February 15, 2014 by Ell and Mike Sports
SG/SF James Harden (Rockets) – Young Superstar on the Rise
James Harden started to come into his own as a sophomore at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California, where he averaged 13.2ppg (points per game). By his junior year, his stats jumped to 18.8ppg, 7.7rebs, and 3.5 assists, while the team had a 33-1 record and won a state title. As a senior, they won another state title as Harden averaged 18.8ppg 7.9rebs 3.9 assists leading the team to a 33-2 record as he was selected as a McDonalds All-American. He also played AAU basketball for Team Pump-N-Run Elite where he put up 34pts in a win over a DC Assault with current NBA players Michael Beasley and Nolan smith and Austin Freeman (Georgetown). Harden also put up 33pts later in the day versus the Southern California All-Stars with current NBA star Kevin Love on the team.
In the 2007-2008 season, with the addition of James Harden who played 34/34 games while adding 17.8ppg, 5.3rebs, 3.2 assists, and 2.1 steals (52% FG, 40% 3-pt )at Arizona State (not known 4 basketball) they went a surprising 21-13 (9-9). Arizona State missed the NCAA tournament, but made the NIT beating Alabama State and Southern Illinois, but they loss to the defending champion Florida Gators. Harden was named 1st team All PAC-10, named to the Conference All-Freshman Team, and 1st team All-District by the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) and the USBWA (US Basketball Writers Association). Harden had a surprising 70 steals his freshman year leading the NCAA. In the 2008-2009 season, Harden’s sophomore year, he was projected as a Preseason All-American. He played 35/35 games with 20.1ppg, 5.6rebs, and 4.2assists while averaging 49% from the field and about 36% from 3-point. Arizona State went 25-10 (11-7) ranked #19, but they loss to #13 Syracuse (67-78) in the NCAA Tournament after beating Temple. Arizona State also loss to USC in the PAC-10 Championship Game (66-63). Harden had 73 steals on the year leading the NCAA again showing his knack for making plays on both sides of the ball. Harden had a career high 40pts vs. UTEP, which was 5th best in school history. He was also PAC-10 Conference Player of the Year (3rd soph. to ever win, besides NBA PG/Coach Jason Kidd and PG Mike Bibby) (3rd A-State player, since former NBA players combo guard Eddie House and PF Ike Diogu). James Harden led A-state in scoring 46 out of 69 games, led in assists 29times, led in rebounding 21 times, scored 20+ppg 34 times (A-State 27-7 when he scored 20+), and he led the NCAA in steals both seasons. Harden was also 4-0 in OT games showing his clutch ability as he averaged 24.8ppg, 5.5rebs, and 2.5 steals in those games.
Draft/Year 1 (Rookie Season)
Heading into the draft many knew that Harden would be a lottery pick, as he was one of the top shooting guard prospects, along with Tyreke Evans. It was believed that Harden would go to Oklahoma City with the 3rd pick in the draft or to the Sacramento Kings who owned the 4th pick in the draft. Some even thought that Ricky Rubio would be a good pick here for the Thunder because it would mean that Russell Westbrook could play the shooting guard, but I did not agree because that would have taken the ball out of Westbrook’s hands and made him adjust his game to playing off the ball; clearly, we see today he is very good with the ball in the hands. However, the Thunder did what some expected and some didn’t, they drafted James Harden. Despite averaging 22.9 minutes a game in his rookie season, Harden averaged about 10 points a game (9.9ppg) 3.2rpg and 1.8apg. While these numbers don’t jump out, they are impressive for the amount of minutes he played. Harden led the team in three point field goal percentage (37.5%) and was second on the team in free throw percentage (80.8%). Harden finished the season by making the NBA All Rookie Second Team.
