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James Harden Reflects On Growth As A Player

James Harden talks about his journey from sixth man with the Thunder to superstar with the Rockets.

John Zitzler

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It wasn’t long ago that James Harden was a key member of an up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder team. He, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook formed one of the most dynamic offensive trios in the league. While Harden was used primarily in a sixth man role, he was already beginning to develop into a terrific scorer. It was in his second season, during the 2011 playoffs when we first started to see glimpses of the player Harden would become. During the Thunder’s playoff run that year, he was second on the team in assists per game (3.6) and third in scoring (13). He was being asked to take on a bigger role and was thriving.

“My second year I got more comfortable with the ball, had the ball a lot in the playoffs.” Harden said. “That’s when that gave me that confidence to go out there and really handle it, take control of the game. My third year in OKC, I was handling the ball a lot, especially in the playoffs – the Western Conference Finals and the Finals.”

The confidence he gained from his strong postseason play was evident in his third year, which would turn out to be his final season with the Thunder. While still coming off the bench, Harden was playing over 30 minutes a game while averaging 16.8 points and shooting 49.1 percent from the field. He was making tremendous strides as player, playing well enough to win the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011-12.

Following the 2011-12 season, Harden had one year remaining on his contract before becoming a restricted free agent. Although the Thunder were very serious about re-signing Harden to a new deal, they were limited in what they could offer him after already locking up Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to long-term deals. Harden also wanted an increased role, asking to be a starter rather than coming off of the bench. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement, leaving the Thunder in a precarious position. General manager Sam Presti decided the best course of action was to trade Harden.

“We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved,” Presti said in a statement per ESPN.com. “Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers.”

On October 28, 2012, Harden would be traded to the Houston Rockets in a move that would significantly change the landscape of the Western Conference and drastically change his career. For his first time as a pro, Harden was the go-to guy. No longer would he have Durant to bail him out on the wing or Westbrook by his side in the backcourt. It didn’t take long for Harden to prove he was ready for the spotlight. In his first game with the Rockets, Harden went off for 37 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. He followed that performance with a 45-point effort on just 19 shots in his second game. It was immediately clear that Harden absolutely had the chops to play a lead role.

Now in his third year with the Rockets, at just 25 years old, Harden has grown into one of the top players in the league. He has become the heart and soul of the team and his production echos that. Harden is not only averaging a league-best 27.4 points per game, he also leads the Rockets in assists at 6.8 – averaging more than double than the next highest Rocket Patrick Beverley. Scoring isn’t the only category where Harden finds himself as a league leader, as his win share total of 11.1 is a full 1.1 points higher than the two players tied for second place, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry. Of course, offense has never been the issue with Harden. He has often been criticized for his uninspired play on the defensive end. While he won’t be confused with Tony Allen anytime soon, he has really worked hard to improve that aspect of his game, putting up a career best defensive rating of 102 this season. Harden is truly having a career-year and his numbers have improved significantly, so it’s no surprise to see Harden garnering serious consideration for the MVP award. However, that’s not his focus.

“You know what, I don’t really worry about stuff like that.” Harden said of the MVP race. “I worry about trying to win games and trying to get my team prepared for the playoffs because that’s what it’s about, putting ourselves in a position to make a run and do something big in these playoffs.”

Behind the play Harden and the team’s surprisingly stingy defense, the Rockets are sitting 36-17 and in fourth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. They have continued to win even in the absence of star big man Dwight Howard, and a lot of credit for that goes to Harden. When asked how the team has managed to stay afloat with their second-best player, Harden says it’s because of “the will.”

“Dwight brings so much to our team, we’re going to miss him and hopefully he gets back soon, but I just tell guys like Joey Dorsey and Josh Smith, all the bigs, that you guys are going to have a lot of opportunities,” Harden said. “There are a lot of opportunities to play a lot of minutes and we’re going to need you, so you prepare mentally and physically to go out there and contribute. And they’ve done a great job.”

While Dorsey, Smith and Donatas Motiejunas have all stepped up, it’s been head coach Kevin Mchale who has helped keep the team from getting too high or too low throughout the long NBA season.

“He’s won championships, he’s played in the league, so he knows the ins and outs and he knows the grind.” Harden said of McHale. “For me, we have that relationship where we can talk and he helps me all the time, making sure I take care of my body, and on the court making sure that I see a play that I haven’t seen or something.”

Harden will get a bit of a break from the grind this weekend as he makes his third straight All-Star appearance. It’s a chance for Harden to spend some time with his former Thunder teammates, particularly Durant, whom he remains close with and credits with helping him grow into the player he is today.

“That’s my right hand man,” Harden said of Durant. “I’ve learned so much from him, he’s going through a tough time right now, battling all these injuries, but he’s a strong-minded person; he’s going to battle through it, fight through it. I just try to send him text messages here and there to give him motivation and courage, so when he gets back on the court he’ll be 100 percent. Obviously [then] he gets back on the court and scores 40 points and only misses five shots – that’s really unheard of.”

The All-Star break has given Harden the chance to take a step back and reflect on just how far he has come as a player since being chosen third overall by the Thunder in 2009. Even after he developed into an elite sixth man, it would have been hard to predict his meteoric rise with the Rockets. Though when you here Harden talk, the belief he has in himself, combined with his work ethic, it’s not hard to why to see why has become a star since landing in Houston. While his demeanor may rub some the wrong way, Harden isn’t afraid to proclaim himself as the best player in the league. And with the way he has played this year, he may not be wrong.

“It’s not even being cocky, it’s about having confidence in myself,” Harden said. “I said it two years ago or last year, I can’t remember; they were talking about, ‘Oh he’s crazy.’ But I got confidence in myself. I go out there and put the work in every single day. It is what it is.”

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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Report: NBA All-Star Game Starters Announced

Basketball Insiders

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LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and rising second-year stars Luka Doncic and Trae Young headline the star-studded group of present and future superstars who make up the starters for the 69th All-Star Game.

James, the catalyst for the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, will captain the Western Conference team for the second straight season. Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ star and reigning Kia MVP, captains the Eastern Conference team for a second straight season as well.

A fresh face in the starters’ mix this season is Dallas wunderkind Luka Doncic, who joins Houston’s James Harden as the two starters in the backcourt. Clippers forward and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Lakers forward Anthony Davis round out the All-L.A. frontcourt.

Boston’s Kemba Walker is joined by Atlanta’s Trae Young in the East backcourt. Like Doncic, Young is a first-time All-Star and starter in just his second NBA season. Antetokounmpo will be flanked by Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, another first time All-Star and starter, in the East frontcourt.

Source: NBA

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Adam Silver Believes Next Year’s ASG Draft Will be Televised

Basketball Insiders

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he was pleased with the new format for the league’s All-Star Game and believed that next year’s player draft would be televised.

“I thought it was incredible. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of the players,” Silver told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne following a 148-145 win for Team LeBron over Team Stephen at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Source: ESPN

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2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap

Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.

Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.

NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.

Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.

The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.

LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.

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