Updated: May 12, 2022
Ranked at #31 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time https://www.djssportsshow.com/post/nba-75-greatest-players-of-all-time is one of the greatest scorers and offensive maestros of all time, who revolutionized the step-back with a beard that would make Wolverine proud, James Harden. Harden was born on August 26th, 1989, in Los Angeles, California to his father, James Sr., who was a former Navy seaman, and mother, Monja Willis, in the ghettos of Compton.
Harden would attend Artesia High School in nearby Lakewood where he would first try out for the boys basketball team. He stood a modest 6-foot-1, and struggled with breathing due to asthma. In Harden’s sophomore year he averaged 13.2 points per game to help them secure a 28-5 record.
Due to growing a few more inches to help him stand at 6-foot-5, Harden would elevate his game his junior year, averaging 18.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game to help lead Artesia to a 33-1 record and the California state title. After that season college coaches were starting to become impressed with his game instincts to help him become one of the top players in the nation.
Harden would have similar stats his senior year, posting 18.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game to lead Artesia to a second consecutive state title after going 33-2. He was named a McDonald’s All-American and Parade All-American.
Harden committed to playing his college ball for the Arizona State Sun Devils. As a freshman in 2007-08, he would show how special he could be, posting averages of 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game to help the Sun Devils to a 21-13, which tied for the fifth best record in the Pac-10 after they were projected to finish ninth during the preseason. They were a bubble team during selection Sunday, and went on to play in the NIT (National Invitational Tournament) where they defeated Alabama State and Southern Illinois before losing to the eventual national champions in the Florida Gators.
After a sensational freshman season, Harden would be named first-team All-Pac-10, and to the conference all-freshman team. Harden would also be named first-team All-District by the NABC and USBWA. After an amazing freshman season, much was expected of Harden in his sophomore campaign, appearing on many preseason All-American lists, and even appearing on college basketball’s issue of the Sports Illustrated Cover.
Harden would flash some of the elite scoring ability we have became accustomed to throughout his career when he scored a college career-high of 40 points on November 30th, 2008, against UTEP. He would finish his sophomore season with averages of 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists to help him be named to the Pac-10 all tournament team following the Sun Devils defeat to USC, led by the explosive guard, DeMar Derozan.
Harden would also be named the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and a consensus All-American, while also wrapping up his collegiate career as the third all-time leading scorer with a career average of 19 points per game. After two incredible seasons at Arizona State, Harden would go on to be selected third overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2009 NBA Draft, a draft that also featured guys such as Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, and Derozan.
Ultimately, Harden would become known as “The Beard” and one of the best offensive players in league history, arguably a top five shooting guard of all time. He started off his career as a sixth man for the Thunder, where he played with future hall of famers KD and Westbrook. Harden would win the Sixth Man of the year award in 2012. Sam Presti, for some odd reason, didn't want to give Harden a few more million so they traded him to Houston, where he would transform into the offensive force we know today.
Harden would do magical things in Houston, becoming a perennial All-Star (nine times), seven-time All-NBA Selection, leading the Rockets to the Conference Finals twice (2015, 2018), leading the league in scoring for three straight years (2018-2020), and the MVP in 2018. In those three years he led the league in scoring, he did so by averaging 30+ points per game in all three seasons (30.4, 36.1, 34.3). He also was a tremendous passer, leading the league in assists back in 2017.
Unfortunately, his less than stellar defense and playoff blunders over the years, such as Game 6 of the 2017 Western Semifinals against the Spurs where he shot two of ten from the field, finishing with just 10 points, along with six turnovers, basically absent from the game. Harden has disappeared a lot in big games in the postseason, which keeps him outside my top 30.
He exiled his way out of Houston last season and got traded to the Brooklyn Nets, teaming up with his friends KD and Kyrie Irving to form the most devastating collection of one-on-one scorers in league history. But that didn’t work out either, as Harden came into the season out of shape, Kyrie was out half the season and could only play road games, due to refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which frustrated Harden to force his way out for the second straight year. The Nets would trade Harden to the Philadelphia Sixers for the unpredictable Ben Simmons back in February. He now looks a half-step slower, and not as quick or twitchy as he did in Houston.
He will now look to add to his legacy by capturing a championship with the Sixers with superstar center, Joel Embiid.