James Harden is a historically brilliant scorer, and that’s not hyperbole. Per Basketball-Reference, only two players have ever notched 5,000 points with a higher true shooting percentage before age 25: Charles Barkley and Adrian Dantley. That’s pretty good company.
Defensively, though, he is becoming an absolute disaster. He is arguably the most lopsided player (brilliant on one end of the court and incompetent on the other) since Ben Wallace, whose disparity was inverted to Harden's.
There were hopes that playing with Team USA under the tutelage of defensive guru Tom Thibodeau would help. And the initial reports were encouraging. Bobby Gonzalez of Sheridan Hoops reported:
I spoke to several members of the USAB staff, and behind the scenes they were amazed at how good James Harden has become as an overall player since his last tour with Team USA two years ago. The fact that he came in and was focused on being a lockdown defender blew them away.
But, as evidenced by the footage above, his play in games has been different from whatever he showed in practice. And, if you can’t defend against Turkey, can you defend in the NBA?
Harden is once again just losing all interest and/or awareness off the ball. The only reason his help defense isn’t atrocious is because it doesn’t exist.
There are two ways to take this. One is to be frustrated and give up on the idea of Harden ever putting forth a consistent defensive effort. The other is that he has the ability to do well, but needs someone to inspire him to put forth the effort.
The Rockets fired Dean Cooper, their previous defensive coach, but haven’t replaced him yet. Landing an assistant who can push Harden on the less-glamorous end is essential. Mark Jackson comes to mind, but per Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group, Brian Scalabrine believes Jackson did not push his players hard enough.
Whoever it is, they need to land someone soon, and it needs to be someone who Harden listens to.