James Harden’s 2017-18 season has been sensational. He leads the league in the following categories, via Basketball Reference and ESPN (he was narrowly edged out for Offensive Real Plus-Minus and Real Plus-Minus):
-Points per game (30.4)
-Total free throws made (624)
-Total 3-pt field goals made (265)
-Player efficiency rating (29.8)
-Offensive win shares (11.6)
-Win shares (15.4)
-Win shares per 48 minutes (.289)
-Box plus/minus (10.9)
He’s had 11 games with 40 points or more, including a historic 60-point triple double, something which has never been done (not even by Russell Westbrook).
In only four of his 72 games played has Harden scored less than 20 points. Such dominance in so many areas is the reason why Harden is the runaway favorite to win this year’s MVP.
So, how does this season’s performance from The Beard compare with the best of Bird, James, Bryant, Shaq, Durant, Curry and Jordan?
We’ve automatically excluded the game’s luminaries in Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, and the like, purely because comparing anyone’s numbers to theirs isn’t fair given the era they played in and the relative talent they faced. With that, let’s take a look at some of the aforementioned greatest offensive seasons in NBA history.
Michael Jordan is the best player in the history of basketball. Jordan’s two seasons on the list above were astounding for so many reasons. His PER is otherworldly, and the scoring is just as eye-popping.
In the 1986-67 season, Jordan had only three games where scored under 20 points, a number which Harden nearly shares with the G.O.A.T. Jordan’s scoring dominance in that season is evidenced by the fact that in 37 of the 82 games he played, he scored 40+ points. Harden, on the other hand, has only 11 such performances.
The Beard does have him for all-round offensive performances, however. In 72 games played on the year, he has 31 double-doubles and four triple-doubles, while MJ only had five double-doubles for the season as a whole. Jordan’s scoring was lofty to say the least, but Harden’s impact on other ends of the floor has also been hugely impactful.
Larry Bird is one of the game’s great stalwarts. Him and Magic Johnson revitalised the game with their stunning offensive displays throughout the 1980’s.
Bird shares similarities with Harden in how balanced their offensive games are. Yes, he was a great scorer, but in the 1987-88 season he had 33 double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles to go with it. Those performances are remarkably similar to Harden’s, as mentioned above.
Bird was also a great three-point shooter. While his volume was nowhere near that of the Houston Rockets’ star, his accuracy from the perimeter was still elite (41.4%). His season may not have been as individually great as Harden or Jordan’s (as indicated through PER and other statistics), but Bird had an elite supporting cast of teammates around him who helped soften the offensive burden on Larry Legend.
Shaq is the most dominant center to ever play the game. His physicality and ability to turn the game on a whim is something we’ll likely never see again.
His MVP season was one of the great seasons in league history. It’s hard to compare it to a guard like Harden, so we’ll let the Big Aristotle’s campaign speak for itself. In 80% of the games O’Neal played in the 1999-00 season, he put up a double-double, and 33 of those games came with 15 rebounds or more.
What’s underrated about that season is that in 27 of his 79 games, he had 5 assists or more; Shaq the passer, who would’ve thought?
One similarity the two stars shared is that they both had scoring nights of 60+ points. One of Shaq’s most memorable nights came against his L.A. rivals:
The Los Angeles Lakers have had some of the game’s greats don the purple and gold. Shaq’s former teammate and Oscar winner, Kobe Bryant, is one of the most ruthless scorers ever.
In 2005-06, the Black Mamba did his best impression of Jordan, putting up some insane scoring nights. He had six games that season where he scored over 50 points, and like Jordan did in the 1986-87 season, he only had three games with under 20.
If MJ is the greatest scorer ever, then Bryant is a close second.
Kobe may be Jordan incarnate, but LeBron may be the successor to the game’s greatest. Heck, The Ringer dedicated an entire week to The King and his quest for G.O.A.T status.
While James is still putting up insane stats in year fifteen, his peak offensive year came in the 2012-13 season. Evidencing his offensive greatness, that was the season he finished with the tenth greatest offensive box plus/minus ever (9.16).
His scoring might dwarf in comparison to the likes of Kobe and Jordan, but he still put up 20 points or more in all but five games, and he had over five rebounds and five assists in nearly all of his 76 games.
It’s so hard to select just one season from fifteen awesome ones, though the efficiency on all fronts which The King showed in 2012-13 is basically unheard of.
Kevin Durant may be one of the NBA’s most underappreciated superstars. With LeBron still doing his thing, Durant has often played second fiddle to him and teammate Stephen Curry.
The physical gifts KD possesses can’t be understated and have allowed him to have one of the great offensive seasons in 2013-14 when he won his only MVP. That season was his highest scoring year (32 PPG) and also his best in terms of assist numbers (5.5).
The Slim Reaper even had three triple-doubles to go with his 27 double-doubles. The scoring consistency was evident in the ilk of Kobe and MJ, with Durant only failing to score more than 19 points four times.
The Baby-Faced Assassin, Stephen Curry, is the greatest shooter in league history. His peak came in 2015-16 where he won the MVP unanimously and put up some of the most ridiculous offensive performances we’ve ever seen.
In that campaign, he had the best ever offensive box plus/minus season (12.36) ever (and by quite a significant margin). He also produced the coveted 50-40-90 season where he he had a field goal percentage of 50.4%, three-point percentage of 45.4%, and a free throw percentage of 90.8%. To have such efficiency on a huge amount of shots taken is a credit to how Curry has improved so dramatically in a short period of time.
In one of the most divisive MVP seasons ever, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook had one of the most statistically outstanding seasons ever.
2016-17 will go down in history as the only time where a player outside of Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double across a full season. The statistical anomaly of the triple-double may have lost some of its allure over time, but it can’t be underestimated how truly great such a feat across an extended period of time actually is.
The one thing you can hold against Westbrook is unlike many of his counterparts in this piece: he doesn’t produce at a high level of efficiency. His triple-double year also came with an absurd number of turnovers per game (5.4). Funnily enough, Harden is also in that category, placing first of all-time in turnovers in a season for his performance in 2016-17.
You can argue that this season from Harden isn’t even his greatest. An intriguing piece from Fansided delved into the fact that last year may have been one of the best offensive seasons from a player ever.
James Harden accounted for 4,554 points this season. That's more than these players:
Every player ever
— The Dream Shake (@DreamShakeSBN) April 13, 2017
Not only did Harden break the record for most points created, but he did so with stunning efficiency. The previous high was set by Tiny Archibald in 1972-1973, who posted a true shooting percentage of about 51%. Of the top five seasons for total points created, the highest TS% hovered around 52%. This year, James Harden finished with a TS% of 61.3%.
His offensive greatness can be further illustrated by the following:
James Harden becomes the 1st player in NBA history to score and assist on 2,000 points each in a season. pic.twitter.com/TEA79XRB40
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2017
With that assist, James Harden became the first player in NBA history with 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a single season.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) April 13, 2017
The Beard has had a stunning 2017-18 season, but he may have already outdone himself with what he produced a year earlier.