James Harden Isn’t Just an Elite Scorer, According to His Rockets Teammates

James Harden has the distinction of not only being one of the NBA’s most talented players but also one of the most distinctive. He is one of the few professional basketball players with a full beard, a beard that’s so distinctive, he’s been affectionately dubbed “The Beard” by fans, teammates, and NBA announcers. While most of the world knows James Harden as an extraordinary shooting guard, his Rocket’s teammates know a little bit more about him, including the surprising secret to his success. 

Who is James Harden? 

Thirty-year-old James Harden’s life began in California, though that isn’t where he’s done the bulk of his playing. He went from Artesia High School in Lakewood, California, to Arizona State, a school that allowed Harden to fully develop the skills that would serve him well in the NBA.

During his freshman year, Harden proved that he was an asset to the team. That year, the experts predicted that ASU would be one of the worst teams in their conference, but thanks to Harden’s natural skills and outstanding work ethic, the team finished fifth in the Pac-10. When the season was over, Harden was named to the All-Pac-10 First Team. 

In 2009, Harden led the Sun Devils to the second round of the NCAA tournament and entered the NBA draft, where the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted him No. 3 overall. He enjoyed a solid rookie year that ended with him gaining a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Harden parted ways with Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and signed with the Houston Rockets. 

The secret to James Harden’s success

Rockets superstar James Harden is a prolific scorer, but that's not the only thing he does well, according to some of his teammates.
James Harden. | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Rockets and Harden are a good match. Not only has he been both a good scorer and defensive player with solid two-way playing skills, but he’s also been steadily racking up accolades while playing for the Rockets. Since becoming a Rocket, Harden has been:

  • Part of the NBA All-Star Team right years in a row
  • Earned the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year
  • Named NBA Western Conference Player of the Month eight times
  • NBA Western Conference Player of the Week 23 times
  • Led the NBA in assists during the 2016-17 season
  • Named 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player
  • Led the NBA in 3-Point goals 2017-18 and 2018-19
  • Was the NBA scoring leader in both 2018 and 2019

Harden is an elite scorer, but his desire to become a better defensive player hasn’t gone unnoticed by Harden’s teammates:

“People may find that surprising, but I think he’s trying to make that an emphasis on him for himself,” Rockets guard Austin Rivers said when asked about Harden. It forces him to be locked in on that end of the floor. He asks during every free throw who everybody has. Little things like that that he would never do in the past.”

Austin Rivers

One of the best things about the pairing of the Rockets and Harden is that the way the team is organized has allowed Harden to develop his defensive skills, something he’s not well known for. While he won’t be remembered as a great defensive player, playing for the Rocket’s has allowed him to become a solid two-way player.

What else James Harden’s teammates say about him

While fans like to think that they understand James Harden, the reality is that no one knows him quite as well as his teammates. The great thing is that they have really nice things to say about Harden, though fans may be surprised by some of their comments. To listen to his teammates’ talk, it’s almost like Harden has a split personality. 

For example, while Harden has a reputation for being a relatively nice guy, Rockets forward, P.J. Tucker says it’s different when Harden steps between the lines:

“There is not a night that goes by where he doesn’t want to kill and says, ‘I’m going to take off guys and let you all kind of have it,’” Tucker said. “No, he wants to kill every night.”

Another (now former) teammate, Clint Capela, had a different description of Harden. “He’s really patient. He analyzes things really well,” Capela said. “He’s never in a rush. He never gets mad or frustrated.” 

The cool thing about these differing statements is that they show just how much Harden understands the game, what it takes to play the game well, and how to channel his energy to get the best possible results.