His lungs weren’t ready for more grueling workouts. His mind wasn’t prepared for a faster pace. Even more humbling was James Harden’s first game — at Arizona State. "We lost by 30,” said Harden, inflating the actual final margin against Illinois by seven points. "I hadn’t lost like that in a long time. "I was just completely lost.” Harden is confident his NBA career won’t get off to a similar start.This adjustment, he said, has been smoother. "I’ve matured a lot more,” said Harden, the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft and the Pac-10 Player of the Year last season as a sophomore. But will that maturity produce an immediate impact in Oklahoma City? "My coaches and teammates have great confidence in me and have given me the opportunity to just go out there and play basketball,” he said. Projected as the backup shooting guard, Harden isn’t the fastest or strongest player. He simply knows how to make a play. His sharp perimeter shooting is expected to provide a boost to a team that shot 35 percent from 3-point range. But for as sharp as Harden’s mind and shooting is, he’s discovering new details regarding spacing and angles. He’s learning basics of man-to-man defense — Arizona played zones. He’s trying to accelerate his learning curve by asking lots of questions. "I don’t know how much he’s going to play,” teammate Jeff Green said. "But however long he’s in he has to go out there and give it his all. That’s going to be tough for a first-year guy. But I think he’s capable of it.”
To contribute right away?Ready...Beyond the skills and savvy, James Harden’s 3-point range (35 percent last season at Arizona State) should earn him ample minutes. .. or not:The questions about Harden’s defensive abilities leading up to the NBA Draft have proven to be concerns. He’s been two steps slow at times and was plagued throughout the preseason with missed assignments. It led to a high foul rate and big scoring nights for his opponents. Harden must also adjust to transitioning from being the go-to guy in college to a spot-up shooter.