James Harden and the Art of Getting to the Free-Throw Line by Bob Starkey
This article was originally featured on Bob Starkey’s website: HoopThoughts.Blogspot.com
The following is an excerpt on James Harden on the art of getting to the free throw line. It was written by Andrew Keh of the New York Times and you can read it in it’s entirety here. I have long been a big believer in the importance of getting the charity stripe on offense and equally firm in the need to keep your opponents from getting there. At a very young age I can remember Bob Knight at his Coaching Academy talk about the Hoosier’s goal of making more free throws than their opponents attempt — which speaks to both offensive and defensive play.
What I found interesting in regard to Harden was that he doesn’t drive to be fouled but works to get the ball to the rim when possible and this creates a foul. Far too many players are thinking primarily of getting fouled as opposed to making the field goal. This leads to a lower percentage being made regardless of whether they or fouled or not or if the foul is called.
Process over Results.
Here is some of the excerpts I enjoyed from Keh’s article:
“You know what? I don’t look to get fouled, as people might think I do,” Harden said, darting his eyes left and right to caricature the notion. “I’m not like: ‘Where’s the foul? Where’s the foul?’ as I’m driving.”
His only aim is to score the basket, Harden said, and if any defenders want to swipe at the ball to stop him, they can. But, he added, when he makes a move to the basket, he drives hard, and fouls are sometimes a byproduct.
Still, he was asked, what about the way he flattens out his arms to make them susceptible to being smacked, or how he changes pace on his dribble at counterintuitive times to create collisions, or his tendency to cling to defenders’ bodies even when freer paths to the rim seem to exist?
Harden smiled. “That’s just being crafty,” he said.
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A crucial factor in Harden’s remarkable season has been his production at the free-throw line, where his shooting percentage is .866. Through Monday — when Houston beat Charlotte, 100-90, and Harden scored 29 points while making 14 of 16 foul shots — Harden has registered a league-high 816 free throws and has made 707. Second, far behind, was Westbrook, who had taken 629 through Sunday and made 525. Through 81 games — only one of which he had missed — Harden was averaging 10.2 free-throw attempts, with 8.8 of them successful. Both figures were also league highs.
He is just the 11th player in N.B.A. history to sink more than 700 free throws in a season.
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“Getting fouled is definitely an art, and he’s very good at it,” Rockets Coach Kevin McHale said, adding that Harden’s body awareness allowed him to initiate contact that works in his favor.
“You either know how to draw fouls or don’t, and I’m not sure you can teach it,” McHale added. “It may be innate.”
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Steve Javie, a former N.B.A. referee who analyzes officiating for ESPN, explained that Harden had an uncanny knack for sensing when a defender had entered into an illegal guarding position and initiating contact at that very moment, creating a defensive foul that might not have materialized otherwise.
How does he do it, then? To start, Harden’s tactics would not work if he did not already possess a devastatingly varied offensive skill set. For casual viewers, he may not inspire the same delight as Curry, who fires shots from absurd ranges and swaggers back down the court before they land, like an action-movie star strolling away from an explosion. But Harden’s intelligence and technical sophistication have won him widespread admiration.
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“It’s difficult to ever figure out what he’s going to do because he scores in such a variety of ways,” said Terry Stotts, the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, who knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs last season.
Harden’s array of weapons instills in defenders high levels of respect, fear and uncertainty and a basic desire to stop whatever Harden might be doing at a given moment. In turn, he plays off these impulses. It helps that he has strong hands and an equally strong grasp of league rules.
Harden’s most idiosyncratic maneuver involves holding the ball away from his body, like a waiter balancing a tray of tempting hors d’oeuvres — or as Harden refers to it, “the cookie jar.”
“Just when you think you can reach and get a steal, he takes his arm up into your arms, and that’s an automatic foul,” said Markel Brown of the Nets, who helped hold Harden to 15 points in a Feb. 27 game. “You’re fouling him, but he pretty much made you foul him.”
Such a loss of self-determination is common among those who guard Harden. He isolates defenders, stares them down, flinches, twitches, and moves his eyeballs. If the opponent loses his equilibrium, Harden accelerates, clipping a piece of hip or shoulder or leg on the way.
“He’ll lull you to sleep,” said Cory Joseph of the Spurs. “He gets you on your heels, almost moves you where he wants you, and then he works his angles to get contact and a foul call and also get his shot off.”
Thus Harden punishes defenders for even a split second of laziness. “As a defender, you better be doing everything right,” Harden said. “I’m talking about hands out of the cookie jar, sliding your feet, straight up.”
