He got snubbed from the All-Star team, yet that didn’t stop him from finishing the season strong. The Sixth Man of the Year award and earning a spot in U.S.A. Basketball only speaks to his character, work ethic and will to win. This past season showed just the cusp of his potential.
HoopSpeak.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss further expounded on what makes Harden’s game so unique: “James is 22 years old, and posted an equivalent win share mark to Kevin Durant in his most recent season. He was fourth in the league in true shooting percentage (66 percent), and he shot more often than the three players ahead of him (Chandler, Steve Novak, and Manu Ginobili). He maintains such efficiency with a deadly outside shot, perceptive court vision, and a propensity for drawing fouls.”
And disregarding the forgettable Finals performance, Harden displayed how indispensable he is throughout the Thunder’s playoff run, finishing third among all guards in postseason win share average and PER.
These are the facts. Because of his superstar teammates in Durant and Westbrook, he isn’t given the same respect and credit. The majority of the time when he does get recognition, it’s for his Rick Ross-esque beard. There’s much more to Harden than what’s initially perceived. The multiple layers and diverse skill set are what make him a special player.
Yes, Ibaka is the fourth wheel who doesn’t get much love either. While he led the NBA with 3.65 blocks per game, it’s still weird that he was named to the All-Defensive First Team. Defensive stats like shotblocking and steals can be misleading. He may be starting the Thunder fastbreak with a block, but he’s sure as Hell not finishing them. On shots between 3-9 feet of the cup, his percentage was just 42.7, per HoopData.com. Now, if Ibaka learns to score at the rim with the same ferocity he blocks shots with, he’ll be worth picking ahead of Harden.
“And, put frankly, here it is: there are a lot of James Harden-type players out there, albeit worse versions, but there aren’t a lot of Serge Ibakas,” wrote Murphy.
Really? So there doesn’t exist worse versions of Serge Ibaka, too?
C’mon, the league is littered with big men whose entire purpose is to block shots, rebound and defend. There are way more tall stiffs who can barely score than there are dynamic playmakers. The same attributes Ibaka brings are the same attributes that led Dikembe Mutombo and Marcus Camby to play for a combined 13 different teams. That should shed light on the real value lanky shotblockers have around the league.
The common comparison Harden gets is Ginobili, and while their sixth man role, uncanny scoring ability, left-handed and underappreciated nature holds true, there’s another cat whose game is a closer comparison: Brandon Roy. People forget how nice Roy was prior to his injuries. At the time, he was easily the third-best shooting guard. They both play under the same pace, have a high hoops I.Q., and are clutch. If Harden convinces Scott Brooks it’s his time to be the starting two, this link to Roy’s game will become more popular, and he’ll start to be referred to as (at least) the third-best shooting guard right now.
Nevertheless, Perkins, instead, should be the odd man out in OKC and not Ibaka or Harden. The $6 million they would be over the cap in year one, in spite of a potential Perkins amnesty, is immaterial. It’s rare that a small market team has a window as wide as the Thunder do to compete for titles. Clay Bennett and Presti must continue to keep the core of this team intact for the foreseeable future, and while the Ibaka extension doesn’t push Harden out the door completely, it makes his potential departure more likely. It would be an utter shame and loss to the sport if they let Harden walk a year from now. Because there ain’t no denying Harden is hoopin’ hard for whatever jersey he’ll don next.
Do you think the Thunder will keep their four best players together?
Follow Freddy on Twitter at @RealFreddyMack.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.