There is no denying that James Harden just completed one of the greatest months in basketball history.
Last year’s MVP has been playing amazingly all year, averaging 36.3 points, 8.1 assists and 6.7 rebounds. He’s scored at least 30 points in an astonishing 24 straight games for the Houston Rockets. This streak trails only Wilt Chamberlain, who had 65 straight 30-point games, as well as streaks of 31 and 25 games.
Yet, it’s been the month of January where The Beard has excelled. In 14 games this month, Harden averaged an incredible 43.6 points per game. That’s the most anyone has averaged in a month since the aforementioned Chamberlain, who averaged 45.8 points per game in March of 1963.
Harden is now in rarified territory, as he looks to continue his torrid scoring pace. However, the question remains if he can possibly do what only Kobe Bryant and Wilt did: score more than 80 points in a single game.
The player that has come the closest to reaching this stratosphere was Devin Booker in 2017. In this game, Booker dropped 70 points, shooting 21-for-40 from the field and 24-for-26 from the free-throw line. Yet, he only made 4 threes on 11 attempts, showing that he actually could’ve gotten to 80 points if he made more three-pointers.
Nonetheless, it was a tour-de-force performance from the then-20-year old; and it should be a signal for Harden that he can come up with a similar stat-line.
In a recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Bill explored this exact scenario. As he laid out the possibility of Harden to score over 80 points.
As Simmons states, “Let’s say he goes 24-for-40. I think he has to make 10 threes”…”The frequency of it – that’s what helped with Kobe. Kobe scored 61 in three quarters against Dallas. He was just kind of sniffing around the general ballpark, which is what you need with this.”
And Harden has done just that. He dropped 57 and 58 in back-to-back games in mid-January. Three games later, he torched the New York Knicks by scoring 61 points on 17-for-38 shooting, going 22-for-25 from the charity stripe.
Considering Harden’s prowess at get to the line frequently, coupled with his ability to drain ridiculous threes, he definitely has a shot to make history. It would be much more likely that he breaks Kobe’s record than Wilt’s though. Yet, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Harden would have to put up a monster volume of shots, and make them at an efficient clip. In Bryant’s 81-point performance, he shot 28-for-46 from the field, 7-for-13 from three and 18-for-20 from the free-throw line. This sort of efficiency from three and two is the formula that Harden needs to follow.
In Chamberlain’s 100-point game, he shot 36-for-63 from two and 28-for-32 from the line. He also played the full 48 minutes, and did this feat before the advent of the three-point line. It would be hard for anyone to get up that many shots in a game now. The most field-goal attempts Harden has put up this year was 38.
Therefore, there are a few roadblocks that would keep Harden from crossing even the 80-point mark. As mentioned, shooting 63 shots in a game is unheard of in the modern NBA. The closest anyone has come to replicated this was when Michael Jordan put up 49 shots against the Orlando Magic in 1993.
Furthermore, Harden was putting up these historic numbers before Chris Paul returned to the team. Now that Paul has come back from a 17-game absence, Harden’s shot-volume may decrease even further. Luckily for Harden though, Paul is currently on a minutes’ restriction.
If Harden wants to make history, he’ll have to do it in a flurry on a given night. It may not be this year, but the potential is definitely there. All he needs to do is continue his magical play and get really hot in a game. If he is able to knock down at least 10 threes and 20 free-throws, he will have the chance to put himself in the record books.
The fact that he even has a shot at this just goes to show how great he has played this season. There is no doubt that Harden already one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history; he can cemented himself as the best if he were to cross the mythical 100-point plateau.