Asking this question just a year ago would’ve incited laughter. James Harden was still only a sixth man in OKC, a good player, but someone who relied on the offensive openings provided by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But once traded to Houston, Harden exploded. Now he’s a legitimate All-Star, one of the top five scorers in the NBA (25.8 points a game), and is already drawing favorable superstar calls from refs. Last night in the Rockets’ loss in Miami, it wasn’t LeBron James who was the best player on the floor, nor was it Dwyane Wade. It was James Harden, a direct contrast to last June’s NBA Finals when Harden shot 38 percent from the floor and scored only 12.4 points a game in a 4-1 series loss.
But the Beard hasn’t proven himself in the playoffs yet (at least as a franchise player). Wade has, and despite taking a back seat while yielding the team over to LeBron, Wade is still putting up nearly 21 points a night on 51 percent shooting, all while sporting a better PER than Harden (23.51 to 23.07).
The numbers mean more to Harden at this point: he’s trying to secure his place in the NBA’s hierarchy while Wade is a 31-year-old veteran who’s likely saving his legs for the playoffs. That complicates the question. Still, we must ask it: who’s better? Dwyane Wade or James Harden? We argue. You decide.
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The shooting guard position has a lot of depth in today’s NBA. You have a young core of guys who are on the come up. You have those who’ve been around for a while. Then you have seasoned scorers like Dwyane Wade and James Harden.
Each guy has done well for his team this year. They’re both scoring over 20 points per game, and each getting over three assists and four rebounds per game. Still, when comparing these two players it doesn’t get close.
It appears Harden is better on the surface. Harden’s 25.8 points per game beats Wade’s 20.9 by a mile. Harden also has a true shooting percentage of just a shade below 60. That’s a great figure for a guy who dominates the ball. Yet that’s not all there is to it.
Dwyane Wade only takes 15.5 shots per game to Harden’s 17.2. That’s only two shots, but two shots make a huge difference when scoring five more points. Wade’s regular field goal percentage is also over 50. Harden’s is a not-so-great 44 percent. Harden shoots 10 free throws per game. That’s what gives him an edge in the scoring and true shooting column. Dwyane Wade doesn’t draw nearly as many fouls as Harden at only 6.3 per game.
Don’t forget that Wade is playing on a team with LeBron James. That eliminates some of the looks he’ll get to draw fouls. He doesn’t have to create looks for himself or others anymore. At this point, he can just give the ball to James while he picks and chooses when he wants to shoot. Wade is more efficient, sporting a slight edge (23.51 to 23.07) in PER, and does nearly as much in fewer minutes; Harden plays 38.2 minutes per game while Wade only plays 34.1.
He’s also a far better defender than Harden on a nightly basis. Harden takes a lot of plays off on that end. I understand why he does it — he gives the Rockets so much offense. But even when Wade is giving his all on offense, you can still see him hounding guards on the defensive end.
Wade is still the best combination at this position of scoring and defending. For the past two years, Wade has lead the guard position in blocks. Those weren’t just chase-down blocks, either. He’s been blocking guys at every position straight up, and has been doing it throughout his career. You can make the case he’s the best shotblocking little man of all time.
Harden can vouch for me there. With the game on the line last night in South Beach, Wade blocked his three-pointer to secure a win. Harden had himself a game, but Wade had a better one as the Heat came out with the win because of their two guard, 114-108.
Sure, Wade’s defense isn’t as great as it was two or three years ago. That doesn’t mean that it still isn’t better than Harden’s. He’s a better all-around player at this point and it shows.
-MICHAEL SYKES II