OKC Thunder: James Harden transforms into league's best sixth man

When James Harden first joined the Thunder, he says he didn't understand his reserve role. But when he finally figured it out, he transformed into the league's top sixth man.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 10, 2012

James Harden didn't get it.

When he joined the Oklahoma City Thunder three years ago, he thought he was going to be ‘The Man.” He thought he would score both a bunch of points and playing time.

“Being drafted with the third overall pick, most guys would come in and think that they're going to be a starter on any team,” Harden said.

Harden was no different. But, for him, things didn't start that way and still haven't reached that point.

“At first, as a rookie, I didn't get it,” Harden said. “I just thought I was going to go in there and score and just do all the things that every other player thought.”

When he finally figured it all out, Harden transformed into the league's best player in a reserve role.

The third-year shooting guard out of Arizona State on Thursday was officially announced as the winner of the 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year award. As expected, Harden ran away with the honor, receiving 584 points out of a possible 595 points, including 115 first-place votes out of 119 from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.

Philadelphia guard Lou Williams finished second, and Dallas guard Jason Terry came in third.

Harden became the first recipient of the award in Thunder/Sonics history and, at 22, the second-youngest winner behind Ben Gordon.

“In our eyes, James has won an award for far more than simply being a productive player,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. “The Sixth Man of the Year award is not only an award for on-court production that enables team success, but above all else it acknowledges sacrifice and commitment to the greater good of the team. It's special and fitting to have James recognized for this award because it really does symbolize so many of the attributes that we want the Thunder to be known for for many years to come.”

Harden now goes down in history as the player who first established that part of the franchise's culture.

This season, Harden averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists, all career-highs, while helping to lead the Thunder to a 47-19 record and its second consecutive Northwest Division title. In a win at Phoenix on April 18, Harden came off the bench to score a career-high 40 points in 36 minutes.

It was a year that illustrated how Harden has gotten better in each season.

To those who work closest with Harden, his success doesn't come as a surprise. At a news conference Thursday to formally introduce Harden as the Sixth Man of the Year, Presti told a story of how Harden's work ethic was evident from early in the draft process.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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