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James Harden - A Classic Case of Misunderstood Value

The last time I wrote on hoops was December 2013 when I presciently trashed Carmelo Anthony. The time has come to take out my poison pen once again to decry James Harden as a fraud. I know that Harden has amazing stats - third in scoring, first in assists, and that his team the Rockets have far exceeded expectations as they are currently the 3rd seed out west. But, I still maintain that he is an awful player.

Since joining the Rockets and becoming a lead dog in the NBA, Harden’s game has changed. His breakout success has largely been a result of what I would call “ugly ball.” He is a master at creating contact and misleading the referees into calling the foul on his defender, who often hasn't even moved let alone initiated contact. Harden is especially adept at literally flinging the ball towards the basket when creating this contact, earning himself the two free throws that come when one is fouled in the act of shooting. The thing is, he wasn't fouled and he wasn't shooting. Many of his points scored are either a direct result of this phenomenon and come in the form of free throws, of which he takes far more than any other NBA player, or an indirect one, wherein defenders are forced to play far off the ball to avoid his shenanigans, leaving him open for long range shots, which any NBA player could make when given the space.

One would be mistaken to call Harden the NBA’s worst defender, because labeling him that would imply that he plays defense. He doesn't. He is the ultimate practitioner of the "matador” style of defense, standing aside and allowing the bull, or in this case the opposing offensive player to pass without making any effort to stop him at all. All that’s missing is the matador cape, which if he would incorporate into his repertoire would make him far more entertaining.

In sum, James Harden is an awful basketball player, a guy whose team will never win a championship, and a terrible entertainer who plays a repulsive brand of basketball. Yet if you listen to the NBA’s shill announcers, Charles Barkley excepted, you would think he is the second coming of Oscar Robertson.

As an investment professional, I see this concept of misperceived value play out often. Pundits, brokers, media, traders get the momentum going and then reality is suspended - temporarily - as the herd piles into the trade. No one ever knows when it will end, but it never ends pretty. Ask Carmelo.

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