As team captain of the 2020 NBA Eastern Conference All Stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted his team mates against Lebron James for the second year in a row. With two players left on the board, Giannis had the second to last pick. Kemba Walker and James Harden are left. Giannis chooses Kemba, and jokes that “I want someone who can pass the ball.” While this was a fun jab at James Harden taking lots of shots and not passing often, Harden’s ego couldn’t exactly handle it.
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Harden snaps back at Giannis saying “I wish I could just run and be seven feet and just dunk. Like that takes no skill at all. I have to actually learn how to play basketball and have skill.”
There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, it is well known that James Harden believed and still believes that he should have won the MVP trophy last year over Giannis. He believes that his scoring ability is above any other players in the game, and that no one even comes close. While Harden does put up insane scoring totals on a regular basis, I’d have to argue that this isn’t true.
During the 2018-2019 season, when Harden led all scorers with 2,818 points, he also led the league in shot attempts. Before I reveal how many shots he took last season, lets look at respective field goal percentages.
Giannis made 57.8% of the shots he attempted last season. That is an extremely high field goal percentage, especially for a power forward who has a taller center playing on the court at the same time. Harden on the other hand, shot 44%. Okay… not the worst fg% ever, but best scorer of all time numbers? Not exactly. That same year, similar scorers like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and even Demar Derozan were shooting 47%, 46%, and 48%.
So Harden misses some shots, but how many? Well, last season, Harden led the NBA in field goal attempts with 1,909. I’ll let that sink in for a second. He scored 2,818 points, on 1,909 shot attempts. With nearly 2,000 shot attempts, the “best scorer in the league” only made 843. Giannis was third in shot attempts, at 1,247, and he made 721 of them. Not only was the third highest volume shooter in the league taking 662 less shots than the shot attempt leader, he only made 122 less shots!!!
So just by looking at the numbers we can see that there are some issues with James Harden’s confidence, but what can we discern just by watching the game of basketball.
We can watch James Harden. We can see a guy take shot after shot, missing most of them, and heading to the free throw line more than any other player in the NBA. We’ll see him put up just horrible shots with the hope that it might go in. We’ll see lots of arguing with referees, lots and lots of foul calls, and a ton of borderline travels. In my opinion, it’s not the most exciting basketball to watch. Here’s an example below.
Giannis on the other hand has been very rapidly making the sport of basketball feel a bit more normal. The dude is aggressive. He attacks the rim, runs plays, and physically dominates the other players on the court. He doesn’t whine and beg for calls from officials, he simply plays hard.
Here’s an example:
When asked to comment on James Harden’s comments, Giannis kept it simple: “I never tried to take shots at anybody…My game is not just power for sure. I came in when I was 18, I was 180 pounds, so to power through big guys was kind of tough.”
If anyone in the league has worked hard to acquire the skill it takes to play basketball, it is Giannis, the skinny kid who worked his way from the slums of Greece to the MVP award ceremony.
If anybody is good for the game of basketball, it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.