OAKLAND, Calif. &mdash On back-to-back nights over the weekend, James Harden faced Tyreke Evans in Sacramento and battled Stephen Curry at Golden State.
The second-year Thunder guard had to swallow his pride at the sight of both of them enjoying individual success.
This weekend's encounter could be much more difficult to deal with.
While Curry and Evans will be starring for the Sophomore squad in this year's Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend, Harden will be reduced to a spectator at the event, which happens to be in his hometown of Los Angeles. And Harden has the harsh reality of knowing he was picked ahead of both players, one spot before No. 4 overall pick Evans and four slots ahead of seventh overall pick Curry.
But Thunder fans shouldn't view Harden's exclusion in Friday night's event as a statement on the type of season he's having. While it's natural to make early judgments on young players and often evaluate them by pitting them against their peers from the same draft class, it's important to realize Harden is in a different place. Writing him off now would be unwise and unfair.
Harden hasn't been the most consistent performer in his 1 1/2 seasons in Oklahoma City. That much has been well-documented. But what barely gets mentioned is how Harden has accepted a secondary role and, more often than not, turned in satisfactory showings.
Harden has never complained. He's never asked out, and he's never been anything but supportive of his teammates and committed to maintaining a positive attitude.
“I've never seen him down,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Harden has been unheralded in that sense, overlooked for the mature manner in which he's handled what would be a difficult position for many top three picks.
It's become easy for some to look back on the 2009 draft and conclude the Thunder would be better off with a player like Curry or Evans. But the truth is Harden's ability to accept his role alongside All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is more valuable to the Thunder than the addition of another stat stuffer could have been.
And really, we don't know yet whether Harden is capable of scoring 20 points a night. But Harden has proved he can be a key contributor on a winning team. While Curry and Evans are putting up great numbers on two of the worst four teams in the Western Conference, Harden continues to chip in however and whenever possible as the Sixth Man on a 50-win team that is a top four seed in the conference.
Consider this for comparison purposes. Evans is averaging 18.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He's shooting 17 times a game and playing close to 38 minutes a night.
Curry is averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He's shooting 14 times a night and playing 34 minutes per game.
Harden is averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and two assists. He's shooting seven times a game and playing just 26 minutes a night.
Friday night might not be easy on Harden's ego. But he has nothing to be ashamed of.