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Another Night, Another Highlight Reel Of James Harden Struggling Without The Whistle On His Side

James Harden, rightly or wrongly, became the face of flopping over the last half-decade or so. I put it that way because he wasn't the first and certainly will not be the last to try and game the system to his advantage. He was simply the best at it. If the refs are gonna keep calling it, why would he stop? Free throws? Less defensive pressure in the second halves of games due to foul trouble? You'd have to be an idiot to not take advantage of that system. They're free points.

The points are no longer free. And Harden, five games into the season, has yet to adjust. He's not the only one, Jaylen Brown just last night was seeking out contact while driving against Kyle Kuzma rather than just going up and finishing; Chris Paul attempted his patented "stop for no reason in front of a trailing defender to get tackled and draw a foul" which resulted in a turnover. League-wide free throw rate is down 10% from last year, while pace of play is up. Less whistles and more action, no matter how you want to slice it, is an objectively good thing. Luckily for Nets fans, Harden is saying his rough start has more to do with rehabbing all Summer than it does the new rule changes.

(Score) - "I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer," Harden said after Wednesday's 106-93 loss to the Miami Heat, according to ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season. So this is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else.

"And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, (have to) take your time."

Harden is averaging 16.6 points, eight assists, and seven boards through five appearances this season. He's shooting a career-low 35.9% from the field, including 33.3% from deep.

The former MVP's scoring is down eight points per contest from a year ago due in large part to a diminished free-throw rate.

Through five games, Harden is averaging THREE free throws per game, nearly a third of his 8.7 per night average. And I don't think he's completely wrong, the injury he sustained at the end of last season is really the only major injury he's sustained as a pro. A Summer of rehab instead of constant pickup, no Olympics, no normalcy, can definitely make the early-goings of the next season tougher. Except, as you see in the clips above, his acting is in mid-season form. Buddy was getting stripped clean like a stolen car in a chop shop and was still tossing his head back like he took a prime Tyson jab to the jaw. That part of his game, the blatant acting, is going to be harder to remove than it will be for him to get back into playing shape. Which, he may be there already considering his seven rebounds and eight assists a night are both above his career averages (5.5 and 6.5, respectively). 

Harden's days of putting up 30 without breaking much of a sweat may be behind him, that's fine. He's not on the Rockets anymore, he doesn't need to be the main guy. But if his days of putting up 25 a night are done...yikes. I don't care what the rules are now, he's taking roughly eight threes per game (in line with his career average) and is only making 33% of 'em. In an area where he's always been a volume over quality guy, he's going to need to figure out how to be both. Because the whistles aren't coming back.