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Can James Harden Break Jordan’s Modern-Era Scoring Average?

The Rockets have nine games left this year, and James Harden is currently averaging 36.5 points per game.

harden-scoring-michael jordan-41.8 ppg-points per game-james harden-houston rockets
While some laud Harden for how he gets his points, it’s quite the feat to even be in same conversation as His Airness. Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In the 1986-87 season, Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game, which is a modern-era record. On the year, MJ scored 3,041 total points over 82 games, which is technically 37.085 points per game. Harden currently has 2,517 total points over 69 games, meaning that he needs to end the season with 2,893 total points to surpass Jordan and achieve an average of 37.089 points per game. In other words, he needs to average 41.8 points per game to score the remaining 376 points. For most this seems ludicrous, but Harden has been a scoring machine this year. So can he do it?

Houston’s Remaining Opponents

As a note, this analysis assumes that Harden doesn’t sit any of the remaining games, and that he is aware of how close he is to breaking Jordan’s record. To close the year, the Rockets play the Pelicans, Bucks, Nuggets, Kings (twice), Clippers, Knicks, Suns and Thunder. While some of these opponents are difficult, Harden’s had no problem putting up huge numbers, even against the strongest of foes.

@ New Orleans Pelicans

On the year, Harden is averaging 32 points per game against New Orleans and shooting 37.2% from deep. He’ll have a tough matchup against Jrue Holiday, but if his teammates feed him the rock and he gets to the line frequently, he has a solid chance to get near the 41.8 points he needs.

@ Milwaukee Bucks

In his one game against Milwaukee this year, Harden had 42 points on 37.5% from deep. If he can repeat that game, he’ll maintain the average he needs to pass Jordan. Furthermore, this game will pit him against Giannis Antetokounmpo, his direct competitor for MVP. With this extra incentive, he’ll likely look to show out and might be in for a big game.

Vs. Denver Nuggets

By his scoring standards this year, Harden is averaging an abysmal 28 points per game on 38.5% from deep in three games against Denver. Granted he only put up 18.3 shots per contest which is down from his season average of 24.8 shots. If Harden makes it a mission to shoot the ball more, there’s no reason why he can’t get at least 41.8 this game.

Vs. Sacramento Kings, @ Sacramento Kings

In two games against the Kings, Harden has averaged 35 points on 52.2% from deep. If he continues to tear it up from deep and makes it to the line more (he only averaged six free throws across the two contests), he stands a good chance to drop 41.8. Furthermore, they play the Kings twice back to back, so if he goes nuclear in the first game, he’ll be hot for the second one.

@ Los Angeles Clippers

harden-scoring-michael jordan-41.8 ppg-points per game-james harden-houston rockets
Harden tied his career high after dropping 61 on the Spurs Friday night. While he doesn’t quite need 61 every night, it’ll be quite the challenge to average 41.8 over his last nine games. Photo courtesy of Eric Christian Smith/AP Photo

Harden has only seen the Clippers once this year, and in that g,ame he had 31 points on 33.3% from three. He also only made it to the line for six free throws. Statistically, this may be a tough one, but that was also a below average night for Harden, so he can definitely pull it off.

Vs. New York Knicks

He dropped 61 on the Knicks earlier in the season despite going just 5-20 from deep. He did go the line 25 times, however, and that late in the year the Knicks should definitely be looking to lose. The main challenge will be whether or not D’Antoni leaves Harden in for four quarters, even if its a blow out. If he stays in for the whole game, there’s no reason for Harden not to get his 41.8.

Vs. Phoenix Suns

In two games against the Suns, he’s averaging 42.5 points, albeit on 33.3% from three. Much like the Knicks, the Suns might be in full-tank mode by the second to last game of the year, so Harden should be able to show out. Also like the Knicks however, it remains to be seen if Harden can stay in the game for four quarters, or if it’ll already be a blowout from much earlier in the game.

@ Oklahoma City Thunder

When the Rockets first met with the Thunder in November, Harden put up just 19 points on 4-12 from deep. In the two games after that, however, he had 41 and 42 points. If he plays like the latter rather than the former, he can definitely get his 41.8. Furthermore, given that this is the last game of the season, Harden might be looking to drop 70 to cover any missed ground from the previous eight games. Overall, it seems like a safe bet that he’ll get that 41.8, even though its on the road against a tough opponent.

The Verdict

Obviously, this article is highly speculative, but based on his opponents and averages against these opponents, Harden seems like a decent bet to pass Jordan. It’s no easy feat to average 41.8 over a nine game stretch, but for a guy having as ridiculous season scoring the basketball as Harden has, nothing seems too farfetched.

Stats courtesy of ESPN

Featured image courtesy of Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

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