We’ve argued enough about Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, so what about... Michael Jordan vs. James Harden?
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey seems to think that debate is warranted between the two guards for the title of best scorer in NBA history. Actually, he doesn’t think it’s a debate. He thinks it’s simply a fact that Harden is a superior scorer to Jordan.
Daryl Morey argues for James Harden over Michael Jordan
During an appearance on an esports podcast called Selfmade with Nadeshot, Morey was asked why the Rockets so aggressively pursued Harden in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. His response, as noted by Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic, featured some interesting comments about Harden and Jordan:
Both the eye test, because he looks amazing, but if you looked at data at the time, once he had the ball in his hands, and it’s still true to this day, I get a lot of s--- because someone asked me “Who’s a better scorer, him or Michael Jordan?” It’s just factual that James Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan now.
Based on the math?
You give James Harden the ball and before you're giving up the ball how many points do you generate, which is how you should measure offense, James Harden is by far No. 1 in NBA history and he was No. 1 even at the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s just he was coming off the bench and he was a little more hidden. So you needed good data to suss that out. So we knew he had that amazing skill to be a scorer.
People probably aren’t going to like you saying that.
No, people hate it. The counter-argument is reasonable. If you put Michael Jordan on a team now, he would do more than James Harden. That’s possible, but if you’re just saying NBA history, if you give this guy the ball, how much does his team score after you give him the ball before the other team gets the ball, it’s James Harden. I know that makes people mad, it’s just literally a fact.
Morey definitely isn’t wrong about at least one thing: People are going to hate him for saying that.
As CBS Sports notes, this isn’t the first time Morey has made this argument. He previously talked Harden vs. Jordan during an interview with Dan Patrick in July, but the numbers haven’t changed since then.
How is Daryl Morey making this argument?
By the sound of it, Morey is going off a statistic from the Rockets’ number-crunchers that shows Harden leads the league in points his team scores when he touches the ball. That probably includes assist, turnover and offensive rebound numbers, but whether or not that should count for the title of best scorer is just semantics.
There are plenty of stats to go through when comparing Jordan, Harden or, say, Wilt Chamberlain, like points per game, offensive box plus/minus, true shooting percentage, offensive win shares, playoff numbers. However, even then the answer is obscured by differences in era.
Harden’s success is defined by the Rockets maximizing what he does well — shooting 3-pointers, drawing fouls, kick-out passes — in an era where doing those things has never been more rewarded. Meanwhile, Jordan dealt with hand checks and bruising defenses for much of his career, though it’s impossible to say he would have adapted well to the modern game.
Plenty of people are going to disagree with Morey, and he’s not going to give them much reason to change their opinion unless he wants to come out with the specific stats he’s using.
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