Rockets vs. Lakers: Breaking down Harden vs. LeBron by the numbers

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Better Overall Player

Regardless of the players in question, almost every time there’s a basketball debate regarding who a better overall player is, the statistical analysis tends to escape the conversation and the opinions nearly always trickle in.

This is oftentimes determined by how many championships a player has, which is a flawed argument because that has alot to do with the landscape around the league and the supporting cast on the team.

For example, former Houston Rockets forward Robert Horry has seven championships, but no reasonable person would make the argument that he was a better overall player than Karl Malone or Charles Barkley, who both combined for zero championships.

In the case of Harden and LeBron, this would be an unfair argument because LeBron has won three championships, compared to Harden who has obviously never won one. On top of that, the 35-year-old Lakers forward is playing in his 17th season, whereas the 30-year-old Houston Rockets superstar is playing in his 11th season, so in theory LeBron should have more championships under his belt.

It’s easy to see why the championship theory is relied on as the answer to the question of better overall player because there’s not a statistical category that answers this question. If there was a statistic that answered the question, it would be player efficiency rating, or PER, as this combines all of a player’s contributions into one number.

If we were factoring in PER, the better overall player is Harden, as he’s had the higher score in each of the last four seasons, including this one, and it hasn’t even been close. Harden has had a PER of at least 29.8 in each of the last three seasons, which is a number LeBron hasn’t posted since the 2012-13 season when he was a member of the Miami Heat. LeBron hasn’t topped a 26.5 since joining the Lakers in 2018-19, and Harden hasn’t scored worse than 30.6 during that same span.

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Regardless of who the better overall player is, most teams would love to have either option, as LeBron and Harden are both top-five players in the league. Hopefully Saturday night’s game between the Houston Rockets and LeBron’s Lakers will prove to be worth the wait!