James Harden turns 23 later this month.
He’s coming off a season where he was Sixth Man of the Year and was one of the players responsible for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He followed that up by winning a gold medal with Team USA earlier this week.
I predict that in the 2012-13 season, James Harden will join Rajon Rondo as an enshrinee on the All-NBA Third Team. (For the record, the four guards I have ahead of Harden are his fellow Olympians Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams.)
For starters, if you look at Harden’s stats from last season, there was a case for him making All-NBA then. He was eighth in made three throws, second in true shooting percentage and sixth in win shares. He also was one of the best clutch players in the NBA in 2012, particularly in the area of hitting free throws late.
Second, if you look at the general trajectory of players by age or number of seasons, players who are only 23 or have only played three NBA seasons generally still haven’t had their best season yet.
This will be exacerbated by the “International Bump” that many players see as a result of playing in the Olympics or World Championships. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Tyson Chandler and others all saw substantial improvement in their game following participation in international tournaments.
Therefore, I project that Harden will be even better next season, finishing in the top five in win shares and also in the top 15 or 20 in scoring.
When looking at Harden’s similarity scores, one of the players similar to him is Allen Iverson. At 23 (during the first locked-out season), Iverson won the scoring title, was fourth in MVP voting and made his first All-NBA First Team. If Iverson could do that without an Olympic or Worlds bump, Harden just making the Third Team doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.
Third, despite the fact that I am a Lakers fan, I still think there is a decent chance that the Thunder will outperform the Lakers. They have four Olympians, all of whom are relatively young and most of whom still have room to grow. It’s quite possible that the Thunder could have the best record in the NBA this season, putting them on track to be the first team with three All-NBA selections in decades.
Bottom line: James Harden should be All-NBA in 2013.
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