The NBA preseason began with a pair of joyous nutmegs. We’ll be tracking them right here this season because the NBA needs more nutmegs and we’d like to encourage the practice.
In another game, James Harden lulled Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to sleep before nutmegging him and baiting him into a foul, as Harden is wont to do:
"Oh he nutmegged him!"— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) October 8, 2019
James Harden showed out against Rondae Hollis-Jefferson pic.twitter.com/l80snJcHdA
As someone who is known to enjoy nutmegs, I woke up to both of these incidents in my mentions, and they warmed my heart.
The fun thing about nutmegs is they’re a combination of various sporting qualities that are often seen as being at odds with each other. A nutmeg is practical. It gets the ball handler beyond an opponent. It makes a path where there should have been none. But a nutmeg is also creative. Not many players are looking to put the ball between a defender’s legs, and it takes someone who is brave and skilled enough to time the action just right — the maneuver has to start almost before the defender even opens their legs — or else commit a humiliating turnover.
A nutmeg is always a pleasant surprise. Even though nutmegs happen fairly often, no one ever expects them — not defenders, nor fans, nor commentators. And of course, nutmegs embarrass defenders, and we should always come together to enjoy defenders getting embarrassed, no matter the score or gravity of the game. In one moment, they think they’re winning the battle against the ball-handler, and the next, the ball is through their legs and there’s nothing they can do to stop their opponent except grab or foul. Their shame is invigorating.
On Twitter, I maintain a long-running thread entitled “Nutmegs as Great Philosophical Arguments.” The thread was inspired by the reactions of nutmegged defenders, who look like people whose understanding of a concept or the world has been shattered by a singular event — like Euthyphro trying to define the nature of piety after Socrates asked him whether the gods love the pious because it is pious, or whether the pious is pious because it is loved by the gods. Sometimes defenders stand stunned at what has just happened, and other times they flail in desperation, trying to latch onto something that may ease their embarrassment. Like Hollis-Jefferson did against Harden.
There is no wrong way to appreciate a nutmeg, a fundamentally simple act with a high return of enjoyment. Young and Harden have continued the tradition of stunning defenders in this new NBA season, and hopefully many more creative attackers will take it as motivation to send even more of their colleagues into momentary existential dread by putting the ball through their legs.