George Gervin knows a thing or two about scoring. Currently sitting at 16th all-time in points scored with over 26,000, he put the San Antonio Spurs on the map in the 1970s and 80s. His ability to score was among the smoothest we’ve ever seen in the league, highlighted by his famous finger roll.
The Iceman led the league in scoring on four separate occasions, which is something Houston Rockets guard James Harden is looking to match this year. When asked about how scoring has evolved in the NBA across eras, however, Gervin didn’t mince any words.
Appearing on Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson & Darius Miles, Gervin was asked about the difference between scoring in his time compared to today’s NBA. As expected, Gervin pointed to the hand-checking rule as a major factor in padding stats of some of the league’s stars.
“They added stuff for these guys to score,” explained Gervin. “When I played, you could put your hands on me and stop my forward progress. It made it a lot tougher for me to score.”
Throughout his career, the most free-throw attempts Gervin ever averaged in a season was 8.1 in 1981-82. George continued his explanation by setting his targets on the man that led the league in scoring for the last three seasons running.
“James can flat-out shoot the ball,” said George. “Is he accurate? No, he’s streaky. Am I impressed with that? I’m impressed with some of the long shots he shoots. But you’re talking to a guy that averaged 30 and shot 50 percent whereas he’s averaging 38 and shooting 35 to 40 percent. So I’m not going to be that impressed.”
While he shorted Harden a few percentage points, Gervin is mostly correct in his assessment. James has always shot between 40.3 and 45.6 percent in a season throughout his career, other than his 2011-12 year with the Thunder that saw him shoot 49.1. Gervin, on the other hand, shot 50 percent or better in six different seasons, with his highest being a blistering 54.4 percent shooting season in 1976-77.
Gervin’s opinion on Harden didn’t stop there, though. “They gave him another step, called it a step-through,” said Gervin, which drew laughter from Richardson and Miles. “The game has changed since I played, so it’s hard to compare what I did versus how they do it.”
While it’s easy to naturally agree with a Spurs legend like George Gervin on a Spurs site, the data shows he’s spot-on with this assessment. Over the last six seasons, the least amount of free throw attempts per game Harden has had in a season was 10.2. Last season’s 11.8 free throw attempts per game was the highest mark James has ever had, with 10.2 of his 34.3 points per game coming from the charity stripe alone.
With James Harden reportedly wanting out of Houston, it’ll be interesting to see how all the distractions surrounding the Rockets will affect his on-court performances. One thing is certain, though: his ability to score the ball isn’t blowing the Iceman’s mind.