- James Harden is scoring at an all-time rate.
- However, Harden risks seeing his legacy look more like Carmelo Anthony’s than Michael Jordan’s.
- He still has a chance to change the narrative.
After notching a ridiculous 36.1 points per game last season, James Harden has upped his scoring output even further.
He’s currently on pace to have the highest scoring average since Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63. At 39.2 ppg, he would even leave Michael Jordan’s incredible 1986-87 scoring display of 37.1 ppg in the dust.
And yet, Harden still somehow feels light-years away from those all-time greats.
In fact, if Harden doesn’t make a finals appearance soon, he might draw a closer comparison to a rich man’s Carmelo Anthony.
Even though Anthony’s career has been depressing lately, prime Carmelo, much like Harden, was nearly unstoppable on the offensive end. He could score in a myriad of different ways. He was strong, quick, crafty, and just like Harden, the holes in his game kept him from winning at the highest level.
Postseason Struggles Raise Questions About ‘Killer Instinct’
While analysts like to criticize James Harden’s playoff performances, it’s important to note that he’s been good compared to mere mortals. Over the past three postseasons, he’s averaged 29.5 ppg. That would rank third all-time in postseason scoring average. The problem is that his efficiency tanks every year in the playoffs.
Even Carmelo Anthony upped his game in the playoffs during his deep runs with Denver and New York. Harden, on the other hand, has dropped in field goal percentage and points per game in each of the last four postseasons, compared to the regular season.
To be fair, Harden’s teams have run into Golden State four of the past five years. Just the fact that the Rockets have challenged those teams is a great accomplishment. But in two of those years, he had a real chance to close out the champions. And he couldn’t.
Does James Harden Lack a Winning Mentality?
While players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James have shown the ability to transcend in the toughest moments, Harden has watched those moments slip by.
In the 2017-18 playoffs, Houston was up 3-2 on the Warriors with a chance to close them out at home. The series went to Game 7, where Harden shot 2-of-13 from three and the Rockets lost.
In 2018-19, the Rockets had another shot against the Oakland dynasty. Houston was down 3-2 when the Warriors lost Kevin Durant. With the next game in Houston, the Rockets were set-up to exact revenge from the previous year. Instead, Harden shot 7-of-12 from the free-throw line with six turnovers in that game. Yet again, the Warriors sent the Rockets home packing.
Harden has yet to prove he has the type of killer instinct needed to deliver the death blow to opponents. His talent is elite, but his willpower seems to fall just short of that status.
On the other hand, some conspiracy theorists claim his poor play is fallout from an alleged strip club addiction.
Either way, his lack of effort is especially evident on defense, where Harden has a seemingly endless supply of low-light reels.
Harden’s Legacy Still Has Hope
Nevertheless, the James Harden Story is far from finished. While he’s already a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame someday, he still has the chance to shed the Carmelo Anthony comparisons and cement himself as a singular all-time great.
If he can win a championship, his legacy will undergo a Dirk Nowitzki-like transformation. Before 2011, Dirk was a likable superstar who never posed a real threat to the champions. After winning it all in 2011, he was regarded as the greatest shooting big man of all-time.
Harden has a chance to do that. He’s somehow getting better on offense. His defense has been improving. And with Russell Westbrook by his side, he now has someone with enough willpower for both of them.