The Beard had quite the growth spurt last season. Grew particularly big during the playoffs.
“It's actually gotten a little bit bigger,” James Harden said.
The Thunder guard was speaking of the bush of a beard sprouting from his chin, which was noticeably wilder at the start of training camp.
But really, he might as well have been talking about the man behind The Beard.
Harden has grown into a budding star for the Thunder, a versatile scorer, a deft distributor and a third offensive option that can take some pressure off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He's being talked about as this season's breakout player in the NBA.
The Beard is about to blow up.
“He's going to add another dimension to our team,” Durant said. “You saw it in the playoffs, how well he plays.
“I'm excited to see what he does this season.”
For good reason.
Harden left everyone wanting more. While he improved from his rookie season to last season — his scoring average went from 9.9 points to 12.2 points a game — his performance in the Western Conference Finals wowed everyone. He played some of the best ball of his life against Dallas. He averaged 14.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the five-game series.
His best game was definitely his last.
In Game 5, Harden scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He dished six assists and snagged five rebounds. He even went to the free-throw line a game-high 10 times.
He carved up the Mavs on the pick-and-roll. He created plays for himself and for his teammates. He stopped and popped.
There were times he looked like the best player in the place.
Remember, Dirk and KD were there, too.
“It definitely boosts my confidence a lot,” Harden said, “knowing that I can play at a high level.”
Now, it's time for Harden to take it to another level. He needs to be in the starting lineup.
With a shortened training camp and a truncated preseason, Thunder coach Scott Brooks might stick with his starting five from the end of last season. Mr. Consistency has never been one to rush to change.
But this is no rush. The Beard has proved he's ready for more face time.
Take at that playoff series against the Mavs for example. They threw everyone and everything defensively at Durant and Westbrook.
Can't blame them for that.
But when the Mavs did, the Thunder went right to Harden. He was able to come in and break down that defense. He would drive to the basket. He would nail a jumper. He has so many bullets in his arsenal that he forced Dallas to adjust.
That's the kind of third option that's critical not only in the playoffs but also in the regular season. The Thunder has been known to have offensive droughts in the first quarter. Third quarter, too.
Put Harden in the starting rotation, and the starting unit would immediately have another playmaker and shooter.
Harden is ready for the responsibility.
“Just do what I've been doing that's gotten me to this point,” he said of his approach this season. “Taking open shots. Being a playmaker. Just going out there and being aggressive.”
Harden is set for another growth spurt.
Ditto for The Beard.