Houston (CBS Houston) – It’s no secret Rockets shooting guard James Harden doesn’t play defense really well. Or really at all sometimes. The NBA knows it, his teammates know it, but maybe most importantly for the Rockets, Harden knows it, and he aims to change it.
“I hear it, but I don’t pay attention to it,” Harden said. “I know I can be a really good defender. Obviously at times my defense is pretty bad.”
A self-aware superstar who knows his weaknesses, a rarity in the NBA today.
“We don’t have to bring it up,” Rocket General Manager Daryl Morey said. “He’s the one talking about where he needs to go as the next step as a player.”
The Rockets superstar has caught plenty of attention in recent months for his lack of defensive prowess. There was the montage put together by Deadspin showing Harden’s frequent lapses. Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson had some fun at Harden’s expense posting a picture of him as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, a team famous for their recent ineptitude on defense.
“That category, I know have to be better at it,” Harden said.
He said he knows he can be a good defender in the NBA, but he has to focus more. He mentioned small things lead to his defensive lapses, like losing track of his man for a moment on the court.
Harden knows how to correct those small issues that turn into a larger deficiency under his constant microscope.
“Just being able to focus and being able to concentrate on small things like that is going to make the difference,” said the All-NBA first team member.
It isn’t easy to be the team’s main scoring threat and playing top of the line defense.
“We asked him to do a lot last year,” said Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale. That wasn’t an excuse though.
“There’s a lot of offensive pressure on him to deliver every single night, but you still got to go out there and play the other side of the ball. He understands that.”
Harden has more help on defense than before, which could make his task a bit easier. The off-season acquisition of Trevor Ariza at small forward combined with now healthy point guard Patrick Beverley gives Harden a duo of tenacious defenders with him in the back court.
“I’m always motivated to be better than I was last year,” Harden said. He mentioned his time with USA basketball over the summer as a helpful experience. He said the hard work of his peers “put it all in perspective.” Harden drew rave reviews from people who covered the camp for his defensive intensity. He led the USA in steals per game at the FIBA World Championship and was third in the tournament in the same category.
“He wants to continue to improve and be a great player,” Morey said.
The Rockets failed to make it out of the first round in last year’s playoffs and with a loaded Western Conference the Rockets might need James Harden the defender as much as James Harden the scoring machine. Harden knows what taking his defense to the next level could mean for the Rockets.
“In order for the Rockets to reach their potential, and reach where they need to go, I gotta be better in that aspect,” Harden said. “It will happen.”
Get in touch with Cody Stoots on Twitter – @Cody_Stoots