Houston Rockets guard James Harden is one of the rising superstars in the NBA. He is currently the leader of a Rockets team that is sitting in third place in the Western Conference with a record of 36-17 going into All-Star break. Houston has won seven straight games.
David Thorpe of ESPN’s TrueHoop TV recently compared Harden’s style of play to that of the New York Knicks‘ Carmelo Anthony and said he might be the “new Carmelo”. He claimed that while Harden is a great scorer, he takes a lot of time off the clock when he has the ball by using jab steps and pump-fakes and then eventually just puts up a shot. Thorpe does say Harden has more skill than just scoring ability, but much of the Rockets’ scoring comes off individual play as opposed to team play. This is much like what has happened with Anthony and the Knicks.
Harden has become a scoring machine since joining the Rockets last season. He has also shouldered much of the offensive load. He averaged 25.9 points per game last season. Even with the acquisition of Dwight Howard for this season, Harden is still averaging 23.9 points per game.
Throughout Anthony’s career, he has always been among the league leaders in points per game with a career average of 25.2. When comparing each other’s field goal percentage, the numbers slightly favor Anthony, who holds an edge of 45.5 percent to 44.2 percent over their careers.
That is really where the similarities stop. Even Thorpe points out that Harden has many more skills to fall back on than Anthony does. During his first three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was a terrific sixth man off the bench. He was an excellent playmaker with very good passing and scoring ability, and was also an outstanding perimeter defender.
Since landing in Houston, Harden has had to take on a much greater role. Houston’s offense can get very stagnant and individualized. Harden certainly plays a part in that, but he knows he is the team’s best player and has probably felt that the Rockets need him to score to be at their best.
He still does other things like create for his teammates, as evidenced by his 5.3 assists per game. Anthony has never averaged more than 3.8. Harden is also relentless in attacking the basket, as he is attempting 8.8 free throws per game this season. Anthony does also get to the line often with 7.7 attempts per game over his career.
As part of Harden being the featured offensive player, coach Kevin McHale probably wants to preserve him defensively and save his energy for the offensive side. It was not too long ago when he was with the Thunder and was one of the team’s primary defenders against LeBron James in the NBA Finals. Anthony has never really been a team’s top defender. He has also never been great at creating for his teammates. He’s a great scorer who also is very good at rebounding.
Each of these guys is a fantastic player in his own right. They have similar styles as to how efficiently they score. The thing that separates them is that Harden is simply a more diverse player.