NBA History: 50 best NBA players of the 21st century

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James Harden
James Harden (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

James Harden. 10. player. 169. . SG. Houston Rockets

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 10. James Harden

Former Rockets GM Daryl Morey said James Harden is “[arguably] the best offensive player of all-time.” That seems extreme, and it is. Comparisons across eras and decades are futile, and almost no one would back up the notion that Harden is on the same level as Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain. Even so, Morey was not simply spinning good PR. Harden’s offensive output in recent years has put him in the spotlight of history. While he many not be the greatest ever, he could be the greatest of this decade. Maybe even this century.

That is no doubt a contentious statement, and that debate belongs in another article on another day. For now, we must simply appreciate the sheer volume of Harden’s production this decade. He was MVP in 2018, but he was snubbed once or twice, too. His name has become synonymous with the MVP conversation, and while Houston came up notoriously short of the Finals during his tenure, he deserves more credit for getting the Rockets as close as he did.

Harden’s path to championship glory was unfortunately intercepted by the greatest team in modern NBA history. Were it not for Kevin Durant’s dynasty-ensuring move to Oakland, the Rockets would have been primed to win at least one title. Or, at the very least, win the conference. Houston was the only team to ever truly contest the full-strength KD Warriors. If Chris Paul didn’t get hurt in the 2018 conference finals, Harden’s legacy may have been cast in a different light altogether.

Harden is primed to contend for a championship in Brooklyn, though it’s too early to make any sweeping predictions. For his time in Houston, however, Harden already deserves a top-10 spot. From 2012 to 2020, Harden averaged 29.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.7 assists on 44.3 percent shooting. He has led the NBA in scoring three times and is on track to earn his second assists crown in 2021. We have seen very few offensive engines in the history of basketball carry the sheer volume of responsibilities that Harden did in Houston. This spot is well-deserved for the nine-time All-Star.