Thunder's James Harden a good fit for sixth-man role

BY DARNELL MAYBERRY, Staff Writer, dmayberry@opubco.com Published: January 16, 2012
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James Harden credits his past failures for his present day success.

The third-year guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder says he wouldn't be excelling in his current role as the team's sixth man if it had not been for the bumps and bruises he took throughout his first two seasons.

“All the things leading up to it,” Harden explained when asked what prepared him. “All the bad games.”

Now, Harden will walk into the birthplace of the sixth man Monday night when the Thunder takes on Boston at TD Garden as one of the game's next great spark plugs. He'll carry with him an NBA reserve-leading 17.4-point scoring average and a 46.6 percent shooting clip. Both are career bests that would make every great sixth man from Bobby Jones to Bobby Jackson beam with pride.

“With our situation with James, it's a tremendous asset to have James come off the bench and provide us instant playmaking,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's able to see the game and feel out what the game needs and provide that spark.”

Unbeknownst to him — and perhaps the vast majority of fans — Harden has been grooming for his current role since being selected third overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.

As a rookie, Harden showed flashes of his future impact but struggled with inconsistency. Midway through his second season, it had become clear that Harden was capable of starting. But by then, the Thunder had established a nice rhythm and chemistry with its first and second units.

With Harden anchoring the B Team, though, he was granted freedom that rarely came with the starters; especially when offensive oriented players Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic were still around last season. Harden then began to blossom. He was able to take charge and adapt to different defenses. He could study the first six to seven minutes of games and dissect exactly how he needed to make an impact once he checked in.

The sixth man role also helped prompt Harden to be more aggressive, something Brooks essentially had to beg Harden to do throughout his first 1 1/2 seasons.

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