James Harden has found a new move.
It's funny-looking. But it's effective.
It defies fundamentals. But it draws fouls.
Above all, it's reliable.
“We know it's going to be two points every time he goes to the rim,” said Kevin Durant.
Harden has developed a knack for drawing contact on drives to the basket by sticking out his arms, exposing the ball while gripping it with two hands, and baiting defenders to swipe at the ball. If they do, it's a foul. If they don't, he has an unobstructed path to the basket.
Many times, the Thunder's sixth man gets the layup and the foul.
Opponents can't defend it. Coaches don't like it. And Harden won't stop using it.
“That's how I get to the foul line the majority of time is by using that,” Harden said. “If I don't get there, the majority of time it's a layup. So it just depends on the defenders and what they want to do.”
Unlike other basketball moves, this maneuver doesn't have a name. Thunder guard Royal Ivey dubbed it the “stick-and-move,” a somewhat fitting moniker seeing as how Harden sticks out his arms just before going into his finishing move.
“It's hard to emulate that. It takes time,” Ivey said. “He worked on that and he perfected it. Guys can't just go out there and try to do it because it doesn't work like that. It has a lot to do with timing, the way he comes off the screen and the way he sets up his guy. And he's mastered it, so that's his move.”
Harden isn't the first to utilize the move. Other prominent players such as San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups have made it an integral part of their games. Thunder forward Nick Collison remembers scouting reports on Billups instructing players to keep their hands down on his drives to avoid falling for the move.
“I think the difference between him and James is that Chauncey looks to always get the foul,” said Durant, who teamed with Billups during the 2010 FIBA World Championship. “James looks to finish, to get the and one. So he's getting more and ones than I've seen Chauncey get.”
With the help of the stick-and-move, Harden has assembled his most productive season yet. He's averaging 16.8 points on 47.8 percent shooting, while attempting 6.3 free throws attempts and making 5.4 foul shots per game, all career highs.
In the fourth quarter against Dallas on Monday night, Harden exploited the Mavs with the move. He scored 12 straight Thunder points to start the fourth quarter and got to the foul line seven times in the final period. Two nights later, Harden scored a career-high 30 points against Phoenix by mixing in the stick-and-move to earn a team-high 11 free throw attempts.
“He's like a running back once he sees that little hole,” Ivey said. “He's just trying to get in between there and trying to stick the ball through.”
Harden says he isn't sure where he got the move from or when exactly he started using it. But he remembers trying it a few times in games last year and seeing it work. He continued to practice it over the summer, perfecting it those inconsequential pickup games that filled the lockout, and came back for his third season armed with a new weapon.
At times, Harden combines the stick-and-move with a more popular stutter-step maneuver that has been labeled the “Eurostep.” It's an on-the-move jab in one direction before changing course and going the other.
“You don't know what to expect,” Ivey said. “You don't know how he's going to counter you, so it's just hard to guard because you never know. You think it's coming and then he might just lay you out. It's instincts with him.”
Harden has become adept at reading and reacting to defenders to make him even more effective. But it's Harden's mix of strong hands, patience and poise that has helped him excel when using the move.
“He's real poised when he gets in there. And he's not going fast,” Ivey said. “He gets his body onto people and he tries to draw that contact and then when he gets the contact he's sticking the ball out to finish a lot of the time. Or sometimes, when he doesn't have something, he sticks it out anyway and he gets that foul. The refs know to look for that.”