DALLAS — James Harden is gradually growing into the type of player every coach dreams of having.
One who is consistent.
“That's hard, especially for a young guy,” said Harden. “But it's something I'm working hard to do.”
Harden, the Thunder's second-year shooting guard, has been doing a pretty good job lately.
Entering tonight's game at Dallas, Harden has scored in double digits in each of the past 12 games. That streak might be modest for many. But for Harden, it's a career-best.
“He's been real aggressive scoring the basketball,” said Thunder guard Eric Maynor. “And we need that out of him. He's confident. He's been playing good. He's just got to keep it up.”
Harden had a horrific start to his sophomore season. In 15 November games, Harden averaged 8.6 points on 39.6 percent shooting. His body language was worse than his body of work. Harden looked lost, like a rookie all over again. His hesitation to pull the trigger on jump shots, his indecision in initiating offensive sets and his consistent inconsistency at finishing plays at the rim characterized his lack of control.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks repeatedly needed to nudge Harden to shoot.
Not any more.
Harden has scored at least 10 points in 17 of his past 20 games. In the season's first 16 games, Harden had only five games in which he scored in double figures.
“Just finding different spots to be aggressive and score,” Harden explained.
Harden averaged 8.4 shots attempts in 15 December games. It put him just shy of his career-best 8.6 attempts from December 2009. But Harden connected on just 35.7 percent of his attempts that December. This year, Harden averaged 13.9 points on 46.7-percent shooting in December, his highest scoring average in any month.
And Harden has started January attempting nine shots per game in the Thunder's first two contests, making 55.6 percent of those attempts while averaging 14.5 points.
“He's been very consistent,” Brooks said. “This is not the final improvement that James is going to have…But he's being a good, consistent basketball player right now.”
Harden's defense and inconsistency were the two biggest road blocks preventing him from cracking the starting lineup. And even though Brooks has yet to budge on tinkering with his first five, Harden is doing his best to give his coach more to think about.
Even Harden's defensive skills are improving. While he still struggles with a few mental lapses, Harden has improved as a man defender and shows flashes of quick hands that help him come up with steals and the occasional blocked shot. At Memphis on Tuesday, Harden single-handedly forced the Grizzlies into a shot-clock violation when, on the same possession, he hounded Tony Allen and Sam Young so much they both failed to get off a shot.
Harden credits extra time spent working out before practices and shootarounds as the key to his turnaround.
“Just trying to build up good, positive habits so I can be consistent night in and night out,” Harden said. “I'm expecting something good out of it. Even if I don't have a good night shooting, I'm just trying to contribute in other ways to the game.”