“He's got a chance to fight for it,” Odom said of Harden. “He's one of the best bench players in the league. He's definitely a game-changer… He's got a lot of game.”
Odom stressed the importance of maintaining confidence. It's something that can easily waver, Odom said, when a player is accustomed to being a team's starter, if not its star, and then must come off the bench.
“Just keep that confidence in knowing that you always belong in the game,” Odom said. “In this league, it's about who finishes the game, and he's usually in there toward the end.”
Carlisle called players who can effectively fulfill the sixth man role “special.”
So far, Harden has played with the aggressiveness that was erratic in his first two seasons but likely will now be needed to compete for the Sixth Man Award. Harden now shoots without hesitation and stays in attack mode every second he's on the court.
“Playing with the second unit, he's our KD,” Mohammed said. “So if he just does what he does, everything else will take care of itself. It's not something where he needs to concentrate on scoring or one thing specifically. Just playing the way he plays it'll happen.”
Harden has said he expects several different combinations to be used throughout games this year, and Brooks sounded as if there is a possibility of Harden joining the starting five at some point down the line.
“Last year, we had a great (sixth man). James was really good,” Brooks said. “And he came in and really improved from year one to year two. And even in the second year, each month he got better. I don't know who's going to fill that role this year, or it might be the same guy.”
Whatever role Harden is thrust into, he'll try to have the same impact. After two seasons, he now knows the best way he can contribute is by staying aggressive, taking open shots and, most importantly, making any play necessary to help his team win.
“You don't get a Sixth Man Award or any other accolade for losing,” Harden said. “So as long as we're winning and I continue to play well then everything should fall in place.”