Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: James Harden
It’s been nearly 23 years since the NBA last saw a quadruple-double (David Robinson logged 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks in a game against the Pistons back in 1994), so you’ll have to forgive us for wanting to celebrate James Harden’s stat-stuffing night, no matter how dubious it might appear at first sight. The Beard recorded a quadruple-double of sorts on Sunday in a 129–122 win over the Raptors: 40 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, and 10 turnovers. He joins five other players since 1985 to have recorded at least 10 turnovers to go with their triple-double, including Russell Westbrook, who tallied his just last month. But of the six stat lines, Harden’s was the most effective, by far.
Harden’s relationship with turnovers is a unique one. Harden led the league in turnovers in three of his first four seasons in Houston, and is on track to do so again this season. He already holds the record for most turnovers committed in a season (374, last year), which he’s on pace to shatter by Game 65 this year. But the raw statistics give him a raw deal: Since 2012–13, not once has he landed in the bottom three in turnover ratio among players who have averaged at least 30 minutes per game.
Basketball, like all sports, erects barriers to impede human efficiency — it’s by looking at how athletes navigate the terrain that we are able to weed out the average from the exceptional. Mistakes are often the cost of doing business. Harden had 119 touches Sunday night, nearly twice as many as DeMar DeRozan, who actually has a higher usage rate than Harden on the season. The fact that Harden had 10 turnovers doesn’t discredit his remarkable triple-double; all it indicates is that he had 119 opportunities to give the ball away to the other team, and managed to do so only 10 times. That isn’t cause for celebration, but it’s not deserving of scorn either. James Harden is Houston’s breathing mechanism; imagine getting riled up over someone’s carbon dioxide emissions over a 48-minute span.
Runner-up: Chris Paul
Of course, none of that applies to the Point God. Between transporting defenders to alternate dimensions with his yo-yo dribble and making angular passes that should be physically impossible for a player his size, Chris Paul turned in one of the most elegant performances of the season on Sunday. Against the Miami Heat, Paul put on his latest point guard master class: 19 points (on 7-for-11 shooting), 18 assists, and only one turnover in just under 29 minutes of playing time. This isn’t even the highest single-game assist-to-turnover ratio of his career (a ridiculous 20-to-zero ratio set earlier this season against the Pelicans); it isn’t even his second-highest.
Honorable Mention: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
A quick shout-out to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who doesn’t seem to get tired.
Stan Van Gundy played four different Pistons players over 46 minutes apiece in Sunday night’s 125–124 double-overtime win over the Blazers. By the end of the game, Reggie Jackson (nearly 47 minutes) and Andre Drummond (nearly 52!) seemed close to keeling over on the floor; Jackson looked dazed, and Drummond was furiously chugging Gatorade. The Pistons won off the indefatigable effort of KCP, who drilled three of his four 3-pointers in the final four and a half minutes of the game, including the shot that would win the game off an inbounds play. Sunday night’s performance against the Blazers was something of a greatest hits compilation of Caldwell-Pope’s array of skills. There aren’t enough players in the league capable of filling the role KCP provides for the Pistons: an elite perimeter defender capable of handling the opposing team’s best option night in and night out, while also being able to create his own shot from behind the arc and around the rim. KCP is averaging 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 39 percent from 3. He’s set for a massive pay raise this offseason.