I've always been a big fan of James Harden's game. Ideal size for a shooting guard. Better athlete than people give him credit for. Beautiful lefty stroke from behind the arc. That being said, when the Thunder were awarded the 3rd overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft, I knew that Harden would be a great player for us. That being said though, somewhere along the line I got talked into the Ricky Rubio/Stephen Curry hype. "Harden is the safe pick" people would say "But Rubio and Curry could put the Thunder over the top" By the time the draft rolled around, they were all I wanted.
I think I was the only Thunder fan who attended the NBA Draft last year. The only one I saw at least. That put a bit of a burden on my shoulders: I would be New York City's first impression of how the Thunder fans liked their pick. I knew I was going to be ecstatic if we took Rubio or Curry. I knew I was gonna let out a few expletives if we took Thabeet. That was it. I didn't know how I'd feel if we took Harden, but when his name was eventually called, my subconscious took over, and I found myself inexplicably giving a standing ovation. After watching the way Harden has played this year, I think I can safely say that ovation was the first of many.
Despite posting pedestrian rookie averages of 9.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 2.5 APG, Harden has shown the occasional flashes of brilliance that make him both a future stalwart of our nucleus, as well as one of the most feared bench players in the NBA. He scored 24 in a blowout loss to Orlando. He scored 25 in the next game against Washington. He had 15 on national TV against Milwaukee. All of those performances made it very clear that we had ourselves a significant upgrade from Damien Wilkins in our reserve wing player role. But last night was his most impressive performance of the year. Fitting it came against Stephen Curry, the guy I talked myself into wanting us to draft over him.
Against the Warriors last night, Harden exploded out of his shell for a career high 26 points, a career high 9 rebounds, and his 3rd highest assist total with 5 dimes. More importantly though, Harden showed a confidence and agressiveness that he sometimes lacks when he defers to more experienced teammates. Kevin Durant noticed Harden's assertiveness last night. "He was just being agressive. That's one thing I always tell him. Sometimes he's a little too passive when he has opportunities to drive or score. He's getting used to it, he's getting more comfortable and he did a great job for us tonight." If Harden keeps up this agressiveness going to the basket (He got to the foul line 14 times last night), it could really open up a dangerous compliment to his growing confidence behind the NBA arc, and make him one of the more versatile offensive weapons in the conference.
Steph Curry had a pretty nice game last night also. He started, and socred 22 points on an impressive 9-14 day from the field. He's still the kind of explosive weapon that I think the Thunder could use. But after what I've seen this season, there's no way in hell I'd give up James Harden to get him. Way to go Sam Presti.