James Harden is one of the most polarising players of the decade. At times, as an NBA fan, either you love him or you hate him. A large part of this is due to the unique way that James Harden plays.
Like Charles Barkley says, James Harden’s style of basketball is “iso ball” and loads of “dribble dribble dribble” before he launches a shot. He has got a point there, focusing on the characteristic offensive style of “the Beard”. On the Houston Rockets team, his teammates literally has to wait for James to feed them the basketball or grab rebounds in order to get their own shots up. Understandably so, analysts sometimes describe James Harden as stagnating the team’s plays with his ball hogging habits.
Despite some of these negative narratives, James Harden has proven to be an offensive talent for the ages. A few NBA analysts are already calling James Harden the next offensive G.O.A.T. for his incredible talent on the offensive end.
He perfected the step-back jump shot and made it a lethal weapon in his arsenal. He single-handedly restarted the trend of creating space through a step back, which former players like Kobe, Dirk and Carmelo have depended on.
James Harden has a nifty, shifty quickness to his drives that often leave defenders struggling to keep up. Breaking ankles, splitting defenses and scoring easy buckets are casual staples in his repertoire.
James Harden’s ability to draw fouls is unparalleled in the past 50 years. When the defenders have caught up to him, his classic forearm ball-push-off into the defender has a high success rate of drawing fouls and earning him a ticket to the charity stripe.
So just how good is James Harden? At the current pace that he is scoring and the wide variety of buckets he is able to get, James is on pace to rank among the top 10 in all-time scoring performances in terms of season average. Let us take a detailed look at who are on the top ten list and where exactly does James Harden stand.
10. Kobe Bryant 35.4 points per game in 2005 / 2006
As prolific and dominant a force Kobe was in his prime, he was only able to etch his name at tenth in this all-time list. Perhaps being with strong All-Stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol did take away the scoring load a little from Kobe Bryant.
9. Rick Barry 35.58 points per game in 1966 / 1967
Before Brent Barry became a Slam Dunk Champion and NBA Champion, it was his father, Rick Barry, who was a bad man. Rick, with his length and slender agility, was an easy bucket getter and skillful offensive whizz.
8. James Harden 36.13 points per game in 2018 / 2019
If history is any evidence, James Harden has already made a case that he belongs to the same stratosphere of the greats. He made the list last year at eighth, after a full display of elite ability in shooting three-pointers, mid-range, lay-ups, floaters and various forms of contested shots, at a highly dependable percentage.
7. Wilt Chamberlain 36.85 points per game in 1963 / 1964
You can start getting used to seeing this name on the all-time lists. In fact, Wilt was such a huge force down-low that his dunks, lay-ups, hook shots and put-backs were unstoppable in his era. He made a total of five of the top ten positions in this category alone. Even with his lower-scoring season, Wilt was able to rank number seventh.
6. Michael Jordan 37.09 points per game in 1986 / 1987
Ever heard of the name Michael “Air” Jordan? This five-time regular season Most Valuable Player, six-time Finals Most Valuable Player, former Defensive Player of the Year and six-time Champion seemed to be the unanimous G.O.A.T. thus far. However, we are all surprised that he only made this list once. One consolation is that Michael did win the scoring titles of ten seasons with his other scoring averages too.
5. Wilt Chamberlain 37.60 points per game in 1959 / 1960
The fourth-best scoring average of Wilt landed him at number five all-time. Not too shabby at all.
4. Wilt Chamberlain 38.39 points per game in 1960 / 1961
The year when Wilt was asked to contribute more in other aspects of his game and demonstrate more balance, he raked in less points but still managed to squeeze into the top three with ease.
3. James Harden 39.30 points per game in 2019 / 2020
25 games into the 2019 / 2020 season, James Harden is solidifying his reputation as the premier scoring machine and further fine-tuning his modus operandi.
The mark of finesse and elite scoring is when opponents know exactly what is in your playbook but cannot do anything to stop you. James has moves that target each kind of weakness, each kind of position and each kind of scheme.
When opponent coaches run counters to his moves, James has counter-counter moves. A simple bag of tricks that he easily mixes up the sequence and repetition quickly confuses the defender and opens up a clear lane for take-off. His scoring average is insane at the moment and is on pace for him to clinch the third place on this all-time list.
2. Wilt Chamberlain 44.83 points per game in 1962 / 1963
The “Big Dipper” is still the only player ever to achieve a single-season scoring average in the range of forties. How cool is that!
1. Wilt Chamberlain 50.36 points per game in 1961 / 1962
Wilt can rest in peace knowing that no matter who comes knocking at the top ten list this year, his five separate seats on the top ten will be retained, albeit with slight shuffling, given all the five incredible averages he accomplished.
Now that we have analyzed the scale and consistency of what James Harden is doing, it is imperative that we pay attention to his performance this entire season. If he is lucky and healthy, we may bear witness to history in the making as James lays claim to yet another coveted seat on the all-time single-season scoring average ranking list.