Year 2 (Improvement)
The 2010-2011 season would be a season where Harden would improve many areas of his game. Heading into the season, everyone knew that Harden could shoot the ball from long range, but this season, Harden would improve his midrange shot, his ability to drive to the basket, and he would also improve from the free throw line. While improving in these areas, Harden three point shot suffered a little as his percentage decreased from the previous season. His three point percentage dropped to 35%, but his 2 point field goal percentage went up to 51% from 42% the previous season, overall improving his shooting percentage from 40% in 2009-10 to 44% in the 2010-11 season. Out of the 82 games Harden played, he scored in double digits 54 times. His season averages were 12.2ppg 3.1rpg and 2.1apg while also shooting 84% from the free throw line. Harden was poised for a breakout season if he could put it all together and earn more playing time.
Year 3 (Sixth Man)
The 2011-2012 would be Harden’s breakout season. This is the year where Harden would establish himself as the best bench player/scorer in the league. I want to say he is more than a scorer off the bench because Harden was arguably the Thunder’s best playmaker. I know a lot of people will say Westbrook, but Westbrook took a lot of questionable shot this season and you never second guessed Harden’s shots. Harden averaged 16.8ppg, 4.1rpg and 3.7apg in 31.4 mpg in 62 games. He set a career-high with 40 points during win over Phoenix, a game in which he made 12 straight field goals. Harden became one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA finishing second in true shooting percentage. Oh yea Harden managed to bring home some hardware in 2011, the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. The Thunder would go on to make the playoffs and win the Western Conference but lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Harden shot 18-of-48 and 7-of-22 from three-point range during the series. He averaged nearly six points less per game and shot 15 percent worse than he did during the regular season. Many analysts felt Harden was a major reason why the Thunder lost the series. While he did struggle, I believe the Thunder’s defense was to blame for that series. Many began to wonder what if Harden was a starter in this league and would OKC be able to keep Harden, Russell Westbrook and, Kevin Durant. The Thunder offered Harden a 4 year deal worth about 55 million, but Harden refused the deal because he knew he was worth more; and we would soon see, he definitely was and is.
Year 4 (All-Star)
Heading into the 2012-13 season there was a lot of speculation as if the Thunder would be able to keep James Harden. Harden refused to sign the 4 yr/55 million dollar extension that the Thunder offered him in the offseason. This prompted the Thunder to look to trade Harden and get some young talent and someone who could fill Harden’s role. On October 28, 2012 James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets for veteran SG/SF Kevin Martin, rookie SG/SF Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks, and a second-round pick. This deal caught many by surprise because many felt that Oklahoma would keep Harden when it was all said and done, but the front office did not want to increase their offer to Harden. Three days after signing with the Rockets, James Harden signed a 5 year/80 million dollar deal with the team. Obviously, the Rockets felt that Harden was the superstar they had been waiting for. He would go out that year and have his best season thus far. Harden was no longer a bench player playing starter minutes; he was now the face of a team and a starter. Harden would go on that season to average 25.9ppg, 4.9rpg, and 5.8apg, proving that he was worth every bit of that 80 million. Harden led what many believed was a solid Houston team to the playoffs, but they weren’t ready to win the Western Conference yet and were bumped by Harden’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, Harden’s game improved so much that many were starting to call him the best shooting guard in the NBA. He possesses an arsenal of moves and can beat you from long range, midrange, and penetration to the basket.
Year 5 (Superstar)
This offseason the Rockets went out and got their star some help by acquiring the best center in the NBA, Dwight Howard. Many wondered how these two Harden and Howard would play with each other, but they both are having solid seasons. Harden is still figuring out how to play with Howard, but his numbers don’t show it. He is off to another fine season averaging 23.9ppg, 4.7rpg, and 5.3apg. The Rockets are 36-17 and currently sit 3rd in the Western Conference. Harden is the leader of the team and was just announced to his second consecutive all star game and will be starting for Kobe Bryant. Harden has established himself as the best shooting guard in the NBA, which hurts me because I am the biggest D-Wade fan, but Harden is playing at a higher level, and he is young and will only get better with time. Harden has once again made the Houston Rockets a championship contender, and he is only just beginning.