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Houston Rockets: Detailing why it’s unfair to compare Jordan vs. Harden

Anthony Duckett
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks at the scoreboard in the second quarter during Game Three of the Second Round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks at the scoreboard in the second quarter during Game Three of the Second Round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls attempts a layup against the Utah Jazz
Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls attempts a layup against the Utah Jazz (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Jordan vs. Harden: Scoring Averages

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to simply compare their scoring averages, as I’ve seen many people doing since Morey’s comments. Jordan has a career average of 30.1 points per game while Harden averages 24.3, but it’s worth noting that Harden has led the league in total points on three different occasions, while Jordan did in 11 different seasons. Jordan had 2 seasons where he had 2357 points and 2313 points, which both led the league, whereas Harden actually had 2356 points during the 2016-2017 season, and did not lead the league that season. The total points narrative is also not apples-to-apples because Harden obviously came off the bench for his first three years in Oklahoma City and obviously played less minutes than he otherwise would have if he were starting.

Harden only played in 3000+ minutes once, whereas Jordan had 12 such seasons. We don’t know how much more Harden would have scored if he played the same minutes as Jordan. Furthermore, Jordan took significantly more field goal attempts than Harden, as Harden only has had one season of 1800+ field goal attempts, while Jordan has 9 such years. We have to ask how much more would Harden have scored if he was taking as many shots as Jordan. This, to me, is an area where people have just made up their mind on what they think of Harden because Harden gets labelled a ball hog and gets criticism for his isolation-heavy style of play, but Jordan took significantly more shots than him and you rarely hear that narrative about Jordan.

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In my opinion, none of these categories mean Harden is a better offensive player than Jordan, and many of the categories that are in Jordan’s favor are slightly to Jordan’s advantage. We really can’t make a determination of who is better offensively because again, they played in significantly different eras. What we should all agree on is that both Jordan and Harden were the best scorers of their respective eras.

***All stats provided are courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference***

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