Thunder guard Harden thinks he deserves All-Star nod
James Harden's argument will be much easier to make two months from now, when the awards for Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year are being debated and his work in Oklahoma City will likely lead the conversation.
But with All-Star rosters set to be announced Thursday and the Thunder boasting an NBA-best 20-5 record, the third-year shooting guard said he believes he should be one of the seven reserves chosen by coaches for the Western Conference.
"Oh yeah, definitely -- yes, sir," he said when asked if he should be an All-Star. "I'm not confident, though. I can't control that. I'll just keep playing hard, winning basketball games and having fun with my guys."
Harden's impact is unquestionable. His scoring has spiked (12.2 to 16.8 points per game from last season) along with his shooting (43.6 percent to 47 percent), ability to get to the free-throw line (4.2 to 6.4 attempts) and minutes, which are on par with a starter's playing time (26.7 to 31.2). He ranks third in Player Efficiency Rating among shooting guards, sitting behind only Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, and he's the leader of a Thunder second unit that is getting it done despite the loss of reserve point guard Eric Maynor to a season-ending ACL injury last month. Harden is the sort of as-needed playmaker who is integral on a team run by score-first point guard Russell Westbrook.
But with Kevin Durant already voted in as a starter and Westbrook seeming to be a lock as a reserve, Harden's All-Star inclusion would be a declaration of the Thunder's dominance more than anything. Only the most elite of teams are typically granted three or more All-Star spots: The Celtics have been among that group each of the last three years, while the Heat (2011), Pistons (2008) and Suns (2007) are the only others in the last five years. The Thunder had two for the first time last season in Durant and Westbrook.
Meanwhile, players with gaudy numbers on losing teams always feel spurned by the mantra that All-Stars must play on winning teams. Case in point is Warriors guard Monta Ellis, who scored 48 points Tuesday in a loss to the Thunder that dropped Golden State to 8-14. Ellis, who is seventh in the league with 22.5 points and leads all shooting guards with 6.3 assists, has never been an All-Star despite averaging 19.5 points and shooting 46.7 percent from the field during his seven seasons.
Still, Harden thinks he should be there, joining starting West guards Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant in the Feb. 26 game in Orlando.
"We have the best record in the league," Harden said. "We're playing very well as a team. I look at the guards [who weren't already voted in] in the West and there's not very many that have been playing well. It's all up to the coaches. I can only control what I can control and keep playing hard and play good."
Ellis, Spurs guard Tony Parker and Suns guard Steve Nash would surely disagree. But as Thunder coach Scott Brooks noted, such is the annual debate about the All-Star teams, with fans picking the starters and coaches selecting two guards, two forwards, a center and two players regardless of position in each conference.
"[Harden] is playing as well as any guard in this league, and he plays for the team," Brooks said. "He's averaging 17-18 points a game, but he's consistent. He defends. He rebounds. He makes plays for his teammates. He's playing at an All-Star level. But there are so many good players, and there are only 12 spots. It's such a select group.
"Monta is another good player. You wish that there were more spots available, but that's what's special about that select group. I kind of like that it's so elite, because when you make it, it is an honor."
An honor Harden thinks he should be given.