Sixth man of the year: Meet James Harden

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James Harden

The Oklahoma City Thunder (18-5) are still atop the Western Conference even following a week in which they played .500 ball.  However, one can easily make the argument that any team in the league would be happy going 2-2 after four games against the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs. On top of that, only the Grizzlies game was at home. All of these games have one thing in common; Thunder Small Forward James Harden keeping the Thunder in the game while some of the more scoring-oriented starters got their rest. Harden has grown into his niche rapidly this season and is the prime candidate for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year (SMOY) at this current juncture.

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The SMOY is, in this era, a prolific scorer who can catch fire at anytime and takes command as the first option on the second unit during the first three quarters. Furthermore, a strong SMOY candidate typically plays in crunch time during the fourth quarter. To measure Harden up against other premier perimeter bench players, it seems most prudent to use points per game, true shooting percentage, and player efficiency. True shooting percentage gives us a clearer picture than field goal percentage because it incorporates free throws and weights three-pointers. This allows measurement of volume of scoring as well as efficiency. All data was found at hoopdata.com and is current as of February 6,2012

 

Player PPG TS %  EFF
Mario Chalmers 11.3 64.8 12.77
Lou Williams 15.1 52.7 12.58
Mo Williams 14.8 60.6 14.28
Jason Terry 15.2 55.7 12.36
James Harden 16.6 64.8 17.35

Clearly, Harden has snatched the torch from an aging Jason Terry as the top second unit player in the league. None of the five aforementioned players have more than a handful of starts and this unfortunately rules out Ty Lawson (no pun intended). Lawson’s numbers: 15.6 PPG, 60 TS%, and a 17.29 efficiency rating are indeed impressive and he’s really coming into his own on a suddenly gritty Nuggets squad. Chauncey Billup’s Achilles tendon injury will certainly push Mo Williams into a starting role and could drastically inflate his numbers the remainder of the season. Both Williams represent the only legitimate threats to Harden’s 2012 SMOY campaign and with how high-profile, not to mention successful, the Thunder are this year, it would be a huge surprise if Harden doesn’t take home the hardware.

From a non-statistical perspective, James Harden brings energy to the starting unit when they’re meshed together and always keeps the second unit humming along. He reminds the eye of a young Richard Hamilton in the sense that he’s always cutting, moving, and making his defender’s life excessively difficult. Harden also represents another set of willing hands when Russel Westbrook’s or Kevin Durant’s go cold. He also has the uncanny ability to create offense right when the Thunder need it; a vital talent that cannot go overlooked.

The SMOY has always been a very unique award for unique players (like Ginobli, Odom, and McHale) and also represents the last piece of a championship puzzle for many teams, including the Thunder.

Eric Eulau is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz

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