Tahlequah Daily Press


May 11, 2012

Best off the bench

Oklahoma City's James Harden named NBA's Sixth Man of the Year

OKLAHOMA CITY — For James Harden, the notion that he could impact a game just as much off the bench as he would from the starting lineup didn't really click until he was forced to test it out.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded starters Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to Boston in the middle of last season, it put Harden in a bigger role — even if he still was the first player off the bench.

In his first season fully understanding the role, Harden won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award after leading all bench players in scoring.

"A lot more opportunities have come my way," Harden said Thursday after accepting the award. "All I did was just took advantage of them."

Harden averaged 16.8 points on career-best 49 percent shooting this season, and he recorded his first career 40-point game last month in a win at Phoenix. The bearded combo guard also became known in the final week of the regular season when he sustained a concussion while taking an elbow from the Los Angeles Lakers' Metta World Peace.

He recovered in time to return for the playoffs and was the star of the Thunder's fourth-quarter comeback to beat Dallas in the clinching Game 4 of their opening round sweep.

Although Harden is a bench player, coach Scott Brooks refers to him as his sixth starter and gives him the minutes a front-line player would normally get. His 31.4 minutes were second-most among reserves this season — a touch less than Dallas' Jason Terry — and more than about half the starters in the league.

"Most of the time in the second quarter and the fourth quarter, I'm out there with the starters finishing games," Harden said. "That came with that trust, from my rookie year to now, being out there in the fourth quarter, he's giving me the ball, letting me make plays."

Lou Williams, who led Philadelphia in scoring despite not starting a single game this season, was second in the balloting.

Harden got 115 of the 119 first-place votes and three of the second-place votes, getting left of one ballot. Williams got three first-place votes and Chicago's Taj Gibson got the other one.

Terry, the 2009 Sixth Man Award winner, was third in overall points and perhaps demonstrated best to Harden what the top bench player can mean to a team during the Mavericks' run to last year's NBA title — including a win over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.

Harden said his view on not starting is: "If we're winning championships, I have no problem."

That's not the way he felt after getting drafted third overall in 2009.

"At first, as a rookie, I didn't get it. I just thought I was going to go out there and score and just do all the other things that every other player thought," Harden said. "It took me three years to embrace that role."

Harden said everything changed after last season's trade deadline, when Green — who had been the team's third option behind All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — and fellow starter Krstic were traded away for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.

"At that point, he really understood that I have to be more of an all-around player, to have an impact," Brooks said.

Brooks decided to stick with defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha as his starting shooting guard this season, but he made sure Harden understood that his minutes would line up with the usual breaks for Durant and Westbrook and Harden could be the featured player during those stretches.

"You have an opportunity if you don't start to be the facilitator and to be a scorer and to do everything during those minutes that Russell and Kevin are on the bench getting their rest," Brooks told him.

"That's intriguing for James. He has six or seven minutes a half where he has to do everything — keep the scoreboard moving and lead us on the defensive end."

Harden shined, increasing his scoring output from 12.2 points per game to 16.8, improving his shooting percentage in all areas and recording more assists in 62 games this season than he did in a full 82-game schedule a season earlier.

And now, he has something else to be known for besides his trademark beard and that elbow to the head he took from World Peace. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest player to win the Sixth Man Award and only the fifth of the 30 recipients to be 25 years old or younger.

Ben Gordon was the youngest to win it, at age 21 with Chicago in 2005.

"He has a great game and he has a cool look. His beard, that is a cool look," Brooks said. "I didn't like it at first but it's growing on me. I would never want him to shave it."

Text Only
  • Hooper.jpg Sparking the flame

    Sequoyah High School’s Justin Hooper looking to lead this year

    Last season was Justin’s last chance to play alongside Cody at Sequoyah High School.
    Justin had to battle to win the Indians starting tailback. The coaching staff did not know who was going to be the Indians starting running back coming into fall practice.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • NSU-fishing-team.jpg NSU teams compete in fishing tournament

    Three teams from Northeastern State University’s Bass Fishing Team competed in the Fishing League Worldwide College Fishing Tournament on Grand Lake in Grove on Saturday, June 21.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Johnson, East win easily at All-State

    Jake Johnson was able to hold off Lawton MacArthur’s Trent Meisel at the Class 5A state tournament in May. On Monday at the All-State tournament at Cherokee Hills Golf Club, Johnson had it much easier against Meisel.

    July 29, 2014

  • McMillan-blackboard.jpg Hometown brothers team up for RiverHawks football

    Northeastern State’s football program will include a pair of hometown brothers for the 2014 season.
    Mason McMillan returns for his sophomore season, and this year he will be reunited with his younger brother, Kourtland. The brothers graduated from Tahlequah High School – Mason in 2013, followed by Kourtland in 2014. At Tahlequah, Mason and Kourtland shared the gridiron for one season.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Yurcich ready for second season

    With the 2014 season on the brink, Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State University football offensive coordinator, is ready for his second year at the helm after coaching a powerful offensive squad a year ago.

    July 28, 2014

  • James_Ethan-(12)-vs.#2CC63C.jpg Back on the line

    RiverHawks’ Ethan James returns to the line healthy and ready for 2014

    RiverHawks offensive lineman Ethan James will enter the 2014 season healthy – something the team, and James, were not in 2013.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Sooners shifting several positions

    Experience comes from encountering the same things in the same ways over and over again. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom and Julian Wilson have that at defensive end and nickleback in bunches.
    However, both will be seeing new things when practice begins. Grissom is moving to outside linebacker. Wilson will be getting a look at cornerback as his senior season begins

    July 25, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Better police needed for college teams enticed to cheat

    The NCAA once cracked down on colleges that went too far luring top prospects, then it targeted teams that lathered players with special treatment. That was until the NCAA's get-tough approach backfired, rendering it ineffective and creating an opportunity for those who want to play dirty.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • BobBowlsby.jpg Media Week: Change is coming

    Changes are coming to college athletics.
    That was the theme of the state of the conference speech by Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the first day of Big 12 Football Media Days.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Peterson.jpg Cowboy quandary: OSU defense trying to replace seven starters

    A year after the best defensive team in the Mike Gundy era, the questions now surround how those few returning starters and second-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer can maintain that high level of efficiency.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo


Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
     View Results
Press Sports Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating