NBA

James Harden Wasn’t the High School Player We All Envision

It took James Harden a little while in the NBA before he blossomed into a star. The same was true during is high school days. The Houston Rockets‘ high-scoring guard didn’t come into high school with any fanfare, according to his high school coach. Like it did in the NBA, it took Harden a while to make a name for himself when he was a teenager.

James Harden traded to the Houston Rockets

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James Harden was part of his own Big 3 in the NBA when he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden came into the league in 2009 after playing his college basketball at Arizona State. The 6-foot-5 guard was selected by the Thunder with the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft.

Harden spent the first three years of his professional basketball career with the Thunder. He was joined by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to form one of the league’s top trios. After three seasons in Oklahoma City, the Thunder was unable to sign Harden to a long-term deal. He was traded to the Houston Rockets in a package deal that included multiple draft picks.

“We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day these situations have to work for all those involved,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti back in 2012, according to The Oklahoman. “Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers.”

Harden has blossomed with the Rockets

In James Harden’s first year with the Houston Rockets, he saw his scoring average jump from 16.8 points per game to 25.9. Harden became the main man instead of the sixth man as he was with the Thunder. He relished the role as the team’s go-to player.

Not only did his scoring improve, but so did his assists (5.8 per game) and rebounds (4.9). Harden’s averages has steadily climbed throughout his eight seasons with the Rockets. Harden led the league in scoring average the last three years. He averaged a career-high 36.1 points during the 2018-19 season.

Harden has become much more than a scorer. During the 2016-17 season, Harden led the NBA in assists per game at 11.2, all while averaging 29.1 points. During his eight seasons with the Rockets, Harden has averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists, and six rebounds per game.

Harden’s slow start in high school

Most NBA players were high-school phenoms or at least came into their high-school programs with a lot of hype. That definitely wasn’t the case with James Harden. “James was a kid from Compton that I had never heard of and he came to my camp and maybe played and then enrolled with a very good freshmen class and I didn’t even think he was the best one at the time,” said his high school coach Scott Pera, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Pera saw he could shoot, but he wasn’t anything special at that time. “We knew he could shoot and he had good passing skills and a good IQ, but he wasn’t like, ‘I’ll build my whole program around him and he’s the next coming.’ No way. Not even close,” Pera said. ‘That was the summer of 2003. He didn’t start until maybe halfway through his freshman year.”

Pera recalled one instance when Harden was a freshman that turned his game around. “He hit a buzzer-beater at Redondo Union,” the coach said. “That was a big turning point for him. I think that really boosted my confidence in him, saw he wasn’t afraid of the big stage by taking the game-winning shot as a freshman. That turned our season around.”