On first impression, few are overly impressed with the athleticism of James Harden – including the Oklahoma City Thunder rookie himself.
But that doesn’t mean the sweet-shooting lefthander from Arizona State can’t still be a star in the making.
Harden has heard the whispers that he was taken too high at No. 3 in the NBA draft and that he could struggle at the next level because he isn’t a high flyer with great size. But he did go a long way this week in the Orlando Pro Summer League toward debunking some of the myths about his game.
Just 19 years old, Harden showed the savvy of a longtime NBA veteran this week with his ability to play off pick-and-roll sets. He scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and snagged three steals in Oklahoma City’s 70-60 loss to Utah on Friday. He averaged 14.8 points on the week, but more impressively was the 53.2 percent he shot from the floor and the 40 percent on 3-pointers that he hit.
``I’m not a fast-paced player at all,’’ Harden said, referring to the knocks on his lack of athleticism. ``The game is kind of slow to me and it’s about reading the offense and the defense and making the right play. I really take pride in that.’’
The Orlando Pro Summer League saw Chris Lofton set a new tournament record for 3-pointers (15) and the Indiana Pacers were the first team to go 5-0 in the four-year history of the event. The first-team, as chosen by the Orlando Magic staff, was composed of Tyler Hansbrough (Pacers), Roy Hibbert (Pacers), Ryan Anderson (Magic), Russell Westbrook (Thunder) and Harden (Thunder). The second-team was made up of Kassib Powell (Magic), Marreesse Speights (Sixers), J.R. Giddens (Celtics), DJ White (Thunder) and Nick Fazekas (Celtics).
Here’s a recap of Friday’s games:
GAME 1: Utah Jazz (3-2) 70, Oklahoma City Thunder (3-2) 60
STUDS: Josh Duncan, a 6-foot-9, 238-pound power forward from Xavier, was one of the biggest surprises of the week, playing consistently well all week for the Jazz. He had another 11 points on Friday, his fifth double-digit performance of the week.
Duncan’s agility and ability to score off the dribble made him quite effective and will likely earn him a second look in training camp come October. He never missed more than two shots in any game and showed an ability to shoot even out to the 3-po int line.
For the week, Duncan hit 21 of his 29 shots, including seven of nine from 3-point range. The only knock on him is that he doesn’t rebound particularly well for someone his size, never getting more than three in any game all well.
``He’s in great shape, he understands the game and can really shoot it from the outside,’’ Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said of Duncan, who wasn’t even a starter at Xavier. ``Our personnel people did a really good job bringing him in and he played well.’’
DUDS: Rookie point guard Eric Maynor wasn’t bad, but he wore down as the week progressed and the Jazz would have liked to have seen more pop out of him. He did finally hit a couple of nifty floaters in the lane on Friday, but he struggled with his shot for the most part all week. Developing more muscle and a more consistent shot – he made just 28.9 percent all week – is a must for next season.
``It was an up-and-down week for me, but I learned a lot by competing against some guys who are already in the league,’’ said Maynor, the 20th pick of the draft. ``It was a long 10 days being that we had two-a-days before this camp. I tried to run the team. I thought I defended really good, but the down side was that the shots just weren’t falling for me.’’
GAME 2: Boston Celtics (2-3) 92, New Jersey Nets/Philadelphia 76ers (0-5) 79
STUDS: Nick Fazekas bounced back from a miserable finish on Thursday – he missed two potential go-ahead free throws and was off line on a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer – with 22 points and nine rebounds.
``Fazekas is like one of those old men at the YMCA playing with all of the young, athletic kids and he still finds a way to outsmart them all and score,’’ Boston summer coach Mike Longabardi said. ``His touch around the basket is just off the charts.’’
Lofton, who took advantage of Lester Hudson’s fractured finger injury, hit two more 3-pointers to give him 15 for the week, the new record for the Orlando Summer League. Remarkably, Lofton shot 60 percent from beyond the arc and seems all the way back from the testicular cancer that led to him going undrafted in 2008.
And Gabe Pruitt had his strongest showing of the week on Friday, dishing out nine assists. Pruitt was well aware that Boston coach and Orlando resident Doc Rivers was in the stands on Friday and he was anxious to show him that he could be a competent point guard behind Rajon Rondo. He solved his turnovers from early in the week and showed flashes of being a dynamic playmaker.
DUDS: The decision to combine New Jersey and Philadelphia rosters was a complete flop. Not only di d the team not win a game, but youngsters Marreese Speights (Sixers), Terrence Williams (Nets) and Jrue Holiday (Sixers) failed to play up to their vast potential. By Friday’s finale, the squad was down to just seven players after several players abandoned the squad.
Speights, who averaged just 14.2 points on 39 percent shooting, was downright frustrated with his performance. ``I thought I would (dominate), but things happen I guess,’’ he said. ``It just didn’t go my way all week. I gotta get back to work on my post game, like I did in college. I’ve got to go back and get used to playing down there again.’’
GAME 3: Indiana Pacers (5-0) 68, Orlando Magic (2-3) 54
STUDS: Indiana center Roy Hibbert concluded a strong week with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 20 minutes, showing off his massive improvement from last summer.
Hibbert, whose time was cut short on Friday because of a minor hip bruise, credited his growth to being much stronger and in the best shape of his life. Foul prone and weak in the post in the past, the 7-foot-3 Hibbert was the best post player in Orlando while averaging 20.2 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.
DUDS: The Magic never seemed to rebound from blowing a 23-point lead on Thursday night and not scoring in overtime in a loss to Utah. On Friday, Orlando trailed 12-0 at the start, fell behind by as much as 21 points and never led at any point. Jeremy Richardson, a member of the Magic’s regular-season squad this year, missed the game with an ankle injury and might have played his way out of an invite to training camp. He shot just 35.1 percent and too often had a shoot-first mentality.
John Denton has contributed to HOOPSWORLD for three seasons. He’s covered the Orlando Magic and the NBA for 11 years.