Who’s Better: Paul George Or James Harden?

Last year was James Harden‘s breakout season. Released from the shackles in OKC, the Beard erupted for 25.9 points, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game, going from one of the best sixth men in the league to an MVP candidate. Now it’s Paul George‘s turn. The 6-9 Swiss Army knife has Indiana in first place in the NBA and is playing like one of the three or four best players in the world.

It’s unlikely they’ll meet in the Finals — the Pacers look like locks for at least the Eastern Conference Finals but Houston faces a rugged path out West — but the two swingmen will face off twice in the regular season. (The first matchup is actually next Friday in Indiana.)

Two up-and-coming All-Stars. Two potential MVP candidates. But we want to know which player you’d rather have: Paul George or James Harden? We argue. You decide.

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This NBA season has been nothing but amazing. The Western Conference is displaying complete dominance over an injury-ridden and depleted Eastern Conference. Through all the insanity, there have been some constants — such as LeBron James‘ dominance, or even the Spurs continuing to look like a championship team. On the other hand, the NBA has seen some new faces ready to take the reigns away from the proven veterans. Young-guns such as Paul George and James Harden have emerged as the new crop of perimeter superstars.

It is only natural to wonder who is currently the better talent between the two. Allow me to jump right into this by saying it’s Paul George. Yes, James Harden is one of the better shooting guards in the NBA, if not already the best, but there is something special about the Indiana swingman.

Paul George’s name did not become a household one until last season. He never looked back from there. The 2011-2012 season saw Paul George average 12 points per game, but after Danny Granger went down with a knee injury, George seized the moment and sought to become the new face of the Indiana Pacers. His growth into a superstar occurred so quickly, most did not know if he could sustain this level of play for a significant amount of time. He answered his critics’ doubts with standout performances for the remainder of the season and all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where he fell one game short of an NBA Finals appearance.

This season, he has shown why his breakout year was not a fluke. He is posting career-high scoring numbers and has the Indiana Pacers playing at an elite level. And even though both players are in similar positions — superstar wing player with a defensive specialist at center — George is the better of the two.

First, Paul George is more versatile. George stands at 6-9; he naturally played the small forward spot before moving to the shooting guard. He has the skill-set of both positions, giving his team more options. With James Harden, he is much smaller and plays only shooting guard. On versatility alone, Paul George gets the edge.

Paul George and James Harden are both great scorers. They rank among the league leaders this season. George is averaging 24.7 points per game while Harden is averaging 24.6 points per game; so trying to make an argument off scoring averages is not the most sensible route to take. If we look at efficiency we see that George has made great progress in becoming more efficient from the field. Last year, he shot 41 percent; this season he is shooting nearly 48 percent. Harden is currently shooting 45 percent from the field, an increase from last season (even though his three-point shooting has taken a substantial dip).

In today’s NBA, being a two-way player is necessary to be one of the best. Paul George has not only proven himself as one of the elite offensive talents in the Association, he has shown that he is one of the best perimeter defenders, too. George’s defensive effort has only been magnified since last season, but before he was a star, he was putting on defensive showcases in his first two seasons.

James Harden’s defensive effort has been less than stellar in his two seasons in Houston. He often seems uninterested on defense, and it becomes evident when he is caught walking around looking lost. He continuously allows his assignment to become free for open layups or jump shots. As Harden turned into a superstar, somewhere along the way he lost interest on the defensive end.

George and Harden are both now superstar wing players, the number one options on their teams, but it is George’s versatility, offensive efficiency and defensive commitment that gives him the edge over James Harden. Also, George has the Pacers at 19-3, a league-best record. He is ready to lead his team to new heights. James Harden has some fine-tuning to do before Houston can make that next step. The final outcome is an easy one: Paul George brings more to the table than James Harden.

Hit page 2 to hear the Harden argument…

It’s official: James Harden is the best shooting guard in the NBA. A few years ago when Harden’s beard was more five o’clock shadow than it’s current urban Duck Dynasty look, that was an outlandish statement. However, now that he is the star of his own team and is fresh off leading Houston to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 while averaging 25.9 PPG, 5.8 APG and 4.9 RPG, there’s no denying his talent.

With Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade dealing with injuries and Father Time, Harden’s old-man game has him looking down on every other two-guard. Harden is one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll players in the NBA today. He can split defenders with ease, find the open man, draw fouls at an astonishing rate and convert the free throws.

After a trade — a trade that still upsets numerous Oklahoma City Thunder fans to this day — sent him to Houston before the beginning of last season, the sports media world was unsure of what they would see from Harden. Sure, he was fresh off taking home the Sixth Man of the Year trophy, but there were questions about whether or not Harden could be the main guy on his own team after playing third-fiddle to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the first three seasons of his career. He put those doubts to rest after dropping 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and four steals in an opening night victory over the Detroit Pistons.

One area where Paul George has a clear advantage over Harden is defensively. George is often guarding an opposing team’s best player. While Harden has done the same, he normally seems almost completely disinterested in defense and instead tries to rely on his offensive abilities to outscore his matchup. If Harden wants to remain one of the game’s best this will need to be where he shows the most improvement.

Yet when it comes to the other side of the ball, there isn’t anything Harden can’t do. Both players know how to put the ball in the basket and are two of the better young stars in the NBA today, but Harden is the better facilitator. He’s more adept with the ball in his hand than George has ever been.

With Dwight Howard in town now and top-notch complementary pieces like Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets are a team expected to make noise in the stacked Western Conference, giving Harden ample chances to cement his title as the best shooting guard in basketball. “Fear The Beard” chants, shirts and signs will be on display come late April and Houston is hoping to keep them going all the way through June.

Who would you take for your squad right now?

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