Starkey has had a decorated career, having been a part of 636 collegiate victories, 19 NCAA Tournaments, eight trips to the Elite Eight and five straight trips to the Women’s Final Four (2004-08), including serving as Acting Head Coach for LSU’s 2007 Women’s Final Four run.Starkey’s former players have gone on to distinguished post-collegiate careers, including both an NBA Finals MVP, Shaquille O’Neal (2001, 2002), and a WNBA Finals MVP, Seimone Augustus (2011). Ten of his players have been drafted in the First Round of the NBA or WNBA Draft, including top five picks Augustus (first overall), O’Neal (first), Slyvia Fowles (second), Chris Jackson (third) and Kelsey Bone (fifth). Seven of his players were named NBA or WNBA All-Rookie during their first year in the league, including A&M’s Bone.
In addition, three of his players—O’Neal (1996 Atlanta), Augustus (2008 Beijing & 2012 London) and Fowles (2008 Beijing & 2012 London)—have gone on to win Olympic Gold Medals.
One of the best defensive coaches in basketball, Starkey’s teams have allowed an average of 54.1 points per game since 2004-05. In seven of those seasons, Starkey’s team has ranked among the top 10 nationally in points allowed per game, and six of his players have been named to the SEC All-Defensive team, since the conference started naming that team in 2007-08.
His players have won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year three times, with A&M’s Jordan Jones winning the award twice (in 2013-14 and 2014-15) as well as Fowles in 2007-08.
Since arriving to A&M in 2012, Starkey has helped the Aggies to the 2013 SEC Tournament Championship and the 2014 NCAA Elite Eight. As A&M’s “defensive coordinator,” he has helped the Aggies average fewer than 60 points allowed in all three of his seasons in Aggieland.
Starkey spent 22 seasons (1989-11) at LSU, the last 13 of which came on the bench with the women’s basketball program. He helped the Lady Tigers to five straight Final Fours from 2004-08, and served as Acting Head Coach for the 2007 NCAA Tournament (4-1). Starkey spent a season at UCF (2011-12) immediately prior to coming to A&M.
Starkey helped guide LSU to four SEC Championships, 12 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, eight Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights and five consecutive trips to the Final Four. He was a key component in the Lady Tigers’ outstanding record of 326-105 (.756) from 1998-2011.
Starkey joined the Lady Tigers’ program on a full-time basis in 1998 under Sue Gunter, one of three Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coaches he has worked for (Van Chancellor, Gary Blair). Starkey had previously served as the administrative assistant for both the LSU men’s and women’s basketball team for two years.
In his first role at LSU, Starkey served as an assistant coach for Dale Brown on the LSU men’s basketball staff from 1990-96, during which time the Tigers participated in four NCAA Tournaments. While on the men’s staff, Starkey worked closely in developing three first-round NBA draft picks in Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts. As a recruiter, he helped sign three nationally-ranked recruiting classes, including one which was rated No. 1 in the country.
In his 27-year collegiate coaching tenure, Starkey has worked with 18 20-win teams and has been a postseason participant 18 times.
Before his extended stretch at LSU, Starkey spent one year as an assistant at Marshall during the 1988-89 season and three seasons as a men’s assistant coach at West Virginia State from 1984-87. In his final season at West Virginia State, he helped guide the Yellow Jackets to conference and district titles on their way to the NAIA National Championship game.
Starkey began his coaching career on the high school level as an assistant at Winfield High School in West Virginia.
Starkey, who considers himself a full-time student of the game, has written numerous articles and has authored such basketball books as The 2-3 Match-Up Defense and Motion Offense. His latest project is a Basketball Coaching Series of books that include The Art of Being An Assistant Coach, The Art of Scouting and The Art of Motivation. Starkey is a master motivator and runs his own coaching and player online blog that features daily updates at http://hoopthoughts.blogspot.com.
Starkey is originally from Charleston, W.Va., and is married to the former Sherie Hayslett, also a native of West Virginia.
2012-Present: Texas A&M (Assistant Coach)
2011-12: UCF (Assistant Coach)
2007-11: LSU (Associate Head Coach)
2007: LSU (Acting Head Coach)
1998-07: LSU (Assistant Coach)
1997-98: LSU women & men (Administrative Assistant)
1990-97: LSU men (Assistant Coach)
1988-89: Marshall (Assistant Coach)
1984-87: West Virginia State men (Assistant Coach)
By The Numbers
3 – Olympic Gold Medalists
5 – NCAA Final Fours (2004-08)
8 – NCAA Elite Eight Appearances
10 – First Round NBA & WNBA Draft Picks
19 – NCAA Tournament Appearances
54.1 – Points Allowed since 2004-05
636 – Collegiate Coaching Wins