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Rockets GM Daryl Morey: ‘It’s just factual that James Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan’

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Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni called James Harden the best offensive player he’d ever seen. That generated enough controversy.

But specifically invoking the name of an all-time great with highly protective fans? That’ll spark far more animus.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey went there.

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

Morey:

It’s just factual that James Harden is a better scorer than Michael Jordan.

You give James Harden the ball, and before you’re giving up the ball, how many points do you generate? – which is how you should measure offense – James Harden is by far number one in NBA history. And he was number one even at the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s just he was coming off the bench. It was a little more hidden.

The counter argument is reasonable. They say if you put Michael Jordan on a team now, he would do more than James Harden. That’s possible. But if you’re just saying, NBA history, if you give this guy the ball, how much does his team score after you give him the ball before the other team gets the ball, it’s James Harden. And I know that makes people mad. But it’s literally a fact.

I don’t like Morey’s method of ranking scorers. By counting team scoring on possessions the player has a touch, it includes too many other factors like distributing and gravity. To me, an individual’s scoring ability is based on his own ability to get points.

I view scoring by a combination of usage and efficiency. The more possessions an elite player can use, the better. The more efficiently he uses those possessions, the better. There’s usually a tradeoff. If players increase their workload, they’re generally adding less efficient shots, because they’re already taking the more efficient ones.

Comparing eras is difficult. Scoring efficiency has increased league-wide since Jordan’s time.

The defense is way different. Illegal-defense rules in Jordan’s era limited help defense. But off-ball offensive players pulled defenders to the 3-point arc – let alone way beyond the 3-point arc like Harden’s Houston teammates often do – far less often.

Players have also gotten more skilled. Harden grew up with the 3-pointer. When Jordan was young, it was more of a novelty.

There are numerous ways to account for those era differences. It’s just important to set the terms. Morey said he’s talking about what the players did, not what they could have done. So, I’ll stick with that.

Let’s look at both Harden’s and Jordan’s primes, which start with their age-22 seasons. For Harden, that lasts through the present. For Jordan, that lasts through his final Bulls season (no Wizards years).

Here’s how Harden’s and Jordan’s prime seasons rate by usage percentage and true shooting percentage:

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Harden has had a few scoring seasons better than Jordan ever did. Soon to turn 30, Harden could produce even more.

But Jordan had more great scoring seasons than Harden has so far, even if several of them fall below Harden’s top standard.

Whether Harden or Jordan rates as a better scorer depends how you value longevity. It’s debatable.

In the regular season.

In the playoffs, Jordan was a far better scorer than Harden. Here’s how the players rank on the same scale in the postseason:

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This is not a surprise. Jordan is known for his legendary postseason output. He didn’t singlehandedly win six championships, but he played a huge role in the Bulls’ playoff dominance.

Harden remains a superb scorer in the playoffs, but his production slips. Maybe he gets worn down. Maybe defenses become accustomed to his tricks when playing him several straight games. I think it’s some of both. But when comparing him at this level, he doesn’t hold up.

Jordan was a better scorer than Harden. The playoffs matter too much to say otherwise.

Morey might object, but remember, his job isn’t to accurately analyze players’ historic accomplishments for public consumption. He’s focused on helping Houston, and he clearly believes that involves gassing up Harden.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-