James Harden, nor anyone else, will ever "catch" Larry Bird
By Clint Corey
James Harden, who is in the Philippines preparing for an exhibition game with The Indiana Pacers tomorrow, stopped by after yesterday's Pacer practice to pay his respects to Larry Bird. The Houston All-Star told Bird: "I have a long way to go to catch you."
Big Game James 2.0 is probably my favorite player in the league outside of anyone adorning Celtic green. He attended my alma mater, Arizona State University and is quickly becoming one of the top shooting guards in the league.
Speaking of The Sun Devils, considering The current Celtic point guard situation it would have been nice if Jahii Carson declared for the draft last year and the Celtics could've landed him. Of course, I'm only kidding. Kelly Olynyk looks like a great fit for Brad Stevens system and as my post a couple of days ago conveyed I believe Avery Bradley playing point guard will only benefit his game and The Celtic's franchise in the long run. Although, I really do love Jahii's game as well...
Anyhow, back to Harden.
Harden's game reminds me of "The Truth's," Paul Pierce, in that he's deceptively athletic and is crafty in creating separation off the bounce in order to free himself up as well as draw fouls. He also shoots what essentially is a set shot just like Pierce. What I mean by that he doesn't levitate off the floor ala someone like Derrick Rose before his release. His Shot is one fluid motion. This should help Harden have a long productive career because this simple difference in playing style is much less harder on a player's legs then someone who is jumping off the floor every time they take a jump shot.
For example, someone like, Russell Westbrook.
Having said how much I love Harden's game, the statement: "I have a long way to go to catch you," is symbolic of just how much the NBA game has changed in the past thirty plus years.
Harden is entering his fifth NBA season at virtually the same biological age Bird entered his second year in the league. Bird's second season in the league he was leading the Celtics to their 14th NBA title where he averaged an other worldly 15.3 rebounds in the Finals.
Harden is hoping to lead Houston to their third franchise title buoyed by the acquisition of Dwight Howard in the off season.
These age/experience differences show how the league has changed from the "Bird era" to the "Harden era."
Players have gotten more athletic but now enter the draft much younger so are not as polished and ready to lead a team early in their NBA careers.
The aforementioned Dwight Howard is an excellent example of this and it is ironic that he is now being coached by one of the most fundamental players to ever play the game: Boston Celtic Hall of Famer, Kevin McHale.
Dwight was drafted on pure potential and has taken years of refinement to develop a low post game outside of an overpowering drop step dunk. Although a towering physical specimen Howard did not have the leadership abilities or maturity developed in college to lead a team when he first entered the league.
I believe AAU ball has also been greatly influential on this development. Instead of learning how to play and lead within a team structure, summer ball in high school is basically a place to showcase your physical talents such as leaping ability and often times turns into an exercise in selfishness as players try to attract the attention of the top college programs.
Hence, the lack of moving without the ball ability from most players and why the NBA has in many respects become an isolation league (paging Carmelo Anthony).
My point is with regards to Harden and Larry Legend is that Harden will probably eventually catch Bird with regards to all-time points and in all probability career assists and rebound numbers. After all, he doesn't play with the reckless style of "Basketball Jesus" which ultimately shortened Bird's career. Even if Harden does get injured there have been amazing medical advances since the 80's and like Pierce with his low impact style Harden could have upwards of fifteen productive seasons in the league.
However, even with these developments, Harden will never "catch" Larry Bird. Bird was one of a kind and from a much more fundamentally polished and physical era.
In fact, people are getting stabbed in the LeBron vs. Jordan debate but even the best player in the game, King James, has a long way to go to catch Bird.
After all, Bird never had a press conference announcing he was going to join forces with Dominique and Isiah in Detroit to form a super team. He remained a Boston Celtic and elevated the players around him his entire career.
As his nemesis Magic Johnson once so eloquently stated: "There will never, ever be another Larry Bird.”
Follow Clint on Twitter @coolhandc