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This James Harden ‘travel’ is actually totally legal. Here’s why

James Harden isn’t traveling on his drives to the basket. Get educated about the “gather” step.

James Harden has become one of the NBA’s most polarizing players as he’s grown into the best pure-scorer alive. While no one denies Harden’s numbers are incredible — he’s leading the NBA in scoring at 35.2 points per game, five points ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo — how he gets them has become a topic of national debate.

Harden’s offensive arsenal has been built on a barrage of step-back and side-step three-pointers combined with an unprecedented ability to draw fouls, but the part of his game that confounds so many people is his euro-step layup.

Harden didn’t invent the euro-step, but it sure looks like he’s perfected it. When Harden picks up his dribble and goes into the move, defenses are at his mercy to surrender two points. The move has become so effective that it’s led to many opposing fans, players, and announcers calling for it to be whistled as a travel.

It happened again during the Houston Rockets’ 120-110 victory over the Utah Jazz Saturday night. Harden again led the way for Houston with 38 points, but it’s one play in particular that has driven conversation in the hours since. As Harden attacked the Jazz defense and used a euro-step layup to score a bucket, Utah’s announcers were pleading for a traveling call on TV.

At first glance, it sure looks like Harden is taking three steps before he scores the ball, which would be against the rules and should be whistled as a travel. But if you look at the NBA rule book and watch the play again, it’s pretty clear this isn’t traveling. It’s a totally legal move.

It all comes back to the “gather” step. Here’s how the NBA rule book defines a gather:

For a player who is in control of the ball while dribbling, the gather is defined as the point where a player does any one of the following:

Puts two hands on the ball, or otherwise permits the ball to come to rest, while he is in control of it;

Puts a hand under the ball and brings it to a pause; or

Otherwise gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.

Incorporating the Gather into the Traveling Rule

The gather will be expressly incorporated into the traveling rule to clarify how many steps a player may take after he receives the ball while progressing or completes his dribble:

A player who gathers the ball while progressing may (a) take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball or (b) if he has not yet dribbled, one step prior to releasing the ball to start his dribble.

A player who gathers the ball while dribbling may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.

The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after the player gathers the ball.

That last line is the most important. NBA officials don’t start counting steps until the gather is complete. Harden and other stars like Antetokounmpo have been able to leverage that rule to their advantage when driving to the basket.

Watch the Harden play above again. Harden is gathering the ball as he makes his first step. That is legal according to the rule book and does not start the count on how many steps Harden is allowed to take:

Harden then takes two steps and lays the ball in. It does appear he drags his back foot into his final step, but as Basketball Breakdown and others have pointed out, that’s legal as well.

No, Harden isn’t traveling when he goes into his euro-step layup, even if it looks that way to casual fans. This is a legal move because of how the gather is defined in the rule book. Remember that the next time someone complains that Harden is taking three steps.