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Critical components that have kept Thunder's James Harden a sixth man

BY DARNELL MAYBERRY Published: January 16, 2012

Five factors that have kept James Harden coming off the bench.

HE WAS A ROOKIE: Harden simply was not ready to start from the outset of his career despite being the third overall pick. He was a poor defender and seemed to lack confidence in what he was capable of. Harden needed to get stronger and improve his court awareness. Slowly but surely, Harden has improved across the board.

HE WAS PASSIVE: Even when Thunder coach Scott Brooks gave Harden the green light throughout last season, he was hesitant to put his foot on the gas. Harden lacked the needed aggressiveness to inspire trust or warrant major minutes, let alone a starting role.

CHEMISTRY CONCERNS: Harden never could be himself while playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Sandwiched between the two All-Stars, Harden historically was reduced to being a spot-up shooter. Even today, as a much more aggressive player, Harden is less effective with Durant and Westbrook than he is when they're not on the court.

THE LOCKOUT EFFECT: There is reason to believe that Brooks would have pulled the trigger on starting Harden this season. But when the NBA lockout lingered, cutting into training camp time and slashing preseason schedules, it destroyed valuable time the Thunder needed to implement Harden into the first unit. As a result, the Thunder was all but forced to stick with its chemistry and continuity from last season.

SUCCESS: It's working. There is no better reason than success to stick with something. Harden is now providing instant scoring and playmaking off the bench and is leading all reserves in scoring at 17.4 points per game. By playing with the second unit, Harden can feel out the game and check in knowing exactly what he needs to do to provide a spark.


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