Carmelo Anthony vs. James Harden
Over the past few years, both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets believe that they got their franchise players in Carmelo Anthony and James Harden. Both played a hefty price tag for the player that they hope will take them to a championship level, and both players have put some pretty big scoring numbers as of late.
If you had your choice at building around Melo or Harden, who would you take?
While both are known for their scoring, their styles are noticeably different. James Harden is a triple threat pick and roll guard, who can take a pull up jumper, get to the hoop, or make the right pass in a two-man game. Harden takes his shots from the three most efficient spots on the floor: the three-point line, at the rim, and at the free throw line. He leads the charge for a Houston team that loves to run, and is great at taking advantage of mismatches and space in transition. Melo is more of a half-court, isolation player who looks to get his shot in the midrange area. As a much bigger player, Anthony prefers to use his strength in the block as opposed to running and gunning.
Both players offer extremely valuable flexibility to their respective teams. Despite playing small forward for most of his career, it’s clear that Melo’s size and strength is better utilized as a power forward. New York coach Mike Woodson has realized that Anthony is better off fighting on the block than he is chasing small forwards around on the perimeter for 40 minutes. Regardless, Melo can play either forward position, giving his team the ability to play big or small at any given moment. A shooting guard by nature, Harden possesses the vision, passing ability, and ball handling of a point guard. When paired with a player such as Patrick Beverley, we see that Harden is essentially a big, scoring point guard. With his unique skill set, you can pair Harden with a wide variety of backcourt partners.
Defensively, neither are terribly special. Both have their lapses, but both are plenty capable when they flip the switch to play a little bit of defense. Harden’s strength allows him to stay in front of his man, but he is probably an average defender at best. Melo sometimes struggles chasing somebody around the perimeter, but he is serviceable when he can push and shove on the low block against the opposing team’s second best big man. With Tyson Chandler and Omer Asik behind them, both players benefit from spectacular back line rim protectors, probably making them appear better than they actually are on the defensive end.
Their offensive efficiency is the deal breaker. Carmelo Anthony had the best season of his career this year, where he began to show signs of efficiency, really for the first time. However, Harden’s efficiency is almost unmatched. To put it in perspective, Melo scored a little less than 3 more points per game than Harden, but required an additional 5 shots per game to do so. Harden gets to the line almost 3 more times per game than Melo, and is clearly the better offensive facilitator. The difference here really comes down to shot selection; Melo looks for tough, lower value midrange jumpers, while Harden looks almost exclusively for three pointers and shots at the rim.
An important note here is their age; Melo is 28, Harden is 23. If you’re looking to build a team, it’s hard to turn down the player that is 5 years younger. If you compared Harden now to Carmelo at 23, you would hands-down take Harden.
For now, James Harden wins this battle.
All stats are via basketball reference.
–Mark Evans, Assistant Manager/Editor of Content
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