Brooklyn Nets: Are NBA officials treating James Harden fairly this season?

James Harden (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
James Harden (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The NBA is cracking down hard on some players with their newest rules, and Brooklyn Nets star James Harden is feeling the full effects. After an eight-year stretch from 2012-2020 in which he took 10.4 free throws per game, he’s at a career-low three per game in the young season.

While the Nets have only played in three games so far, it’s clear already that Harden won’t be getting some of the calls he’s used to.

The biggest reason for that? A different approach to how certain plays are being officiated league-wide.

The NBA explained the new emphasis in a Twitter thread before the season started:

Once the announcement was made, Harden was brought up as a frequent offender along with guys like Trae Young and Luka Doncic. So far, all three have seen a significant dip in their free throw attempts from last season, but Harden’s is the most dramatic of them all.

Young: 8.7 to 6.0
Doncic: 7.1 to 4.5
Harden: 7.3 to 3.0

"“No matter how big a deal we try to make it, a foul is a foul,” said Harden when asked about the new rules on Sunday. “I feel like we’re putting too much emphasis on certain people. For me, you just got to keep going.”"

While Harden acknowledged he believes the NBA might have it out for him with whistles, he handled the situation in stride, saying he’s not the type to complain about it. Head coach Steve Nash, however, wanted it to be known that something isn’t right here.

Are NBA officials being fair to James Harden?

All cards on the table, I’ve been of the opinion that James Harden is the most skilled player in the league at creating fouls when there are none. I don’t think it’s up for debate that he made a career out of hooking under players’ arms and leaning unnaturally on jumpers, which made him even more of a nightmare to defend than he already was.

With all that said, it’s hard to believe referees don’t have it in the back of their minds that Harden has been such a frequent offender of what the new guidelines are fighting against. There’s some weight to what Harden and Nash are saying, which is unfortunate for Brooklyn, but I don’t see it being a long-lasting problem.

Just as players are getting used to the new rules, so are officials. In watching clips of the Nets’ first three games, I couldn’t find that many instances where someone missed a call on Harden, but there are still some pretty obvious ones. This invasion of Harden’s space by Joel Embiid, for example, was pretty egregious.

Meanwhile, whistles Harden used to get all the time in the past are going uncalled. This one isn’t quite the hook he’s been known for as he doesn’t pull up the arm of Jaden McDaniels, but he does begin the shooting motion with Jaden’s arm reaching on top of his.

All in all, there have been very few glaring mistakes from officials in the first three games regarding Harden. While his three attempts per game look pretty staggering compared to his career average, I fully expect that to go back up as the Nets get back into the swing of the season.

Just as NBA players need a few games to get their bearings, so do officials. I’d be very surprised if James continued to get to the line nearly as infrequently as he has so far.