The legend of post-practice one-on-one games between Kevin Durant, Paul George, and James Harden in the early stages of Team USA training camp is well-known. Long, intense, and highly competitive, these battles featuring three of the league’s brightest young stars goes to show just how much time and effort NBA players spend on their craft. Unbeknownst to most but apparently commonplace, though, is that Harden was getting in extra work before training camp practices, too.
At a press conference celebrating the FIBA gold won by the New Orleans Pelicans’ Monty Williams and Anthony Davis, Williams, a Team USA assistant coach, said the precocious Davis learned valuable lessons of preparation from his esteemed teammates. Perhaps most influential among them? Harden.
Williams: Over the period from Vegas to Madrid, I just watched him watch other people. He was around a former MVP, he watched Harden – people don’t know how hard Harden works. And I think AD was able to watch him work an hour, two hours before practice with his trainer and then come to practice, and I think that had an impact on him. The great ones do more.
You don’t become the player of Harden’s rare caliber without a diligent work ethic. It’s been forgotten amid his rapidly ascending status over the years, but Harden looked completely lost at times as a rookie. He’s made massive strides over the past four season to become an All-NBA performer, and they are obviously the result of more than growing experience. Of course Harden works hard.
But his in-game defensive effort and off-court persona have led the naive to assume otherwise. The former aspect at least lends credence to that irrational belief; Harden needs to make wholesale improvements as a defender, and consistent engagement is the first step to doing so.
It’s the other stuff that’s unfair. Harden’s social antics are well-documented on the web and not worth repeating here, and – combined with his defensive impact and propensity for drawing fouls – has led some fans to come to the conclusion that he isn’t a responsible practice performer or workout participant.
Williams’ sentiments, thankfully, directly refute that ridiculous notion.
Look, Harden must be better defensively in 2014-2015, and sometimes elects to take the easy, contested-shot route offensively when penetration or even more ball movement would yield the Houston Rockets a better shot. That is easy analysis which hardly needs debate.