James Harden Q + A
How to rock a clean beard. Undershirts. And much more.
by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
GM Sam Presti has been frequently praised for the great work he’s done in building the Oklahoma City Thunder. Rarely has he received any criticism for any of the moves he’s made in putting together what could be the most exciting team in the NBA. It’s still a bit early, but some basketball observers wonder about his selection of James Harden at the No. 3 pick in the 2009 Draft.
The play of Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry have some questioning whether or not the Thunder would have been better off if they passed on Harden. Clearly, the emergence of Russell Westbrook at point guard was a major factor in their selection. His promise has the Thunder believing they are set at PG for years to come. Curry is a tougher call—he can play both guard positions and is a likely fit in any system.
That being said, OKC got a damn good player in Harden. They believe he was the right choice for a number of reasons. First off, he accepts his role as a sub. Before games, it’s Harden who goes around to the Thunder starters, trying to pump them up with words of encouragement. During games, he is the first player off the bench to greet his teammates. These are instances that will never show up in a box score but for a young team like the Thunder, they’re extremely important. He works hard on the defensive end and is much more athletic than I initially thought. On the offensive end, he’s always in attack mode and can disrupt defenses with his jumper or drives to the basket.
I recently asked Kevin Durant if Harden was a good pick for the Thunder. “I think he was,” he says. “Those other guys are more suited to have the ball in their hands all the time—they’re point guards. James is the perfect guy because he can play different roles. He’s a guy who can come off the bench and score a lot or can start and score a lot for us. We got the perfect guy. A versatile guy who can do a lot on the floor: pass the basketball, score, shoot it and get to the rim. Everything. I’m glad we picked him. He’s a great teammate and someone you love to have around your locker room. Whatever we have asked of him, he has done.”
This season, the 6-5 Harden—out for the next two weeks after tweaking his hamstring—has played about 23 mpg, posting averages of 10 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
SLAM: Do you feel like you’ve gotten better with each game this season?
James Harden: Oh yeah, definitely. Especially playing with these guys, it makes the game so much easier. We’re all young. We push the ball and have fun out there. Other guys can’t really do that.
SLAM: What is your role on this team as far as what you need to bring on a nightly basis?
JH: Going in there with the second unit and just competing. Getting after it on the defensive end and scoring the ball. That second unit comes in and Kevin goes out and Russell goes out, means I have to be more aggressive with the ball. My teammates do a great job of finding me.
SLAM: You’ve started your whole life and I’m sure its been hard for you not to start this year. How has the transition been?
JH: I thought it was going to be more difficult. It’s easy. I’m a team player. If coming off the bench is best for our team then that’s what we have to do. I think Thabo’s done a great job especially on the defensive end. When I come in I need to bring that intensity.
SLAM: I noticed that every time you get the ball you’re in triple threat position immediately, being aggressive.
JH: I’m a scorer. I got to go out there and not only score the ball, but find other teammates. Be aggressive. Be a playmaker. Our coaches stress that a lot so that’s what I have to be.
SLAM: I always loved the baggy undershirt you wore at ASU. Did anyone inspire you to rock that?
JH: [Laughs] No I just did it the first game and it stuck with me during my two years there. I loved it. It was the style.
SLAM: If the NBA allowed it, would you still wear it?
JH: I would.
SLAM: You might have the best beard in the League. What are the three keys to keeping a fresh beard?
JH: Get up and brush it like you would do your hair. You got to make sure it’s clean cut and—[bends over in laughter as Thabo Sefolosha shakes his head at him nearby]. You have to make sure it’s looking right at all times. You don’t want to go out there and have your beard looking all nasty.
SLAM: It was fun watching you during the Rookie-Sophomore game this year. There has been a lot of talk about some of the other rookies. It looked like you wanted to go out and prove that you’re in that same elite group.
JH: Oh yeah, definitely. Me and those other guys are in different positions. They have roles to go out there and score the basketball for their respective teams. I have a role to go out there and play within the team and do the same, but not as much as them. I’m happy to be in the position I’m in. But you know, I can go out there and really play as well.
SLAM: With the season coming to a close, is this team where you thought it would be at this point?
JH: Definitely. We put so much hard work in off the court, in the weight room—just collectively. We have been doing that since day one. I think our hard work is paying off. These last 20 games we need to take it up a notch because the wins are going to get tougher.