The debate over which player in NBA history is the greatest of all time is one that wages on constantly, it seems. A new debate may just be starting, though, after last night's thrilling overtime clash between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
If you somehow missed it, the Rockets topped the Warriors 135-134 behind the scoring heroics of Houston's James Harden. It was another mesmerizing performance by the reigning Kia MVP, as he had 44 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists and a must-see game-winning 3-pointer in OT. Overall, Harden is averaging 40.1 points, 9.0 assists and 6.6 rebounds over his last 12 games (and Houston is 11-1 during that span).
After the game, Rockets GM Daryl Morey told ESPN's Tim MacMahon that Harden could be considered one of the best pure offensive threats the game has ever known.
"You could argue for him as the best offensive player of all time," Morey told ESPN. "To be able to say that with a straight face, and not have it be GM speak or coach speak, is pretty amazing. There's a whole bunch of ways to measure it, but he's for sure in the conversation as the greatest offensive player ever."
Including his 50-point game Dec. 13 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Harden has scored at least 30 in 11 straight. He was named Western Conference player of the month for December and over the final 10 games of that month, Harden averaged 40.8 points. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joined Bryant and Michael Jordan as the only players over the past 30 seasons to have scored at least 400 points over a span of 10 games.
"He's at a level that almost nobody in NBA history has been at," Morey said. "We're obviously focused on April and beyond, but it's special to watch right now."
Warriors players and coaches couldn't help but laud Harden for his dazzling performance on Thursday night.
"He just did what he does," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "He's the master of the isolation, the step-back 3 and drawing fouls."
"I mean, even Steph [Curry] during the game was like, 'Dude, what he's doing right now is crazy.' Dudes know what he's doing is legendary," Rockets guard Austin Rivers told ESPN.
Harden recorded at least 35 points and five assists in each of the last eight games of December. According to Elias, that is the longest streak in NBA history. Harden had five double-doubles for the month, including three triple-doubles. He posted his NBA record fourth career 50-point triple double against the Lakers on Dec. 13 and closed out the year with his 10th career 40-point triple-double vs. Memphis on New Year’s Eve.
James Harden fills up the box score in the @HoustonRockets OT road victory. With 10 3PM tonight, Harden becomes the only player in @NBAHistory to make 5+ threes in 8 consecutive games! #SAPStatLineOfTheNightpic.twitter.com/zHUa9muLDu— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) January 4, 2019
Harden leads the league in scoring (33.3 ppg) and ranks fourth in assists with 8.6 apg. He's also averaging 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. The only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals per game was Jordan in 1988-89.
There's no denying the hot streak Harden has been on, as Houston has used its star's performances to climb from 14th to fourth place in the West. In addition, the Rockets have the league's best record since Harden's scoring streak began on Dec. 11. Among the NBA's all-time leading scorers, Harden's career 23.5 ppg scoring average ranks 21st and his 16,951 points ranks 96th.
Earlier this week, Lakers star LeBron James said that by winning a title for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 it "made me greatest player of all time."
"That one right there made me the greatest player of all time," James said in an excerpt from the latest episode of ESPN's "More Than An Athlete" series chronicling his career.
"That's what I felt. I was super, super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year (championship) drought. And then after I stopped (celebrating), I was like, that one right there made you the greatest player of all time. Everybody was talking how they were the greatest team ever assembled, and for us to come back the way we came back, I was like, you did something special.
"That was one of the only times in my career I felt like, you did something special. I haven't had much time to sit back and think (about my achievements). But that was a moment."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.