James Harden and Old-School NBA Stars Who Transcend Eras
Guys like James Harden harken back to a different time in the NBA.
For one thing, there aren't many players with his talent who would so willingly accept a bench role. Harden, of course, had played the part without making a peep and earned this season's Sixth Man of the Year award for his efforts.
More importantly, Harden's electric scoring off the bench has been instrumental to the Oklahoma City Thunder's sustained success.
On the court, the vintage tendencies are even more discernible. Harden plays a well-rounded game, letting the offense come to him rather than forcing up shots in a bid to pad his celebrity. His slashing ability relies on craftiness and skill rather than sheer athleticism, a throwback to a time when the game's best were neither as strong nor quick as they are today.
And of course, it goes without saying that beard isn't from this era.
Here are a few other stars who look like they just stepped out of a time machine.
Manu Ginobili: SG, San Antonio Spurs
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Manu Ginobili's impossible passes and fearless approach have made for entertaining basketball, but don't let that fool you—he's as old-school as they come.
Ginobili was all about footwork even when he was young enough to rely on speed instead. He's used the craftiest of step-back moves to create space for his smooth long-range shot, and he finishes around the rim with the kind of finger-rolls and English-tinged layups you'd expect to see in the 1970s.
Paul Pierce: SF, Boston Celtics
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It doesn't seem like a guy should be able to get to the free-throw line so prolifically without a lightening quick first step, but Paul Pierce is living proof that it's possible.
He has the kind of throwback junk in his game that's next to impossible to guard on a good night. His arsenal comes fully loaded with up-and-under moves, pump fakes and the fanciest of footwork. There couldn't have been a better fit for a franchise that's all about tradition.
Dirk Nowitzki: PF, Dallas Mavericks
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Dirk Nowitzki is a pure shooter if there ever was one, a big man who makes Larry Bird look new-school.
Dirk isn't nearly as strong or as quick as most of the power forwards and centers he's faced over the years, but he's been an absolute nightmare to defend nonetheless. He's also played about the same amount of defense as his early predecessors—which is to say, not much.
Chris Paul: PG, Los Angeles Clippers
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Like Steve Nash before him, Chris Paul has proven that modern point guards needn't be the kind of physical specimen that Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook might be. Instead, he's made his living with an uncanny basketball IQ and a pass-first mentality that helps his club thrive.
Paul compensates for his modest size with a smooth shot and layups that can bounce from virtually any part of the backboard right into the basket. He's the quintessential old-school floor general and all the more revolutionary because of it.
Tim Duncan: F/C, San Antonio Spurs
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No team conjures bygone days like the San Antonio Spurs. And no player has defined that approach like Tim Duncan.
Even as a rookie, Duncan popularized the mid-range bank shot—an historical artifact that bordered on myth given its highly irregular use in modern NBA life. San Antonio's iconic big man never had elite athleticism, but he more than made up for it with an array of skilled post moves.
His dependence on an intelligent inside game earned him status as "The Big Fundamental," a title that fits his play and his legacy as a superstar from another age.