It’s great to see James Harden exploding onto the national scene and coming out from under the shadow of the bigger names playing ball in OKC. First it was Durant making a huge otherworldly jump in production in his second season, then Westbrook last season answered most questions about whether he was a “real” point guard. We are seeing great things from Serge Ibaka, but it’s big game James that is really putting it all together now.
Since Jeff Green was traded the minutes have opened up for James and he has responded. So far for the month of March (7 games) James is rolling with 31 mpg, 51.2% FG, 35.3 % 3fg, 93.8% FT, 3 rebs, 3 assists, almost 2 steals and 18.3 points per game. It’s incredible production and I for one am not surprised.
If you were a frequent viewer of the Daily Thunder site in 2009 just before draft time, James Harden was the clear choice for the Thunder. Not because I say so, but truly I think it was the consensus among MOST of the commenters and contributors here. Let me take you back and show you why.
In our fateful 2008-2009–23 win season we started with Kevin Durant as our Shooting Guard, playing out of position for P.J. Carlesimo. We all know how that ended. Coach Brooks came in at game 14 and immediately put Durant at Small Forward where he belonged, but then needed a Shooting Guard. Surveying the landscape he had slim pickings and went with Damien Wilkins. Need I say more? No, I don’t think so. Brooks continued to tinker with the lineup (he tried to be judicious and give several players a shot, guys like Johan Petro, Chris Wilcox, Earl Watson, Robert Swift etc.) until game 27 when he inserted Desmond Mason into the starting lineup alongside Russell Westbrook the rookie. The team began to suddenly get competitive. It was still losing, but getting very close to breaking through. Finally the team began to gel and on New Years Eve the team beat Golden State by seven. I remember that game very clearly and thought, “wow, this team aint half bad sometimes”.
That New Years eve game seemed to be some sort of a fulcrum, or high water mark because the team began to win games afterward. It was 3-29 before that game, but won 20 of it’s last 49 games after. So there was progress. But back to the Shooting Guard issue. Desmond Mason was the starting Shooting Guard and he wasn’t much of a shooter-a gritty defensive workhorse, but not a shooter. There was also Wilkins on the roster who thought he was a shooter (I once heard Chris Mullin say there are “shot makers and shot takers in the NBA”–guess which one Wilkins was?), and also rookie Kyle Weaver. By late January Mason had blown out his knee and Weaver was in the starting lineup. I love Kyle, but he’s more of a end of the bencher than a starter. In February Sam Presti picked up Thabo Sefolosha (and shipped out Wilkins and Chucky Atkins and Petro). As you know, Thabo is the starter today, but also isn’t much of a shooter or scorer.
I say all this to say that that Thunder team was dreadful at shooting the three. In fact it was pretty awful at offense in general; but especially the three. Dead last in the association in 3pt attempts and makes. In fact, the only NBA team that didn’t attempt at least 1000 threes in the season was our Thunder. We needed some shot makers in the lineup big time.
So surveying the draft after that season where we fortuitously had the fourth pick, I think most here knew that with Jeff Green, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook entrenched, the next place to go for shooting was Shooting guard. Blake Griffin was the prize of the draft but out of our reach. I don’t know anybody who wanted us to waste a high pick on Hasheem Thabeet, so forget that one. that left the rest of the group of players to us. Some wanted us to go Point Guard and get Ricky Rubio and move Russell over to the 2; there was a loud hue and cry about it, but Russell made a pretty clear statement before the draft that HE WAS THE POINT GUARD. So really it came down to Harden, Steph Curry and Tyreke Evans, with a minor bit of acknowledgement to Gerald Henderson and Demar Derozan.
Keep in mind also that Russell was our new Point guard who had just led the entire league in turnovers; so a steady hand next to him isn’t a bad thing. That is actually a great point drafting Steph or Tyreke as well, since they both played some Point in college, but Harden fit that bill as well since he ran the pick and roll so well in College and was a primary ball handler. The team needed a three point shooter, a player who could defend the SG position (against the Kobe’s and Ray Allen’s), a scorer and a player who could handle the rock.
Harden was the clear choice.
Tyreke Evans didn’t hit the three in College, and he doesn’t hit it now. Steph Curry I think is unlikely to ever be even an average defender against opposing NBA Shooting Guards. James on the other hand has proven to be able to meet all the criteria we needed then and still need now. At the time it was a big question mark about Harden’s defense since Arizona State played exclusive zone, but Harden had a phenomenal showing at the draft combine with his athleticism and private workouts must’ve sealed the deal with Presti.
I think many were lamenting that the Thunder didn’t pick Tyreke after his impressive rookie season, or with Curry after some of his huge games and great shooting, but Harden was the correct pick, and this last body of evidence on the court is just the proof.