James Harden’s 58-point explosion has respected basketball heads losing their marbles.
It’s absurd to call James Harden the greatest offensive player in history, but these are the watered down, overhyped times we live in, so let’s indulge. Harden’s 58-point outburst in the Houston Rockets‘ 121-118 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday is his sixth game with 50-plus points and comes in a season where he’s been putting up records amounts of shots and points.
Dwyane Wade is totally feeding into the hype, “He’s definitely one of the most unguardable players this game has ever seen,” the future Hall of Fame guard said, per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
Wade’s comments echoed those of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who told ESPN: “You could argue for him as the best offensive player of all time. To be able to say that with a straight face, and not have it be GM speak or coachspeak is pretty amazing. There’s a whole bunch of ways to measure it, but he’s for sure in the conversation as the greatest offensive player ever.”
GM speak is EXACTLY what it is. Or call it Charles Barkley speak. Miss me with that.
I don’t know what in the name of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar these prisoners of the moment are putting in their mocha frappe. Harden isn’t even the most unstoppable scoring guard of all time and his clutch playoff moments have been nonexistent.
His Game 6 choke job in 2017 is exceeded in futility by his 2018 Game 7 shooting performance. In a game where Chris Paul was out and an NBA championship appearance was within their grasp, Houston needed Harden to have a performance like Magic Johnson had in 1980 as a rookie. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the crib resting a bum ankle, Magic jumped center, played every position and racked up 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 123-107 victory that clinched the NBA championship.
Instead, The Beard shot 20 of-13 from three and had one of his worst games of the season.
If anything, Harden’s Mike D’Antoni-driven scoring splurges have failed him in the playoffs because volume shooting doesn’t get it done in those situations. Harden is streaky as hell from three. On top of that, can we stop acting like the rules aren’t completely different today? Harden plays in the most scorer-friendly era in the history of the game.
Let’s rank the Top 5 most unstoppable players of all-time. The rankings are not as relevant as the fact that they are all more unguardable than Harden.
1. Michael Jordan
I don’t think you can argue with Jordan. He scored when he wanted to, how he wanted to and totally took over playoff games, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot. Facing MJ made dudes pee in their pants. Players respect Harden, but they don’t fear him at all on the biggest stage.
2. Kobe Bryant
Kobe was MJ junior and was another guy whose offensive game was unstoppable when he got going. When the playoffs came around, Kobe raised his level of effectiveness and willed his teams to five championships, two of them with him as the only Hall of Famer on the squad. Kobe could have averaged 45-50 if he wanted to, but he’d be ringless like Harden. Kobe’s intelligence also gives him an edge over Harden as far as being unstoppable goes.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem had the most unstoppable shot, the sky hook, and is the NBA’s all time leading scorer. In his prime, Kareem was probably the most unstoppable force in modern basketball history. His 2 scoring titles from the center position, 6 MVP’s and 6 titles make him a Mount Rushmore shoe in and a cut above Harden when it comes to being an unguardable force.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq had myriad nicknames, low post moves, crazy handles, speed and unprecedented athleticism for a baller his size. As he got older he straight beasted dudes. That’s why he’s considered one of the dominating forces of all time. At his best, Shaq was truly unguardable and had no contemporary match at the center position. Shaq is the last unguardable center, a four-time champion. And he showed up big-time in clutch moments in the playoffs.
5. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt has the NBA’s only 100-point game in history. People raved about Harden’s 32 game streak of scoring 30, but Chamberlain had a streak of 65 consecutive games of at least 30 points scored, set during the 1961-62 season and every other regular season offensive record known to man. At times, he fizzled in the playoffs and started doing weird stuff like not shooting or deferring to another player when he would shoot 100 percent of the time in that instance during the regular season, which DOES remind me of Harden.
We can add Kevin Durant somewhere in here too.
I know we are all living in the now. The age of social media and 24-hour news cycles thrusts the latest great feat into historical prominence. Harden has been unguardable at times this season, averaging 36.6 points which would just barely get him into the top 10 single-season scoring averages of all time. It would place him 8th behind Wilt Chamberlain who holds six of the Top 10 spots.
The other spots are held by Kobe, MJ and Elgin Baylor who averaged 34 or more three times, including 38.3 in the 1961-62 season.
One of the greatest offensive talents the game has seen? Yes. The most unguardable player? Nah.