This week in Guess Who The Player Is Based Off Of Stats, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer posted stats of four different players during five-year periods of their career.
Can you guess who they are?
Guess who they are:— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 1, 2019
Player A: 26.8 PPG, 7.1 APG, 5 TRB, 19.1 FGA, 10 FTA, 57 TS%
Player B: 29.3 PPG, 8.6 APG, 6.3 TRB, 19.5 FGA, 10.4 FTA, 61 TS%
Player C: 29 PPG, 6.7 APG, 5.6 TRB, 20.8 FGA, 10.7 FTA, 57 TS%
Player D: 29.2 PPG, 10.6 APG, 7.1 TRB, 20.8 FGA, 10.5 FTA, 57.4 TS%
If you guessed that one was James Harden, then you’re definitely smarter than the average bear- that, or you read the headline. Here are the official answers:
A: Dwyane Wade (2004-09)— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 1, 2019
B: James Harden (2014-19)
C: Jerry West (1965-70)
D: Oscar Robertson (1964-69)@P_occidentalis was first. Harden is in elite company (with legends who also drew many fouls). Imagine if Twitter existed in those days. Will discuss more on Wednesday's pod.
If that’s not staggering, then I don’t know what is.
The past five years of Harden’s career puts him in the same ranks as the prime years of Dwyane Wade’s, Jerry West’s, and Oscar Robertson’s careers. If you want to make the argument of West and Robertson having played in a different era, then that’s acceptable, but doesn’t it make it even more impressive that Harden is doing it in the modern era? Also, if you do go that route, then is Dwyane Wade just as “overrated” or “ruined the game?”
If you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll see that West shot an unprecedented 12.4 free throws a game in ‘65-66, and in his second season he shot 12.3 a game. For five straight seasons, Robertson shot at least 10 free throws a game, and four times in his career he shot at least 11 a game. Harden has yet to average 11 free throw attempts in a season, and he’s averaged at least 10 free throws only 4 times in his entire career.
We can gain even more perspective from here.
In Chicago, Michael Jordan averaged 8.7 free throws a game, and he had two seasons where he averaged 11.9 and 10.5 free throws a game, respectively. In Kobe Bryant’s top five years of scoring, he averaged 9.22 free throws, and three times in his career he shot at least 10 a game. For eight straight seasons- EIGHT STRAIGHT- Shaq shot at least 10 free throws a game, and in 2000-2001 he shot 13.1 attempts a game. Ludacris.
These players also are hardly the only ones to average 10 free-throws in a span across several years. Look up any elite scorer you can think of, and odds are that they might share this stat too. If you want a really good laugh, just look up Wilt Chamberlain’s stats and tell me what you think of that.
Great scorers simply shoot a lot of free-throw attempts. This is not a new concept- Allen Iverson once averaged 11.5 free throws a game. As like Kevin O’Connor mentioned, the only difference in now James Harden is doing it in a time where it’s easiest to gain a mob mentality. It’s very easy to let a single moment or stat get viewed millions of times and get scrutinized with zero context.
Harden is hardly the first player to shoot free throws, and he definitely won’t be the last.