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Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden running for Sixth Man of the Year

JAMES HARDEN — If he's not on the verge of breaking into the Oklahoma City Thunder's starting lineup, James Harden could be in position for another distinction that comes with a trophy.
By DARNELL MAYBERRY, Staff Writer, Published: December 23, 2011

James Harden has his eyes on the prize.

If he's asked to again accept the role of being the Oklahoma City Thunder's sixth man, he wants to be the best one he can be.

In other words, Harden wants to be the best one in the league — and he wants the hardware that accompanies the honor of the league's Sixth Man Award.

“That's definitely one of my goals,” Harden said.

Harden finished last season as one NBA's best reserves. He averaged 15.8 points on 46.5 percent shooting after the All-Star break. When Harden showed he was virtually unstoppable in the Western Conference Finals, serving as the ideal buffer between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, many felt Harden had earned a promotion into the starting lineup.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks, however, appears comfortable in keeping Harden coming off the bench. Brooks kept last year's season-ending starting lineup intact for the team's two preseason games, and he has yet to give any indication that he will make a change this season.

But under league rules, a player is eligible for the Sixth Man Award simply if he comes off the bench in more games than he starts. So in a shortened 66-game season, Harden must be a sub in at least 34 games.

“If that's his role this year, he should be in that race,” said reserve center Nazr Mohammed. “There's no reason why he shouldn't be Sixth Man of the Year.”

Veteran players, coaches and past winners of the award identified five traits a player needs in order to be a great sixth man. In no particular order, they include accepting the role, willingly sacrificing minutes and scoring opportunities, fitting with any group on the floor, consistently entering the game hot and always maintaining confidence.

“It's guys that can gear their mindset around the beginning of their game being six or seven or eight minutes into it,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “And then being able to jump in there and just play the game. If a shot comes right away, you got to be ready to take it. But play within the system otherwise. And it's not an easy thing. A lot of guys convince themselves that they can't be as effective coming off the bench.”

Carlisle now has two of the league's best reserves in Lamar Odom and Jason Terry. Odom took home the Sixth Man Award last season, while Terry earned it in 2008-09. Now, their presence on the same team only boosts Harden's chances of winning the award this year.

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