Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey appeared on 100 Thieves' Selfmade (h/t Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic) and said that guard James Harden "is a better scorer than Michael Jordan."
Alykhan Bijani @Rockets_Insider
@dmorey Daryl Morey: "It's just factual that James Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan...You give James Harden the ball and before you're giving up the ball how many points do you generate, which is how you should measure offense, James Harden is by far #1 in NBA history." https://t.co/91A9ij3wRc
As Bijani noted, Morey offered a counterargument to his own take before reaffirming his stance.
"Now the counterargument is reasonable," Morey said. "They say if you put Michael Jordan on a team now, he would do more than James Harden. That's possible.
"But if you're just saying like NBA history ... if you give this guy a ball, how much does his team score after you give him the ball before the other team gets the ball, it's James Harden. And I know that makes people mad, but it's literally a fact."
Harden averaged a league-high 36.1 points per game last season, including 41.1 points per game in a 32-matchup stretch during which he never had fewer than 30.
Harden enjoyed one of the more prolific scoring seasons in NBA history, and comparing him to the GOAT isn't as misguided a comparison as it seems on the surface.
Per Basketball-Reference, Harden has amassed a true-shooting percentage of .600 or better in seven of 10 seasons compared to Jordan's four out of 15. His offensive box plus/minus score of 10.5 last season was also higher than any number Jordan registered.
On the flip side, Jordan has the edge on Harden in a few offensive categories. Per Basketball-Reference, MJ posted offensive win share numbers (with a high of 15.2 in 1987-88) better than Harden's career-best year (12.2 in 2014-15) on six occasions.
And if you want to look at things simply from a points-per-game perspective, Jordan posted 31.5 points a night for the Bulls compared to Harden's 29.0 on the Rockets.
Morey brings up a good point, though, as Harden is worth more points to his team than Jordan was to the Bulls.
However, that partially seems like a byproduct of the different eras the two men played in.
Of note, Harden has better numbers in some areas because the league's reliance on the three-point line is stronger than ever before.
Per Basketball-Reference, teams averaged just 3.1 three-pointers per game during Jordan's rookie season in 1984-85. That figure never rose above 16.7 per game (1996-97) during any season when he was on the court.
Meanwhile, Harden plays in a time where teams are far more efficient with the basketball thanks to the three-point shot. The league averaged a historical high 32.0 attempts per game in 2018-19, or nearly double the highest amount seen during Jordan's career.
Unsurprisingly, the league-average effective field-goal percentage of .524 and offensive rating of 110.4 last year were historical highs.
And that's where Morey's counter-argument comes into play: If Jordan was playing in today's game, would he be a better and more efficient scorer than Harden?
Likewise, how would Harden do in the 1980s and 1990s?
It's a great debate to ponder as the 2019-20 NBA season, which begins on Oct. 22, draws near.