The NBA offseason exists as a time for basketball fans to count down the days until the next season starts. This oftentimes includes searching for any bit of basketball news or banter that might pop up and having a strong, visceral reaction to it, because during the offseason, any opportunity to discuss basketball is relished. Thanks to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, that sort of thing popped up this week, when he did the extremely Morey move of using numbers to spark a debate.
Morey appeared on the Selfmade with Nadeshot podcast and proclaimed that Rockets star James Harden is better at scoring than anyone to play the game, including Hall of Fame inductee and arguably the greatest player in league history Michael Jordan.
“Based on literally — like, 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,” Morey said around the half hour mark of the pod. “And he was No. 1 even [with] the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s just he was coming off the bench, it was a little more hidden, so you needed good data to sort of suss that out.”
You, like everyone else who hears Morey say that, probably would respond by pointing out that Harden plays in the most analytics-friendly era in the history of the game and is encouraged to cut out the most inefficient shots on the floor in favor of threes, shots at the rim, and free throws. Jordan, for all his greatness, was encouraged to just put the ball through the cylinder from anywhere on the floor when the opportunity presented itself. Morey gets this argument, too, even if he doesn’t quite agree with it.
“The counterargument is reasonable,” Morey said. “They say 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. And I know that makes people mad, but it’s literally a fact.”
It is, of course, possible to use your eyes and draw one conclusion, look at the numbers and draw another, and then realize that this is a purely hypothetical scenario that Morey is approaching from a different way than those who would argue Jordan is the best scorer of all time. Harden might go down as the best ever, Jordan arguably has that mantle right now, and I’d probably pick Kevin Durant because he’s a seven footer with range out to 30 feet, but regardless, it’s the offseason, so let us let this absorb the air in the room as we count down the minutes until the 2019-20 season tips off.