Friday, March 4, 2011

James Harden Is Showing His Potential After All-Star Break

Harden is finally starting to show why
 he was the # 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft
James Harden's game is finally starting to translate to NBA success.

After being selected 3rd overall in the 2009 draft, James Harden has not lived up to the expectations that a prospect taken that high has.  This has not been an issue for his team, however, because of the successes of other young talents placed around him: Durtant, Westbrook, and Ibaka.  This was a perfect situation for a player like Harden, who has an old school style of play, looking to set up team mates opposed to creating his own shot.

At Arizona St. he was a prolific scorer for his two years in college.  When he came out he was also touted as having under estimated athletic ability and great passing ability and vision.  I saw him in person, at Mac Court in Eugene, as he tore apart the Ducks single handedly.  He scored 44 points effortlessly.  When I looked at his stats the next day I noticed how efficient he was.  He scored a large portion of his points at the free throw line, while shooting a very few amount of shots to score such a high amount.

So far in his NBA career Harden has struggled to find his niche.  He has become the Thunder's sixth man, along with Ibaka.  His first year he struggled with his efficiency, shooting only 40% from the field and not producing many assists or steals.  So far this year, to the chagrin of Thunder fans, he has mostly produced the same as last year.  As far as role players in the NBA go, he is effective, although one would wish he would shoot a higher percentage, or specialize in one thing such as three point shooting.

Although his production is not where many would like to see it be, Harden has shown flashes of brilliance this year.  When Durant was injured at the beginning of the year Harden started, and scored 20 points 2 or 3 games straight.  The difference was that he was needed to be a scorer, because of the lack of offensive production from Sefaolosha and their other role players.  I hoped that once he went back to the bench he would continue his improved play and continue his new found aggressiveness, but this did not happen.  He reverted back to the mediocre averages from a year ago.

During the all-star break Harden had a huge game in the sophomore-rookie challenge.  I think this may have given him some confidence coming out of the break.  At the same time, Jeff Green was shipped to Boston.  This left a void in scoring that needed to be filled.  In the five games since the break Harden has upped his production to 17 points per game, improved his shooting percentage, and is getting to the line and making 95% of his free throws.

I believe that because he is being asked to score more, he has become more aggressive and he doesn't seem to defer to Durant and Westbrook as much.  I realize it is only a 5 game stretch, and his play could easily drop off.  Even with this increase in aggressiveness he is not taking bad shots and they are all within the flow of the offense.  If he continues this high performance into the playoffs then the Thunder will be a true contender.  This sort of production correlates to the type of player the Thunder thought they were getting with the third pick in the draft.  As a NBA fan I hope that Harden has finally found his stride, as he could be a great player in the league.  

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