There may be no such thing as a James Harden stopper, just as there was no Kobe Bryant stopper (sorry Ruben Patterson). But if there were to be someone that fits the bill of at least making games long and nights tough for Harden, Stanley Johnson is quickly building up a resume this season alone.
Wednesday was the third time Johnson squared off against Harden in a Lakers jersey alone this season and it was the third time he made life miserable for the superstar guard. The difference against the Sixers was Johnson added some offensive contribution as well, scoring all 13 of his points in the first quarter as part of a spirited effort from a severely undermanned Lakers side, even if it ultimately ended in a loss.
While Harden scored 24 points, NBA’s match-up data attributes just eight of those points coming with Johnson matched up against him. Harden finished 4-10 from the field against Johnson while missing all three of his 3-point attempts.
“Stanley was great tonight,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “Any time you play against a guy like James Harden, you have to work your tail off to guard him but you have to go back at him on the other end. I thought Stanley did a great job of that to start the game, really set a ton for our group in terms of ‘We’re going to attack these guys with aggressive offensive basketball as much as setting our defense.’
“I think he guarded James tonight as well as anybody can guard him. I thought he did a hell of a job.”
Johnson’s memorable debut for the Lakers came against Brooklyn, where Harden was then at, and featured another strong defensive showing. The Lakers would again meet Brooklyn in late January with Harden again having an inefficient scoring night. Harden’s scoring output dropped as he remained inefficient again on Wednesday, though Harden was able to earn his first win against the Lakers this season despite that.
Across the three games Johnson and Harden have squared off, Harden is shooting just 10-23 from the field when defended by Johnson. He has missed all five of his 3-point field goal attempts, has only attempted two free throws and drawn two shooting fouls and has 22 total points.
In each of those three games, no one has defended Harden more than Johnson and in each of the last two games, he’s had more than double the possessions against Harden than the next-closest Laker, again all per NBA’s match-up data.
Again, there is no such thing as a James Harden stopper because Harden has still gotten his in each of those games, averaging 31 points across the three Lakers games. But none of those scoring totals have come on efficient nights, which is the best you can ask of a defender and Johnson has lived up to those expectations.
Johnson’s arrival into Los Angeles started with a bang, but the Southern California native has more than earned his role with the Lakers moving forward.
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