Oklahoma City Thunder preview: 'The Beard' James Harden blows up

BY JENNI CARLSON Published: December 18, 2011

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.

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