James Harden and Allen Iverson are recognized as two of the greatest scorers of their generation. The reason is their impact on the court and pure scoring ability have given them plenty of accolades over their respective careers. James Harden has played in 13 seasons, going onto his 14th season, while The Answer completed 14 seasons over his career. Since they stepped foot on an NBA court, their impact has truly been impressive to watch and they are ranked among the best at their positions. Unsurprisingly, both guards have been nominated to the NBA 75th Anniversary Teams and are regarded as two of the top-ten scorers of all time.
James Harden, just a few years ago, was considered the greatest one-on-one player of all time. His ability to beat defenders off the dribble and get to the rim made him an unguardable force who often attracted double and triple-teams as soon as he stepped past half-court. The Beard also had an unstoppable move in the step-back three-pointer that also helped change the way the game is played. Meanwhile, Allen Iverson captivated audiences with his play.
Iverson won an incredible 4 scoring titles and holds the 7th highest career PPG average at 26.7 PPG. The Answer stood only 6’0” and weighed 165 lbs, but he was able to get anywhere he wanted to get on the floor with speed and quickness. He also had an accurate mid-range shot and could also hit threes when he got hot. When attacking the rim, Iverson could finish among the trees and was a master at absorbing contact to draw fouls and also score layups.
Clearly, both Harden and Iverson are dominant players with some impressive accolades to their names. In order to distinguish between the Hall of Fame-caliber guards, it is time to compare the careers of both players by their most significant achievements to get an indication of which one had the better all-time career.
James Harden: 0
Allen Iverson: 0
Whenever a debate takes place between two Hall of Fame players, NBA championships are often the first thing that comes up. After all, winning is what matters most and the greatest player of all time must be a winner of the highest order. Both players do not have an NBA title to their names, the biggest criticism of their careers by pundits and NBA fans who watched them play.
James Harden only played in the NBA Finals one time, and it came when he was a 6th man for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Unfortunately for Harden, he did not have a strong series and never returned to the Finals again. His best chances came with the Houston Rockets when he constantly fell to the Golden State Warriors juggernaut teams. James has a chance to make the Finals again with the Philadelphia 76ers alongside Joel Embiid.
Similarly, Allen Iverson made the Finals one time except he managed to have a fantastic series but ran up against a dominant Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Iverson actually won Game 1 but lost the next four games. As a result, Iverson never managed to win an NBA title before retiring following the 2010 season. Neither player has a title as things stand, so there is no advantage on either side.
Finals MVP Awards
James Harden: 0
Allen Iverson: 0
James Harden has never won a Finals MVP award, as he lost out on his chance to win it as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, although he never really had a shot. Harden was the best player on the Houston Rockets teams that consistently made the playoffs, as he carried the team on the offensive end. Unfortunately for Harden and the Rockets, they could not usurp a dominant Golden State Warriors side that featured Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson.
Similarly, Allen Iverson never won an NBA championship and never managed to win a Finals MVP award. This is obvious because Iverson came up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, and he did not have a shot with his best teammate being 34-year-old Dikembe Mutombo. The Answer actually managed to win Game 1 of the Finals, but he never had a shot at overcoming the dominant Purple and Gold teams. In the end, neither player has a Finals MVP award, and that means there isn’t an advantage for either player during a comparison of their resumes.
James Harden: 1 (2018)
Allen Iverson: 1 (2001)
The MVP Award is also another major achievement that comes up in debates between star players. The MVP award shows who the best player is throughout an entire regular season, and in the case of most players throughout NBA history, it shows how many times they were the best player in the league. James Harden was the undisputed best player in the league in 2018, winning the MVP award after posting 30.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 8.8 APG while winning a scoring title and leading the Rockets to the best record in the NBA. No doubt, The Beard is one of the best players of his generation and his MVP award was a testament to his greatness at the time.
Similarly, Allen Iverson won an MVP award, and it came in 2001 when he posted 31.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.5 SPG while winning the scoring title and leading the 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference. Iverson did not have a great team at the time, as it was mainly up to the guard to score the ball and carry a host of defensive-minded players to the playoffs. The Answer’s 2001 MVP season is considered one of the best ever, but he only managed one MVP award and does not have an edge over The Beard.
James Harden: 7 (6 First Team, 1 Third Team)
Allen Iverson: 7 (3 First Team, 3 Second Team, 1 Third Team)
James Harden has played 13 seasons and made the All-NBA Team 7 times, something impressive for a shooting guard that shared an era with other elite guards. Harden was truly a bona fide superstar during his prime and was inarguably the best shooting guard in the game for years. But so far, over his career, Harden can be proud of the fact he has 6 First Team appearances which aren’t easy to accomplish in a stacked league.
Allen Iverson made 7 All-NBA Teams, with 3 of them coming as a member of the First Team. Iverson was often overshadowed by Kobe Bryant in the same era, a reason why he did not manage more First Team appearances. Based on his individual success and resume, Iverson had a great career. But as things stand, Harden does not have the edge over Allen Iverson and he might be past his prime heading into the 2013 season. One more All-NBA Team appearance could see The Beard usurp Iverson once and for all.
