The Inbounds: LeBron, James Harden show two very different ways to score 50 points

The Inbounds is a look into what's going on with various teams around the NBA, including quotes, plays, stats and more. We're still early, so everything here should be taken with a huge sample size warning in big, bold, red letters. 

More than one way to skin a 50-point game

LeBron James and James Harden both had legendary nights in the past week, with James dropping 57 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists on the Wizards last Friday. Harden followed that up with a 56-point, 13-assist performance against the defensively stout Utah Jazz. But which one was more impressive? It's an interesting question, considering how different they were. 

LeBron's break glass in case of emergency post game

James has never really posted up as much as you thought he would. The guy is 6-feet-8, 250 pounds (depending on when you catch him) and one of the most athletic human beings to ever play the game. Yet, James never really embraced the post. He wanted to have the court in front of him, to drive, to shoot, to kick to shooters. It wasn't until 2012 that he really bought into his ability to dominate the game from the post. 

In 2011, James posted up just 8 percent of the time. A year later, that jumped to 13 percent, and he scored 0.993 points per possession including pass-outs, good for the 89th percentile league-wide. James hasn't used it as much in recent years, even if he still uses it in certain situations. But against the Wizards, James had one mindset: Force the switch, post up the smaller player, then destroy: 

John Wall even played pretty good defense, it just didn't matter. James scored 16 points off 12 post-up possessions via Synergy Sports, resulting in this beautifully brutal shot chart in all its simplicity. 

shotchart-4.png

James scored in all sorts of ways, getting up the floor, attacking and scoring in the usual array of ways. But what was clear in that game was how James found a mismatch and exploited it into oblivion, something he rarely turns to, which also tells you how desperate he is to help the Cavs. 

Beard unstoppable

If LeBron put in the yeoman's work, putting on his hard hat and went to the mine to pound away at the Wizards, Harden instead cast a magical spell of transmutation and transcended the earthly plane. I can't stress this enough, the Utah Jazz are a limited team, but they are a great defensive squad, and Harden made their every effort irrelevant. Not limited, irrelevant. 

On one sequence, in 4.8 seconds, Harden ran off a screen, Ricky Rubio recovered to contest him all the way to the 3-point line and none of it mattered: 

Harden's chart was more evenly distributed, but he still got to the rim: 

LeBron and the Beard faced off Thursday night, with Harden winning out with 35 points (along with 11 rebounds and 13 assists) to James' 33 points (and seven assists). These two were top-four MVP candidates last season for good reason, but the efficiency is what's startling in their two marquee games. 

James and Harden combined for 113 points on 59 shots, 71 percent from the field, 9 of 12 from 3-point range, 13 rebounds and 20 assists. The specifics of those numbers matter. The modern NBA megastars don't just drop 50 on you. They do so while contributing in other areas, and doing it efficiently. That's why so many feel that we're in a golden age of NBA superstars, before you even mention the Warriors

Eleven of Jayson Tatum's 18 made 3-pointers this season have come from the corners, the most efficient 3-point shot in basketball. The most impressive part of Tatum's hot start with Boston has been how much he has played within his role. He's not isolating, trying to create his own stuff, not yet. He's building a base and branching out from there. This was the same approach Kawhi Leonard took with the Spurs and while Tatum might never be Leonard, he is an incredibly valuable weapon for an offense that needs it, badly. 

Tatum is also crafty. Marcus Smart has delivered more assists to Tatum than any other Celtic. Here, Daniel Theis rolls hard and parallel almost even with Smart in the pick-and-roll, forcing the corner defender to come down and "tag" Theis. As he does that, Tatum rolls up higher, because it increases the distance for that tag man to recover. And Tatum's jumper is just absolute butter. 

Just another part of Boston's hot start. 

Ryan Anderson has been targeted on defense in isolation situations more than any other player in the league (38 possessions), according to Synergy Sports. That shouldn't surprise you, as he's slow of foot and undersized. However, it's a stupid strategy. Opponents have shot 8 of 34 (24.5 percent) vs. Anderson in those situations. For all players with 20 ISO's defended, he has the second-best points allowed per possession. 

Attacking Anderson seems like a good idea, but in reality, it's another indicator of how attacking mismatches rarely works out instead of just running good offense. 

Ben Simmons has been a revelation for the Sixers. His passing is crisp and on target, always. He's not an overly flashy passer (which gets confused for good passing). Instead, he slings the ball and has great location on his delivery. One of the cool things the Sixers have used a bit this season is posting up Simmons. He is 6-10, and a point guard. That's a nightmare for guards in the post. It doesn't matter what Simmons' scoring ability in the post is, because he's able to turn and look over them to make passes like this. Here the Sixers flip convention on its head, with Simmons posting and Joel Embiid slashing to the rim. Good luck, Dirk:

Hopefully we see more of this from the Sixers. It's a cool wrinkle. 

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets tried the dumbest, silliest alley-oop pass you'll ever see ... and then after the game razzed his teammate for not finishing. Jokic tried a behind-the-back alley-oop in transition. Wilson Chandler ... was unable to convert. 

"I saw him and thought he was going to jump," Jokic said after the game. "But he didn't even jump."

From the locker stall two doors down, you just heard Wilson Chandler quietly say "Yeah, my bad." 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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