The overlooked portion of Harden’s game, however, is his defense, according to his teammate Kevin Durant. Durant has played with Harden on the Oklahoma City Thunder between 2009 and 2012 and now with the Nets.
“Coming in with James his rookie year, we asked him to guard guys, the best players off the bench, so he knows exactly what he needs to do on the defensive side of the ball,” Durant said. “When he [went] to Houston, he had to control the offense so much that it’s compromising on who you want to guard and what type of defense you want to play, but he’s always been good at getting steals and playing post defense, using his strength, so he’s an all-around defender.
“If we ask him to guard somebody, he can go out there and do his job. I think that’s the underrated part of his game.”
As Durant said, Harden’s defensive impact wasn’t felt as potently while he was playing for the Houston Rockets given his offensive load. Because of this, many clowned Harden’s defensive abilities.
This is particularly bad defense from Harden. pic.twitter.com/eh5KOliHXv
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) October 24, 2017
— George Jarjour (@GeorgeOnTap) December 29, 2020
Durant furthered his point attributing Harden’s strong defensive play to his strength and saying he defends well in the post. Through nine games with the Nets, Harden’s defensive abilities have been on display.
Start your day off watching this…
— Talkin’ Nets (@TalkinNets) February 4, 2021
Nets head coach Steve Nash agreed with Durant’s sentiments.
“His intelligence is special, defensively as well,” Nash said. “He sees it, he reads it, he has an understanding at that end of the floor as well.”
Despite the appreciation directed toward Harden’s defensive play, the Nets have struggled on that end of the floor. They allow 117.8 points per game, which is 28th in the league. Additionally, the Nets’ 113.5 defensive rating ranks 27th in the league.