On Friday, Harden hit two midrange jump shots against the Timberwolves. The last time he made a pair of 2-point jumpers off the dribble in a single game was over two years ago, on March 13, 2019, against the Warriors.
Much has been made about Harden’s inconsistent start to this season. Is it because of his conditioning? A lingering hamstring injury? The NBA’s new rules putting an end to his grifting? It’s a little bit of all of that. As he adjusts to his new normal, perhaps it’s time to unlock the midrange.
Harden has long been allergic to deep 2s. Even before he was the engine of Houston’s analytics-driven system, only 17.3 percent of his shots came from 2-point range outside the paint in his first seven seasons. No other player who averaged more than 14 field goals per game took a lower rate of those shots during that span. It’s been rare to see him shoot from deep midrange for his entire career, but it’s an effective shot for him. Over the past five seasons, Harden shot 43.1 percent on dribble-jumper 2s, according to Synergy Sports.
Harden can use the same stepbacks and side steps he deploys to create space for 3s to open up shots from midrange. Defenders oft??en anticipate that he’ll take stepback 3s, drive all the way to the rim, or shoot in floater range, which is also where he has drawn many of his fouls. Using the midrange more often could be his curveball as he adjusts to his diminished explosiveness at age 32. Of course, Harden should not become a midrange fiend like his teammate Kevin Durant or his former backcourt partner Chris Paul. Those two shoot it closer to 50 percent, making it a significantly more efficient shot. But on nights when Harden isn’t feeling it from 3 or he’s not getting the whistle near the paint, it would be a valuable tool.