasis this year,” he said. “Then there’s other nights where it feels like he gets targeted a little bit. It just automatically gets lumped into that point of emphasis where he is creating the foul, which is not always the case at all.”
While game-to-game foul calls might be inconsistent, on balance, Harden’s foul-drawing has largely normalized since the beginning of the season. He averaged just 4.7 free-throw attempts per game in his first 13 outings, and that figure was buoyed largely by one 19-attempt outlier. However, he’s up to 9.5 attempts per game since. That’s slightly off from his Houston peak, but the decline could be attributed to the league’s updated rules, his declining athleticism as a 32-year-old and sharing the ball with Kevin Durant. Overall, Harden’s ability to draw fouls feels roughly in line with where a player of his age and skill set should be.
But on a night-to-night basis, there’s going to be variance. Different officiating crews might handle certain plays differently. Different defenders can get away with more. And then there’s just the bad luck of officials missing certain calls. All of those factors could lead to the occasional bad night for Harden, but overall, there’s not much evidence suggesting that he’s getting significantly fewer calls than he should be.
Courtesy: CBS Sports