While the amount of media attention he got may not have matched the likes of Kevin Love
or O.J. Mayo
last season, James Harden
sure made a comparable first-year resume, becoming Arizona States go-to player and leading scorer practically as soon as the season started, and earning All-Pac-10 First Team honors for it. Harden didnt just score 17.8 points per game; he did it very efficiently, shooting 53% from the field and 41% from three, while putting up a very strong 63% TS%.
Someone we covered twice during the 2007-08 season, there really isnt much new to say about Harden since we last spoke of him in January. The biggest thing to take note of is how his level of play didnt fall off against conference competition, as he showed little trouble consistently performing against the tougher foes night in and night out. We also noticed at the adidas Nations tournament in Dallas that he appears to have improved his physique over the summer, standing a solid 6-5 with a very sturdy and now slimmer frame.
As has been mentioned before, not being the greatest athlete in the world, Hardens exceptional play level is due mostly to his fundamentals and excellent know-how on the court. Not a flashy ball-handler, Harden is very controlled with the ball, and rarely will use many highly advanced moves other than his effective crossover.
Thats not to say hes a straight-line dribbler at all, though, as he constantly uses excellent craftiness to adjust with the ball in the lane, utilizing jump stops, stop-and-pivot moves, misdirection steps, and hesitation dribbles to change directions in the lane, getting his defender off balance and weaving his way to high percentage shot attempts. Hes definitely capable of making more adjustments when using his dominant left dribble, but still does a good job on right-handed drives.
Around the basket, Hardens level of craftiness continues to impress, as he goes to a variety of floaters, finger rolls, and lay-ups to get the job done, making good use of the openings the defense provides for him. Its very impressive hes able to finish with such effectiveness around the rim despite rarely using his right hand or using explosive strength to score with power.
As a jump shooter, Harden is very effective spotting up, with range to the NBA three-point line, but his effectiveness falls off when pulling up, as he lacks a certain degree of fluidity or comfort when transitioning from dribble to shot with a defender on him. He has a tendency to fade away on these pull-up shots from deep, and his accuracy is not very good when pulling up from mid-range. Improving this ripple of his game, while making him more of a threat from the mid-range, would make him that much more dangerous a player.
For all his scoring prowess, and partially due to the system he plays in, its easy to overlook his phenomenal passing game. He clearly excels there as well, showing the same terrific understanding of the game in this area and frequently creating good shot attempts for teammates. Not flashy in this segment of his game either, Harden does most of his damage on quick, simple drive-and-kicks or good post entry/pick-and-roll passes.
His excellent fundamentals and basketball IQ really stand out when you consider that he was one of the youngest players in all of college basketball last season, having only turned 19 a month ago. In Dallas at the adidas Nations tournament, he arrived a day later than most but wasted no time at all asserting his will against anyone he matched up with, largely with his ability to create both for himself and especially for others.
Its tough to get a great feel for Harden on the defensive end, as he is rarely put in isolation situations in ASUs zone defense, but on the few we saw over the course of the year, his lateral quickness seemed adequate, as did his reflexes and instincts. As a team defender, Harden is very strong, as he uses his length and hands to constantly disrupt the opposing teams offense, making 2.1 steals per game and contesting many outside shots.
With the 2009 draft class not looking very deep in elite talent, Harden looks like hes going to be in a great situation come June, as if he picks up where he left off as a freshman, and makes a few improvements to his game, he could easily see himself in discussions for the lottery. Hes not your typical lottery shooting guard prospect due to his just adequate athleticism and a style that doesnt net him nearly any highlight reel plays, but with his build, length, and excellent feel for the game, if he can improve on last seasons performance, hell definitely be someone scouts and executives will be talking about.