HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — A career-best season is what earned Oklahoma City Thunder swingman James Harden the KIA Sixth Man of the Year Award, which was handed out officially this afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
And the bearded one snagged this honor in a landslide, collecting 115 of a possible 119 first-place votes and 584 of a possible 595 points. Lou Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers finished second with 231 points and 2008-09 winner Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks finished third with 81 points.
Harden finished as the NBA’s top scoring reserve this season, averaging a career-best 16.8 points in just his third season in the league. He also averaged a career-highs with 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists field goal shooting (.491), 3-point shooting (.390), free throw shooting (.846) and minutes (31.4). Harden is the second youngest player to win the award and succeeds former Lakers’ swing man Lamar Odom in being recognized as the top reserve in the league.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti praised Harden’s maturity and sacrifice while making it clear that the award is as much about his statistics and contributions to the Thunder as it is about his character, determination and tireless work ethic.
Word spread in advance of this afternoon’s official announcement. The charismatic Harden even took to Twitter to thank his followers. “Thanks to everyone!! I appreciate all the love. 6th Man of the Year.”
Harden beat himself up a bit during the ceremony, admitting that he struggled with his reserve role after starring at Arizona State and being the third overall pick in the 2009 Draft.
But Thunder coach Scott Brooks disagreed.
“James is being hard on himself,” Brooks said. “He did get it as a rookie. He averaged 10 points a game as a rookie on a team that won 50 games. I had a chance to see him as a rookie at 19 years old and three years later he’s a man. He’s improved in every aspect. I had a conversation with hims last year a month after the season, we sat down for lunch and I wanted to get his thoughts going into the summer and asked him what his goals were, thinking he wanted to start. And all he said was,’ Coach, I just want to do whatever the team needs to help us get better.’ I knew right then he understood his role. And he’s really our sixth starter. Like Sam said, it’s not common to accept that role as such a young player.”
Harden had one of his best games of the season in Game 4 of the Thunder’s first round sweep of Terry and the defending champion Mavericks. He took over the game, scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in a row and nine in the Thunder’s 12-0 run after they trailed by 13 points with 9:44 left.
Harden and the Thunder await the winner of the Lakers-Nuggets series in the Western Conference semifinals.