At the end of October, the Houston Rockets lost five of six games, two of them without their leading scorer James Harden. The Rockets repeated their underwhelming October with a nine-game stretch at the end of November and into December where they won just twice. Then, Harden got hot.
What Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer averaging 36.6 points per game, has done this season could be the most impressive offensive performance in the history of the NBA. His stat line is impressive. In addition to the 36.6 points per game, Harden dishes out 7.7 assists and finds time to grab 6.7 rebounds a game. The reigning NBA MVP has the league’s highest single-game scoring effort this season. He put up 61 points in a win over the Knicks on Jan. 23. Harden hit 22-of-25 free throws, had 15 rebounds, and five steals.
Harden’s 30-points-per-game streak is now at 31. No NBA player has come close to Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain’s 65-game run in 1961-62. That season, Chamberlain averaged an almost unthinkable 50.4 points per game. What Harden is doing is even more impressive … and different from Chamberlain.
During Chamberlain’s ’61-’62 season, he shot 50.7 percent from the floor while averaging over 50 points a game. The problem for his Philadelphia Warriors was they failed to even come close to the NBA average in offensive efficiency that season. The Warriors ended up losing to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Why Harden’s 2018-19 season eclipses Chamberlain’s ’61-’62 season is this. Since his streak began in December, Harden is averaging 122 points per 100 possessions. Houston’s offensive efficiency has gone from 111.2 points per 100 prior to the streak to 116.9 ever since. The Rockets are now second in the NBA in offensive efficiency. More importantly, the Rockets are 21-10 since starting the season 12-14. The bottom line is that Harden’s streak has had a positive impact on his teammates and the Rockets’ record.
Now, to take Harden’s run even deeper into perspective consider the following. In the month of January, Harden averaged 43.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game. Through Feb. prior to the All-Star break, Harden has averaged 38.3 points a game. In the seven games played in February, Harden scored at least 42 points in four of them.
In the 23 games from Dec. 8 through Harden’s 61-point outburst against the Knicks, his stat line is one for the ages. He scored 42.2 points a game, dished out 8.2 assists, and hauled in 7.4 rebounds. To put Harden’s efforts into historical perspective, only a handful of players have ever come close. Throwing out Chamberlain, we see Kobe Bryant had a 22-game streak in 2005-06 where he averaged 40.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game.
In 1987-88, Michael Jordan averaged 37.7 points, 5.7 assists, and 5.6 rebounds a game. During the stretch, Jordan scored 40 points or more 29 times. What makes his performance special is the fact that Jordan made an average of just one 3-pointer per game.
Harden’s performance this year is definitely one of the best, and he’s not done. The Rockets still have 28 games remaining. Think about this: if Harden never scores another point this season he would still finish with an average of over 21 points per game. That would put him right around No. 20 in the league.