Bruce Bowen says blame for James Harden’s defense falls on McHale, Rockets


Bruce Bowen is not totally wrong here. But he’s also not totally right.

No doubt Bowen knows his defense, starting with him being one of the best on-ball defenders on the wing the NBA has seen in the past couple decades. As the NBA shifted the rule enforcement and defenders couldn’t hand check on the perimeter, Bowen was still as good as anyone.

Bowen has James Harden’s back.

That back often seems to be facing the defender — Harden has earned a reputation as a legendarily bad defender.

But speaking to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News Bowen laid the blame for Harden’s play at the feet of Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale (hat tip to Eye on Basketball). McCarney asked if Bowen cringes when he watches Harden play.

See, I don’t cringe, because I remember him in OKC. In fairness to James, yes, (his defense) has been terrible, but what are the principles in Houston? I’m very disappointed in their team concept. That’s what I don’t see. So, if there are no rules and regulations, how do you hold anyone accountable? Speaking to James about this, he’ll say it — “I know I have to do a better job.” But without any direction, without a coach saying, hey, we’re going to send this player baseline because that will be our best bet, it’s really tough. Defense is something you have to practice very day, especially rotations. We went over our rotations every day in all my eight years in San Antonio. You would think me, Tim, Tony and Manu all knew what we were supposed to do. But others don’t. They have to become as familiar as we were. That’s why I go back to principles. Go back to OKC and they’re playing the Lakers, he guarded Kobe pretty well. That’s why I say, what’s going on (in Houston) is about something else.

Here’s why I think Bowen is part right, part wrong here.

He’s right that Harden did look better in the Thunder’s defensive system (and at moments for Team USA this summer). He’s right that the Rockets are far from a defensive juggernaut and their system can seem scattered at moments. It’s also not as bad as you’d think — in all three years McHale has been coach the Rockets have finished about the middle of the NBA pack defensively using points allowed per possession. Actually they have improved relative to the league each season under McHale.

But mostly, Bowen is wrong because defense is about effort. Being aware on the court and effort. And the examples there of Harden falling short seem endless — including with Team USA this summer, when he was in a good system.

Bottom line, Harden needs to take the blame for his defensive failings — his disinterest is not on McHale, it’s on Harden. Same with the effort.

And if the Rockets are going to seriously contend, it’s going to be on Harden and Dwight Howard to have the mentality to lead them there. On both ends of the court.