Daily MVP Film Breakdown: Unguardable Harden Drops 57

James Harden’s scored 57 in a win over Memphis, continuing a scorched earth campaign the likes of which modern basketball has never seen.

Harden extended his streak of games with 30+ points to 17 in a row, passing Kobe Bryant for the longest streak since the merger. The only players who have gone on a tear this long in NBA History are Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor, and Harden is playing with an absurd usage rate of 38.7% second only to Russell Westbrook’s triple double MVP season. What we are witnessing from the Beard is unprecedented, unsustainable, and unbelievable.

The way he’s playing right now, James Harden is among the most dangerous scorers ever. He’s putting up video game numbers, averaging 35 per game this year and 41 over his last 17 contests. He has turned the stepback jumper into an unguardable work of art, and hits it more than anyone in the league by far.

Harden shot 40% from deep in this one, a remarkable bounce back after the single worst 3-point shooting game in NBA history. Harden bricked 16/17 from distance, and that’s the most misses ever with one or zero makes. He played 43 minutes in the loss to Orlando, and looked dead tired as stepback after stepback clanged off the front iron.

It’s completely understandable that Harden would have a game like that considering the immense weight of the load he has to shoulder for this Rockets team without Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and now Clint Capela. What defies logic is that the next night, he scored 57 playing bully ball. He gets a ton of well deserved criticism for some of the fouls he manufactures, but not enough credit for playing a strong, physical game.

Harden uses his power, quickness, savvy, and smooth moves to force the defense to foul him. His stepback is almost impossible to contest well without fouling him on the arm or impeding his landing. Very often, he gets the shot to go too.

You may have noticed on that last play that Harden was initially forced to his right, but got back to his left hand for the layup attempt. It’s something he does exceptionally well. Eric Bledsoe of the Bucks stayed on his left hip and begged him to drive right, and the Beard had a tough shooting night but still managed 42 points. Just like Manu Ginobili, simply forcing him right isn’t enough. You have to make sure he can’t finish with his left, and that’s a hard thing to do.

It wasn’t even a surprise when Harden scored 57 on the second night of a rough back-to-back, that sounds about right for him. When he one upped himself in the next outing scoring a new season high of 58, it was almost expected. The only shocking part was that it came in an overtime loss to the Nets. He shot just 5-19 from deep and had a stepback look to win the game, but it came up woefully short.

Harden scored 115 points in his last two games, and every single one was unassisted. He has to be absolutely exhausted by his workload, yet he’s doing this every night. Will he be able to sustain this for the rest of the regular season and into a deep playoff run? No, he needs some help or he will break down. But for right now, let’s enjoy the game’s most unguardable player.

  
Daily previews of matchups to watch around the league, and film breakdowns of the best performance from the night before. Twitter @RealTomPetrini, Spurs interviews and analysis @projectspurs.

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