One of the stars of the early 2012-13 NBA regular season has been Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden. With his uncanny ability to light up the scoreboard and fill a stat sheet as a facilitator, comparisons to the NBA elite have begun.
Could Harden be the next Dwyane Wade? If you ask Wade himself, Harden could be.
According to Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel, both Wade and Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra see similarities in Wade and Harden's game. This comes mere months after the duo faced Harden in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Some of the things he does off the dribble, off pick and rolls, it reminds me of Dwyane, Spoelstra said. His ability to get into small crevices and split the defense.
Obviously he has the ability to do it, Wade said. I think the biggest thing is going to be the consistency of his teammates to have to set screens for him to be able to get in the paint and make shots. That's the biggest thing. You got to have to make shots, you've got to have guys that's willing to give themselves for you to be great.
If Wade and Coach Spoelstra claim there is a basis for evaluation, clearly there is reason to believe in the comparison. The question is, how similar are the two?
Is it a mere comparison based off playing style or is there more to it than that? Regardless of which holds true, this is an instance that goes beyond the statistics.
Put the Rock in their Hands
To start the comparison between the two scoring guards, we must study the primary function of both James Harden and Dwyane Wade's respective games. That, of course, is their elite ball-handling ability.
Although they are not going to utilize the dribble in the sense of Jamal Crawford breaking ankles, they are comfortable with the ball in their hands. The main reason for this level of self-belief is the duo's ability to penetrate off the dribble—specifically their ability to split a double-team and work their way past quality defenders.
Much like D-Wade, Harden finds a way to slip between defenders and work his way into the paint. With this rare ability, each is capable of working off a screen and opting to either facilitate or dive, setting up virtually every other function of their game.
Passing and Facilitating
Lost amid LeBron James' decade of dominance is the fact that Dwyane Wade has matched LBJ in the facilitating department. Despite seeing a severe dip in that area of production upon James' arrival in Miami, Wade has a career average of 6.2 assists per game.
That includes a 2008-09 campaign in which he averaged 30.2 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game—a year in which LeBron won the MVP award while Wade was the deserving recipient.
Much like Wade, Harden thrives as a passer. Although Wade is more skilled as a facilitator, due to his stronger understanding of team tendencies, the Bearded One is an equally lethal passer.
For the season, Harden is averaging 4.5 assists per game this season. Although that is not quite at Wade's elite pace of production, it is a reflection on how similar they are in terms of their skill set—even if Harden isn't close to Wade's ability level.
Where They Differ
As we evaluate Wade and Harden as players, it is clear that there are similarities. With that being said, there are certain areas in which Harden simply does not compare to D-Wade.
Although he has his moments of inconsistency, Wade is a far superior defender. While the reigning Sixth Man of the Year seems to have a strength advantage by appearance, Wade is actually one of the most overpowering defenders in the game, which comes by virtue of timing, patience, athleticism and an uncanny ability to adapt.
Although Harden thrives in picking up steals, Wade is one of the true masters of the craft. His ability to play the passing lanes is rivaled by few, while his timing in pursuing a ball-handler's off-dribble is masterful.
What separates Wade from the elite and makes him one of the greatest shooting guards of all time is his ability to block shots. In fact, Wade is the one of just two guards to average at least one block per game since 2001.
Wilson Chandler has done it once. D-Wade has done it six times.
Although Wade and Harden are similar in their style of play, there is an endless range in ability from Wade to Harden. This is not by comparison of where they presently are but by virtue of where they were through their first four years in the league.
For a piece of perspective, consider that Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat to an NBA championship in his third year. Harden fell to Wade and the Heat in his.
The comparison is warranted. Until proven otherwise, however, there is no one to compare to D-Wade—not even Harden.