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Here’s why James Harden’s behind-the-back side-step is NOT a travel

James Harden hit a defender with a nasty crossover, behind the back move that freed him up for a wide open three-pointer on Tuesday night. During his behind-the-back move, though, the ball never touched the ground.

Now, it’s up for debater whether Harden’s creation was within the confines of the NBA rulebook, or if it was a traveling violation that shouldn’t have counted.

9 THREES for Harden (37 PTS)! 24 3PM for the @HoustonRockets!

— NBA (@NBA) October 10, 2018

It wasn’t a travel. Here’s why

A quick shoutout to Rob Perez AKA World Wide Wob for slowing down the footage of Harden’s new move. It gives us a chance to really examine what’s going on on the court.

— Boban Wobjanovic (@World_Wide_Wob) October 10, 2018

Wob’s argument is that Harden has established his pivot foot when he picks the ball up, and that his first initial step before going behind the back should count as step No. 1 of 2.

does his right become to the pivot before he jump steps tho? because if yes then it’s not a travel. but he doesnt actually dribble he just puts it behind his back so he technically shouldnt be allowed to just change pivots like that w/o costing a step. this is very perplexing.

— Boban Wobjanovic (@World_Wide_Wob) October 10, 2018

But what we need to take into consideration here is that Harden’s move continues. NBA officiating today is loose on the pivot foot, and Harden establishes his as his right foot before making the move. This is basically a side-step. It’s crafty and deceptive, like any other move Harden pulls off, but it’s a side-step nonetheless.

The NBA rulebook says it best: “A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may use a two-count rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.”

The completion of Harden’s dribble came milliseconds before he established his pivot foot as his right. The way the NBA is being officiated now, that move is completely legal. If officials call that a travel, they have to start calling a whole bunch of other moves travels, too. The NBA’s official league office Twitter account also agrees — Harden’s move is legal:

This is a legal play. Although James puts the ball behind his back, he only takes two steps after the gather of the ball and therefore it is NOT a travel.

— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) October 10, 2018

So did the official Twitter account of NBA referees:

The offensive player gathers the ball, and flips it from his left hand to right behind his back, with his right foot as his pivot foot. He then is allowed 2 steps, which he takes as a lateral 1-2 step. It’s a legal play.

— NBA Referees (@OfficialNBARefs) October 10, 2018

Stephen Curry pulled off a move similar to this at a Warriors practice in 2016. He took one dribble then stepped back — without putting the ball on the floor again — by bringing the ball behind his back.

Steph at work

— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) September 27, 2016

In an interview with SB Nation, Curry’s trainer, Brandon Payne, broke down why this move isn’t a travel.

How is this not a travel?

If it was a right-to-left crossover, he’d sidestep off his left foot into the shot. If you watch closely when he’s crossing the ball over, as the ball hits the ground, his left foot is hitting the ground into his side step. That’s a dribble into the side step, so he leaves off one foot and lands on two. That’s like any other sidestep or any other Eurostep.

This is just off one leg and landing on two into his shot. He’s not going to travel because when he sidesteps, he’s sidestepping off a dribble.

But doesn’t he have to sidestep with both feet or keep his right foot down?

Essentially, this is just a jump stop. It’s just a jump stop to the side. It’s all about the timing of when the ball hits the ground and when his foot hits the ground. As long as the ball and the foot are hitting the ground at the same time, it’s just a jump stop. He’s jump-stopping laterally into a jump shot.

So even though Harden’s new move might look like a travel, it’s really not. The way the NBA is being called today, this is no different, like Payne said, from a crossover side-step jump shot. Harden makes those, too. Now, he’s just adding to his stockpile of unstoppable moves.

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