Wilt & Harden - PER 48 & NBA Competition
What if you compared James Harden and Wilt Chamberlain's streaks apples-to-apples?
As James Harden moves into NBA real estate that's only had one previous owner, that of Wilt Chamberlain, it's easy to see an apple-to-orange comparison. Chamberlain's history is spectacular but his lore grew without anything close to a fair comparison to today's NBA athletes, minute usage, specialists, analytics and so much more.
For this article, I'll take a look at Chamberlain's best seasons of 1961-62 and 1962-63 and compare it with Harden's current run in 2018-19.
Wilt Chamberlain 1961 - 1963 (Two Seasons Average)
48.1 Minutes Per Game
19.1 Field Goals made per game
37.1 Field Goals attempted per game
52% from the field
9.3 Free Throws made per game
15.5 Free Throws attempted per game
47.6 Points Per Game
25.0 Rebounds Per Game
2.9 Assists Per Game
James Harden 2018 - 2019
37.4 Minutes Per Game
10.7 Field Goals made per game
24.2 Field Goals attempted per game
44% from the field
10.1 Free Throws made per game
11.6 Free Throws attempted per game
36.5 Points Per Game
6.7 Rebounds Per Game
7.8 Assists Per Game
2.2 Steals Per Game
What should jump out to you are two things.
- Wilt averaged over 10 minutes more per game of playing time than Harden
- Wilt averaged four more free throws a game than Harden
Why are these two things relevant? Well, we often hear fans complain about Harden going to the line too often. It's odd to see that during Wilt's prime he shot on average four more free throws per night.
Secondly, what could Harden do with 10 more minutes per game this season? Over the average of 80 games a season that Chamberlain played during this two year run, those extra 10 minutes per game would equate to 800 more minutes per season.
Harden's average of 37.4 minutes per game would equate to 21 extra NBA games of stats that the Beard would be able to put up with 800 more minutes of playing time. Yet, Harden is still on the Wilt Chamberlain 30-point game streak despite not having those 800 extra minutes of game time.
Wilt averaged 48.1 minutes per game over those two seasons. Another way to show the comparison and try to make it more apples-to-apples is to list Harden's "Per 48" numbers next to Wilt's numbers that he put together while playing over 48 minutes a game.
Wilt at 48.1 in 1961-1963
48.1 - Minutes Per Game
19.1 - Field Goals made per game
37.1 - Field Goals attempted per game
9.3 - Free Throws made per game
15.5 - Free Throws attempted per game
47.6 - Points Per Game
25.0 - Rebounds Per Game
2.9 - Assists Per Game
N/A Steal Per Game
Harden at Per 48 minute Totals for 2018-2019
48 - Minutes Per Game
13.7 - Field Goals made per game
31.1 - Field Goals attempted per game
13.0 Free Throws made per game
14.9 Free Throws attempted per game
46.9 - Points Per Game
8.6 - Rebounds Per Game
10.0 - Assists Per Game
2.8 - Steal Per Game
James Harden Per 48 minutes
73 Points vs Knicks
62 Points vs Nets
57 Points vs 76ers
56 Points vs Suns
56 Points vs Lakers (3 Game Average)
55 Points vs Grizzlies (3 Game Average)
55 Points vs Cavs (2 Game Average)
55 Points vs Celtics
53 Points vs Wizards (2 Game Average)
51 Points vs Kings
The Per 48 Harden would have also averaged 53.9 points per game for the entire month of January.
We can also work the formula backwards and put both players at Per 36 minutes.
Wilt at Per 36 in 1961-1963
36.0 - Minutes Per Game
14.3 - Field Goals made per game
27.8 - Field Goals attempted per game
7.0 - Free Throws made per game
11.6 - Free Throws attempted per game
35.7 - Points Per Game
18.7 - Rebounds Per Game
2.2 - Assists Per Game
N/A - Steal Per Game
Harden at Per 36 for 2018-2019
36.0 - Minutes Per Game
10.3 - Field Goals made per game
23.3 - Field Goals attempted per game
9.7 - Free Throws made per game
11.2 - Free Throws attempted per game
35.2 - Points Per Game 3
6.5 - Rebounds Per Game
7.5 - Assists Per Game
2.1 - Steal Per Game
Even the 18.7 rebounds per 36 or his actual average of 25 rebounds a game isn't as mind-boggling when you look at all of the variables that were so drastically different back when Wilt played.
There were only eight NBA teams when Wilt Chamberlain put up his best statistical years.
New York Knicks
St Louis Hawks
The NBA started ramping up expansion in 1966 and over the next few years, Wilt never again came close to his best statical seasons. Despite still averaging 44.5 minutes per game over the next seven seasons, Wilt only surpassed 25 points per game for a season, once. In the 1969-70 NBA season, Wilt averaged 27.3 points per game.
