Similarly, the Houston Rockets celebrated when they traded for James Harden, who has been the star the team has not had since Tracy McGrady. Both players have proven to be dangerous scorers who account for many of their team's points.
As two of the top scorers in the NBA, it's only natural to compare Melo and Harden. Despite being a few years younger, Harden is the better player for a few reasons.
Harden's facilitating skills are superior to Melo's
At 6 feet 5 inches, James Harden is essentially a giant pick-and-roll point guard. Houston runs its offense through him with plenty of high pick-and-roll sets, where he is usually the ball-handler. Harden averaged 5.5 assists per 36 minutes last season. In a year many claimed Melo had "changed" his offensive ways, he averaged just 2.5 assists per 36 minutes last season. As a matter of fact, 2.5 assists per 36 minutes is still below his career average of 3.0.
Harden is clearly the better and more willing passer, a skill that makes a great scorer even more dangerous. It's hard to say Melo is necessarily a bad passer, as we simply haven't seen him facilitate an offense enough to know.
Melo is more of an "ball stopper"
A major knock on Melo has been he is a selfish offensive player. Although selfish is probably too harsh of a word, it's easy to see what the critics mean by it.
Melo loves to isolate, particularly from the wing. The Knicks' offense stops flowing when he does this, and they are at the mercy of whether or not his shots are falling. Isolation takes players out of the game, and it becomes very hard to keep teammates engaged when they aren't seeing the ball.
Much like Harden, Anthony has the potential to be a very good pick-and-roll player. We just haven't seen Melo commit to this, and, at this point, it's hard to believe he'll change much. Even when Harden isn't scoring, the way he runs an offense at least keeps the rest of his team engaged.
Volume, volume, volume
It's easy to look at Melo's scoring numbers and be blown away. He averaged 28.7 points per game last season, which is certainly a number that can't be laughed at. However, when you dig a little deeper, it's easy to become critical.
Melo averaged a little less than three points per game more than Harden last season. To get these points, Anthony required a staggering five more shot attempts per game and posted a usage rate more than six percentage points higher than Harden. For those who may not know, usage rate is an estimate of team plays used by a player while he is in the game.
Should you really need five more shot attempts to score less than three more points?
Efficiency, thy name is Melo.
Harden does a better job at getting to the line
As one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll men in the league, Harden is a threat from anywhere on the floor coming off of a screen. This is evident from the fact that he got to the free-throw line a whopping 10.2 times per game last season, and he converted at an 85-percent clip. Even when his shot isn't falling, it seems that Harden can piece together a decent game from getting to the stripe.
Melo is no scrub at drawing fouls and getting to the line, either, as he attempted 7.6 free throw attempts per game last season, finishing at an 83-percent rate. However, nearly three more attempts per game is a significant difference, and one that cannot be ignored. Not only do free-throw attempts mean easy points for your team, but it also often means foul trouble for your opponent. Being able to have an opponent's backups in the game longer due to starters being in foul trouble is a huge advantage.
In many ways, Harden appears to be the more polished player. So, isn't it hard to believe that Harden is five years younger than Melo? This helps tilt the scale even more toward Harden, who is perhaps just beginning to enter his prime. Scary, right? At this point, we probably know what we're getting out of Melo.
Both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets are surely happy to have their scoring machines. But if I have to pick between the two, give me James Harden over Carmelo Anthony.
*All statistics are via Basketball-Reference.
Chris lives in Connecticut and covers the New York Knicks. He grew up in New York and is a lifelong follower of the NBA.
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