This was also a fairly easy selection. In his first season with the Rockets, Harden averaged just under six assists per game. As each year went on, Harden increased his assists per game.
In the 2016-17 season, Harden would have a season nobody ever expected. In his first season as head coach, Mike D’Antoni moved Harden from shooting guard to point guard. Many people thought it wouldn’t work, but Harden proved the doubters wrong.
Harden went on to have a magical, MVP-caliber season, averaging 29 points, eight rebounds and a league-leading 11 assists per game. Harden finished runner up for MVP to Russell Westbrook that year.
Since that season, Harden had to share a backcourt with Chris Paul for two seasons and is currently sharing the backcourt with Westbrook, so of course, his assists have gone down.
Over the past three seasons, however, Harden has averaged 8.8, 7.5 and 7.4 assists per game. Harden also thrives passing the ball off of pick and rolls, whether it be hitting the roller with an alley-oop or hitting a 3-point shooter in the corner.
Although Harden does have turnover problems, it doesn’t take away from his great passing ability.
Like I previously stated, Jordan played in the triangle offense, which helps players get open off the ball. This takes away from MJ’s assist numbers due to him being the number one option in that system. It’s hard to favor Jordan in this aspect due to the freedom Harden has in D’Antoni’s rapid-fire offense.
The most assists Jordan averaged in a season was eight, which was in the 1988-89 season. Jackson was the assistant coach that season. He would become the head coach the following season, which saw Jordan’s assists numbers drop due to the system and emergence of Scottie Pippen.
Jordan has a career total of 5,633 assists whereas if Harden continues on the pace he is on, he will pass Jordan within the next year. As of right now, Harden has a total of 5,193 career assists. This is worth mentioning but doesn’t play a role in the decision on who is the better passer.
Harden gets the nod here due to him being in a system that gives him the freedom to showcase his great passing ability.
Winner: James Harden
Next: Final Decision