BY JACK STERN With a 57 point game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, James Harden recorded his 12th career game scoring 50 points or more. On the feat, he tied LeBron James for 6th place in NBA history for most games with 50 points or more. He also moved ahead of Allen Iverson who had 11 such games in his career. Per ESPN state & info, his streak of 17 games with 30 points or more is the longest since Wilt Chamberlain had 20 consecutive such games way back in 1964.
Aside from putting up yet another historic, sensational performance, Harden’s effort was a statement of sorts for the 10th year pro. The former Arizona State standout and 3rd overall pick has evolved into arguably the best scorer of the last decade, and put himself in the conversation for one of the best all time.
While many will point to his lackadaisical effort on defense, ball hogging tendencies, or lack of on-court leadership that led to a fallout with the OKC Thunder as reasons he shouldn’t be in viewed as elite on the scoring end, the reason why is in the numbers.
The last seven seasons dating back to 2012-13, Harden has finished in the top five in points per game. In three of those years he finished second, two of them – including this year, he finished first. He has been able to baffle defenders, knockdown tough shots from all over the floor, and score bundles of points on a nightly basis since breaking into the league.
Regardless of what may happen on the defensive end or locker room, he is undoubtedly one of the top offensive players in the league. His performance also represents the paradigm shift in how basketball has changed over the last decade.
In 2009-10, his rookie season, the average team scored 100.5 PPG. Roughly halfway through the year, that number has jumped to 111.35 PPG. Due to the increasing need to score points, teams have seemingly placed a much larger emphasis on offense than defense.
Simply put, the NBA since Harden broke into the league has been all about flashy plays, circus shots, and extensive scoring with defense taking the backseat to all three; which is precisely why he is perfect for this era. Turn on a Houston Rockets game on any given night, and you’ll see what makes him such a special player.
Between the outstanding handles that allow him to get separation, the ability to score points in a variety of ways off an isolation, and the beautiful southpaw shot, he brings a unique skill set to the table that is fun to watch.
While Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and LeBron James are commonly viewed as the best all around players in the league, Harden deserves to be in the discussion because of how effective he is shooting the ball.
Aside from Michael Jordan, the NBA has never seen as prolific of a scorer who can sustain an offensive performance throughout a game. Last night for instance, Harden scored 20 points.
Even though that may not be as evenly distributed as games past, it goes to show his effective throughout four quarters.
While Harden’s shortcomings on defense and may decreases his importance, value, and effectiveness in some people’s eyes, the state sheet, ability to constantly score, and high watch-ability of any game he’s competing in have to put him squarely in the discussion for one of the best offensive players of all time.