Oklahoma City Thunder game-changer James Harden is going to be named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, and that's entirely reasonable, because of all the players in the league who come off the bench, he was by far the best this season. Sometimes these awards actually work out.
Talk began to fly early Thursday that the Thunder had scheduled a Thursday afternoon news conference to make an undisclosed major announcement, according to multiple outlets, and that pretty much left nothing to the imagination, since basically everyone who watched the NBA this season knew that this award was Harden's. The third-year pro, drafted No. 3 overall out of Arizona State in the 2009 NBA draft, eliminated all mystery Thursday afternoon, taking to Twitter to thank his supporters for their, um, support:
Again, this is only surprising if you did not watch basketball this year or are almost entirely unfamiliar with the term "awesome."
Harden had already established himself as one of the league's premiere second-unit contributors with his stellar sophomore turn for a Thunder team that ran all the way to the Western Conference finals in 2011 before falling to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. He took a great leap forward in his third NBA season, leading all NBA bench-mobbers in scoring and producing at a staggering level that has led some observers to wonder whether the Thunder's sixth man might actually find himself receiving max-contract offers when he's eligible for free agency after next season. He needn't wonder; if the Thunder know what's good for them, he'll receive one before that.
By the numbers: Harden averaged 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per 36 minutes for Scott Brooks' squad this year. Only nine players averaged at least 19-4-4 per-36 this season, and seven of them — Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Jeremy Lin, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant — were starters.
Of the two reserves, fellow lefty San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili (who won Sixth Man honors back in 2008) bested Harden in sheer numbers (20 points, 5.3 boards and 6.9 assists per 36 for Manu), Player Efficiency Rating (24.1 to 21.1) and shooting percentages (52.6 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from 3-point range, 87.1 percent from the line for Manu; 49.1/39.0/84.6 for Harden), but that performance is skewed. Injuries limited Ginobili to just 34 appearances for Gregg Popovich this season, and he averaged just 23.3 minutes per game. Harden suited up 62 times (and it would have been more, had Metta World Peace not, y'know) and averaged 31.4 minutes per contest for OKC.
What I'm trying to say is that James Harden is just about as good as Manu Ginobili, except 12 years younger and healthier. So, that's a pretty good thing to be, and to have. Y'know, if you like guys who are good enough to legitimately wave off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and tear the heart out of the defending champions in an elimination game. Which you should, because that is rare and amazing.
After sweeping the Mavs in the first round, the Thunder now await the winner of the opening-round matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets. L.A. leads that series 3-2, with Game 6 coming up at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Thursday night.