James Harden: 10
Allen Iverson: 11
James Harden is a 10-time All-Star, and he made 10 straight All-Star Teams starting in his fourth season and has not missed a team yet. The superstar shooting guard averaged 28.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 8.1 BPG over those 10 years in which he made the All-Star Team. Overall, Harden has been a consistent All-Star presence because of his elite scoring ability from three and around the rim thanks to his offensive presence. The Beard has slowed down as recently as last year, but it can be assumed that The Beard will make at least a few more All-Star appearances.
Allen Iverson made 11 All-Star Teams over his legendary career, making 11 in a row starting in his fourth season and ending in the final season of his career. Iverson was a stalwart in the All-Star Team over his career, not only due to his star potential but also due to his incredible popularity. The Answer was always able to receive a large number of votes, which is why he was an All-Star in his final season at age 34 despite averaging 13.8 PPG and 4.0 APG in 2010. But overall, Iverson currently has an edge over James Harden in All-Star appearances.
Advantage: Allen Iverson
All-Defensive NBA Teams
James Harden: 0
Allen Iverson: 0
Neither player is considered to be an elite defensive stopper because they mainly focused on the offensive side of the floor. James Harden, particularly, has often been ridiculed for his poor defense and inability to stay in front of talented offensive players. That has not held back Harden over his career, because he more than made up for that on the offensive end. In his career, The Beard is averaging 1.5 SPG, which shows he can at least play the passing lanes very well. But Harden has never made an All-Defensive Team, and very likely never will.
Similarly, Iverson was never considered an elite defensive stopper because he was only 6’0” and lacked the size to handle bigger offensive players. But Iverson was excellent at stealing the ball, averaging 2.2 SPG over his career and even leading the NBA in steals 3 times. The guard still did not make a single All-Defensive Team, which is surprising because he possibly could have made at least one appearance considering he once averaged 2.8 SPG and 2.7 SPG in some seasons. As a result, there is again no difference between the two Hall of Fame guards.
Total Win Shares
James Harden: 149.6
Allen Iverson: 99.0
Win Shares is a statistic that tries to allocate a team’s wins for each player on the roster. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owns the single-season record for Win Shares with 25.4 during 1971-72 on a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 63 games. In terms of contributing to a winning side and helping his side to win games consistently, it is obvious that James Harden has a better rating than Allen Iverson. The future Hall of Fame shooting guard is always a threat when he was around the rim, and his ability to nail outside shots also helped his team win a ton of games, specifically the Houston Rockets. Of course, Harden has been the number one option for most of his career, and his stats benefitted from that.
This advanced statistic shows that Allen Iverson, surprisingly, was not as responsible for his team’s victories as Harden was. While that narrative can be argued, depending on their teammates and all-around talent in the league, Harden has the advantage over Iverson in this category. Iverson has not played on many great teams over his career, unlike Harden, who has been on championship teams over the past 5 seasons at the very least. But the edge still goes to The Beard nonetheless, and it is by quite a significant margin.
Advantage: James Harden
Career Player Efficiency Rating
James Harden: 24.5
Allen Iverson: 20.9
Player Efficiency Rating, better known as PER, is a statistic created by John Hollinger that’s goal is to give each NBA player a comprehensive rating. Hollinger’s PER metric is unique because it combines a player’s positive and negative contributions on the court.
James Harden ranks 16th all-time in PER, with a figure of 24.5. That is still a strong rating considering there have not been many NBA players with PER ratings of at least 24. For a shooting guard with limited impact in terms of using size to do multiple things on the court, Harden’s PER is quite strong when compared to other superstars in his same position all time. A natural scorer with some of the greatest offensive skills and stats ever, Harden’s PER rating is truly impressive.
Meanwhile, Allen Iverson ranks 60th all-time in PER, with a solid score of 20.9. Iverson’s ability to score the ball boosted his PER rating, although he was generally inefficient because he needed to take a ton of shots to get into his rhythm. The Answer was also solid at getting assists and stealing the ball, which also boosts his PER rating. But overall, Iverson was not as dominant as Harden when it came to accumulating statistics, and his PER is almost 4 figures below James Harden’s.
Advantage: James Harden
James Harden vs. Allen Iverson 2-1
This was a very close career comparison because both players are exceptional players with impactful playing styles. In terms of advanced statistics, James Harden is one of the best of all time.
Armed with some of the best ball-handling skills ever, Harden was able to generate an incredible number of points as a member of the Houston Rockets under head coach Mike D’Antoni in the modern era of basketball. Clearly, advanced statistics favor Harden as a result of all of these factors. Not to mention, playing alongside top stars, including Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Dwight Howard over his career certainly helps. Meanwhile, Allen Iverson had an all-time great career and is regarded as a top-50 player of all time.
Iverson has the edge in All-Star Team selections but does not have any other edge in other categories. For those who watched Iverson, it was clear the superstar was one of the toughest and most competitive athletes to ever play the game. Allen won an incredible 4 scoring titles and had seasons averaging 33.0 PPG, 31.4 PPG, 31.1 PPG, and 30.7 PPG. The shooting guard also had one of the most attractive playing styles of all time and was an impactful force on the court, thanks to his scoring ability.
But in the end, James Harden has a career advantage over Allen Iverson and it will likely remain the case until The Beard retires after a few years. The Beard earns the advantages in this career comparison so far because of his incredible dominance during his prime and his luck of being the first option on a good team in the major part of his career. That gave Harden the advantage of winning more games on championship teams and eventually padding his stats. But no doubt, Harden and Iverson are both elite scorers who will rank among the top-10 offensive players of all time.