James Harden takes implicit shot at Giannis Antetokounmpo

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James Harden griped about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player last year. Antetokounmpo took Kemba Walker over Harden in the All-Star draft, saying he wanted someone who’d pass. After the All-Star game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s plan was to attack whomever Harden was defending.

Now, Harden is escalating the feud even further.

Asked about Antetokounmpo’s dig during the All-Star draft, Harden, via ESPN:

I average more assists than him, I think.

I don’t see what the joke is. But I didn’t even see it. I don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I just know that none of them can mess with me.

I wish I could just run, run and was 7 feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill. You know? I’ll take that any day.

It’s unclear whether “him” was Antetokounmpo or Walker. In either case, Harden is right. Harden (7.3) averages more assists per game than both Antetokounmpo (5.8) and Walker (5.0).

For what it’s worth, Antetokounmpo said he was considering drafting Trae Young or Walker when stating he didn’t want Harden. Young (9.2) averages more assists per game than Harden.

But assists per game is a poor measure of unselfishness, even beyond disparate playing time and pace.

Harden and Young average so many assists per game because they dominate the ball. They dribble and dribble and dribble until creating something. Sometimes, that something is a pass to a teammate who scores.

This isn’t to knock either player. Harden and Young are talented scorers and passers. The Rockets and Hawks largely benefit from putting the ball in those players’ hands.

But let’s not pretend Harden is some model of egalitarian teamwork just because he averages a lot of assists.

He ranks last among these four players in percentage of touches ending in a pass:

  • Kemba Walker: 68%
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: 63%
  • Trae Young: 61%
  • James Harden: 57%

Harden also ranks last among these four players in passes per minute of individual possession:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: 11.4
  • Kemba Walker: 8.1
  • Trae Young: 5.8
  • James Harden: 5.6

By including Young – whose style is quite similar to Harden’s – Antetokounmpo shows his true colors. Antetokounmpo is just trying to shoot back at Harden.

And that’s great. It’s a lot of fun.

Harden does it too with his comments about a 7-footer who runs and dunks with “no skill at all.” That’s clearly his description of Antetokounmpo, who is tall and does score a lot inside.

Being taller is an advantage in basketball. It often comes with disadvantages like being slower and less coordinated. But that’s not the case with Antetokounmpo and Harden.

So, Harden (6-foot-5) needs more skill than Antetokounmpo (6-foot-11).

But who cares?

Antetokounmpo is more effective than Harden. That was the case last year. It’s the case again this year. This is the NBA. There are no medals for trying harder.

And Antetokounmpo is plenty skilled. His “Greek Freak” nickname obscures his craft. In fact, Antetokounmpo is so talented, he previously played point guard for the Bucks.

Harden is way off base here – even more so than Antetokounmpo was when taking liberties about Harden’s passing and defense.