Not too long ago, James Harden caused quite a stir when he declared that he was the best basketball player alive. While you have to commend Harden for his confidence in his game, you also have to wonder whether the bearded one needs his head checked.
There is absolutely no way in hell he is the best while the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant are still strutting their stuff. And even if that wasn’t the case, it’s still a stretch. Why? Because, defense.
James Harden and defense go to together like oil and water; they just don’t mix. That alone is enough to bury his case.
Having said that, the man can flat-out score. A point illustrated by the fact that he finished fifth in scoring during each of the last two seasons.For that reason, he is an All-Star caliber player and most people would probably rank him at the top of the shooting guard list. Although right now, maybe that title belongs to the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade.
Now before you start breaking out the pitchforks, hear me out first.
Sure, Harden is an electrifying scorer who can put the ball in the basket in any numbers of ways from knocking down long-range bombs, to getting into the lane at will or living at the free-throw line. The outcome is pretty much the same.
But basketball is a two-way sport and his defense really is that bad; you have to consider knocking him down a peg.
Then there’s Kobe Bryant. When healthy, the future Hall of Famer would most likely head the list of 2s because he is unstoppable on offense and plays defense. Unfortunately, we’re not exactly sure where he currently is on the health meter having battled back from an Achilles injury (an injury that has ruined several sports careers) to play just six games in 2013-14 due to a knee injury.
Nonetheless, for argument’s sake, let’s say Bryant has completely recovered from both setbacks and is at 100 percent once again. Yet even then, there’s still another obstacle: Father Time.
Kobe turned 36 in August, and while that’s still pretty young to me and you, that’s like approaching old-age pensioner status in NBA terms. Still, that alone doesn’t really warrant lot cause for concern since plenty of former players have had outstanding seasons at 36 years of age and beyond, i.e. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan – and considering we’re talking about the Black Mamba, it’s not entirely out of the question either.
However, none of the aforementioned players were heading into their 19th season at that age. That’s a lot of wear and tear for even the healthiest among us, and exactly why I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Bryant coming back to light up the competition.
So until he does, the jury is out.
So with James Harden’s defensively challenged game and Father Time catching up to Kobe Bryant, guess who that leaves behind?
With a 31.9 percent usage rate for his career (the highest among active players and second all-time to only Michael Jordan), it’s safe to say Dwyane Wade has gotten used to having the ball in his hands. And when he’s had it, good things often followed.
In the 2008-09 season, Flash led the NBA with a 36.2 percent usage rate and he averaged 30.2 points per game to secure his lone scoring title, in addition to finishing third in the NBA Most Valuable Player voting. The following season, he led the league once again with nearly 35 percent and put up 26.6 points (fifth best) along with 6.5 assists per outing.
However, since the Big 3 joined forces in Miami back in 2010, that figure has steadily declined. In fact the past two years have delivered the third and second lowest usage rate percentages at 29.5 during 2012-13 then 27.8 last year.
As you can probably guess, that didn’t do his numbers much good – especially the scoring as he averaged 21.2 and 19 points per game. Both figures were also the third- and second-lowest of his entire NBA career.
Consequently, due to such a decline in production, it’s no wonder people don’t quite see D-Wade as the stud he once was. Or rather, he still is (capable of being).
So if he is completely healthy, don’t be too surprised to see the Wade of old. Heck, maybe we should actually expect it.
With the departure of LeBron James and all, the 10-time All-Star should see a lot more of the ball. At the very least it will be a more than he has done over the past couple of years.
Therefore the scoring, along with the other numbers such as assists, should (theoretically) improve.
Plus, he plays on both ends of the court, unlike Harden. And is a fair bit (four years) younger than Kobe, in addition to having a lot less mileage.
Though with that said, he too does have some red flags. For instance during this year’s NBA Finals, we saw shades of “Vintage Wade” as he glided into the lane at will and pretty much did as he pleased.
Then he looked really old of a sudden because he was missing easy shots and apparently lost the ability and/or desire to play defense.
All in all, I suppose all this is still somewhat presumptuous. We won’t really know who the best is until the new season actually gets going.
Who knows, maybe one of the up-and-coming young stars will have a break out year?
Until then, that title belongs to James Harden and his woeful defense. I mean seriously!?