Chamberlain's rebounding numbers, as spectacular as they look now when compared to other big-men in the league, loses some of its luster.
At 7'1 and 250 pounds, Wilt was something that no one had seen before. Even in the land of giants, Chamberlain hovered above. As his career progressed, Chamberlain's weight did as well, tipping scales at 300 pounds. These numbers might not be eye-popping when compared to today's NBA, but for yesteryear, it seems almost fictitious.
Everyone knows Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA Championships to Chamberlain's two titles in their storied rivalry. Russell came in reportedly around 6'10 and 220 pounds.
From 1959 through the 1965 (six seasons) Bill Russell averaged 24 rebounds per game in 44.3 minutes per game of action. Seeing Russell's rebounding numbers made me want to know what other big men of the 60's did in performance on the boards and if their numbers were inflated due to minute usage as well.
Wes Unseld - Center - 6'7 - 245 pounds
Unseld averaged over 17 rebounds per game in 39.1 minutes over his first five seasons, including 18.2 as a rookie in the league.
Bob Pettit - Power Forward / Center - 6'9 - 205
Pettit averaged 18 rebounds per game from 1957-1962 while playing 39.7 minutes a night. His best two rebounding seasons ran from 1960 to 1962 as he averaged 19.5 rebounds in 41 minutes a game.
Jerry Lucas - Power Forward / Center - 6'8 - 230
Lucas averaged 20 rebounds and 20 points a game while playing 44 minutes on average from his second through fifth NBA seasons which ran from 1964-1968
Dolph Schayes - Power Forward / Center - 6'7 - 195
This giant averaged 14 rebounds a night from 1956-1959. He played 39 minutes a night during this three year stretch.
Willis Reed - Power Forward / Center - 6'9 - 240
The first seven seasons of his career saw him average 14 rebounds per game in 37 minutes of action a night.
Nate Thurmond - Center - 6'11 - 225
From 1964-1969 (five seasons), Nate brought down 20 rebounds a game in just over 42 minutes each contest. In the 1967-68 season he averaged 20.5 points and 22 rebounds per game.
Wilt was a player before his time that was able to take advantage of being bigger than everyone in a league that was truly still in its infancy. None of this is to take away from Wilt Chamberlain being great, it's to add to how uniquely special James Harden's season has been.
No one has done what Harden has done in the modern NBA as he's now gone 31 straight games while scoring 30 or more points. The only people who have ever been in the same realm in recent years are Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Due to Wilt's size and the time in which he played, he didn't have to deal with defensive specialists that had fresh legs and the ability to rotate and guard with multiple defenders.
James Harden is a chess master who calculates multiple moves against studied opponents to put them in check, repeatedly. In a sport that's always been dominated by the biggest, strongest and fastest, Harden-haters can't understand the beauty in the real-time mental superiority that Harden possesses to take advantage of every lean, slip, reach, bump, combined with the accuracy to knock down from long range while being a moving target. They complain about the slow speed of the game and everyone just standing around. They complain because they don't understand.
Angrily they tweet as he steps back from 29-feet with the accuracy of a military sniper, hitting the target dead center. "It's a travel", they scream, all-the-while knowing that it wasn't.
It's only fitting that Daryl Morey saw the unlimited ceiling for Harden coming, from the star's time in Oklahoma City. Did Morey know the 6'5, 220-pound guard, who has a great blend of burst, power, balance, accuracy and handles, would have the mental makeup to take advantage of any defender despite size, speed and defensive ability?
Harden hasn't won a title
Wilt Chamberlain was 30 years old when he won his first title and 35 when he won his second and final championship. James Harden is 29 years old and is on the way to his second straight Most Valuable Player award. While people will say he still hasn't won a title, they will leave out the fact that no player has gone to the NBA Finals from the Western Conference other than the Golden State Warriors roster over the last four years. Yet, it's Harden who they say can't get his team there, even though they all watched Harden with a healthy Chris Paul beat the Warriors 3 games to 2 and then only drop the series after Paul was unable to play in games 6 and 7.
They also don't mention that the three games that Harden help lead the Rockets past Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, matches the win total that the rest of the NBA has against the same Warriors team over the last two years in the playoffs. Golden State have beaten their non-Rockets opponents in the playoffs the last two years 28 times with only 3 combined losses.
Once you look at what Harden has done and compare it to everything else on an even playing field, you'll see that you have no other move than to recognize Harden's 2018-2019 season as the best ever. Lay Wilt, MJ, Kobe and the King down in this debate because there was only one player with every move on the board available to him, The Beard. Check mate.