While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are bigger names on the Oklahoma City roster, it is becoming very evident in these NBA playoffs not only how valuable, but how good former Sun Devil James Harden is. In Thurday night's Game 2 victory over the Mavericks, Harden had 23 points and seven rebounds, including a crucial three-pointer with 7:37 left to give the Thunder a 91-87 lead and a shot-clock beating long jumper to put them up 10 with 3:15 left.
Harden left Arizona State after just two years, but he left an impression. He was the Pac-10 player of the year, a two-time first-team All-Pac 10 selection and led the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament in his second season. He went 5-0 vs Arizona and was the first consensus 1st-team All-American in the school's history.
That the Sun Devils got a second year out of Harden was a good thing, he could have bolted after his first-season when he was the youngest player in the league and been a first-round selection. Instead he stayed two years and entered the 2009 draft where he was selected third by Oklahoma City right after Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet.
The basketball landscape here is dominated by the University of Arizona. The Wildcats currently have the most players in the NBA of any program in college basketball. So it's nice to see the Devils getting their due because of Harden.
He has excelled in Oklahoma City and is on the verge of giving the Thunder a Big 3 of their own (Durant, Westbrook, Harden) once they decide to put him in the starting lineup which is inevitable. Harden is versatile. He led the team in rebounds, assists and steals last night and only Durant, who scored 24, had more points.
In his first season in Oklahoma City, Harden averaged 10 points and 3.2 rebounds in 23 minutes. This year he averaged 12.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.7 minutes. But he has taken on a much bigger role since the trade that sent Jeff Green to Boston and his emergence in the playoffs has been crucial for a young Thunder team.
Harden has had games of 18 points and 5 rebounds vs Memphis and put in games of 21 points; 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists; 14 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and 17 points vs Memphis. And now this vs Dallas.
Harden is a low maintenance guy. He is not complaining about his role off the bench. He knows his time is coming, he has only been in the league for two years. Even at Arizona State Harden, for being a superstar, was low maintenance. ASU never had issues of agents hanging around or of Harden not going to class. He was business like all the time, approachable, likeable. He was not a follower, but a leader. Even now in the NBA Harden has no tattoos. He just isn't the type of kid to do what everyone else is doing. He is going to have a big payday in the NBA because he is earning it.
He is going to go down along with Alton Lister, Fat Lever and Byron Scott as one of the most successful Sun Devil basketball players of all-time. And if you are one of those people who complain about attendance here in Arizona but never saw James Harden play at ASU, than shame on you. Because Harden was always worth the price of admission.