James Harden Wins Kia NBA Sixth Man Award

James Harden’s goals have always been to work hard, improve and do whatever he could to make himself and his team better regardless of outside attention or recognition.

The funny thing about awards is that often when goals are not driven by accolades like Harden’s are, the honors are quick to follow. On Thursday, the past three years of sacrifice and effort by Harden and his the Thunder teammates was rewarded when the former number three overall draft pick was rewarded with the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award.

The Thunder held a press conference with Harden’s family and friends sitting in the front row, and the highest scoring reserve player in the NBA this season took the time to involve all of those people in his life in the celebration of the award.

“The work that I put in individually, and my teammates and coaches, the work that we put in every single day is unbelievable,” Harden said. “Obviously it’s an individual award but I couldn’t have done it without those people. So I put the work in and the progress that we go through every single day to get better in this organization is something that has made me the player I am today.”

Since being drafted by the Thunder in 2009, Harden’s minutes and production have steadily increased as he continued to diligently learn the NBA game and both understand and embrace his role as the team’s “sixth starter”. Head Coach Scott Brooks used that moniker during today’s press conference, and talked glowingly of the way Harden has grown into his role of coming off the bench but playing starter-like minutes and finishing games.

“With James, I’ve been very blessed,” Brooks said. “I had a chance to see him as a rookie at 19 years old, a young man. Three years later, he’s a man. He’s really, really improved on every area of the game that we’ve thrown at him… We tell James, you have to be a better all-around player. He has the ability to improve on all areas of the floor, not just on the offensive end. I think he’s done that.

Harden’s 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this season were certainly special, particularly considering his 49.1/39.0/84.6 shooting percentage splits. To General Manager Sam Presti, however, the award is more of a signifier of the type of person that Harden is and the willingness the third-year guard/forward has displayed to put the team first. A self-motived player, Harden is also energized by every opportunity to get better and contribute to a winning environment.

“I think first and foremost, when we had the first chance to sit down and talk to him, it was at the pre-draft combine,” Presti said. “Immediately, the thing that struck us was that he wanted to be a part of something. He knew everything about the team. He knew the players, he knew how we played. It was clear that winning was important to him. That really kind of stuck with us.”

Being a part of something bigger than himself has seemingly been a part of Harden’s identity since Presti and other Thunder staff first met him, and that attitude has only expanded in Oklahoma City. Thunder basketball and business staff, along with the coaches and 11 of Harden’s teammates all joined his family in the celebration at the afternoon press conference. Nearly every player in attendance took pictures with Harden and the trophy after the announcement and it truly felt like a group of buddies coming by to support their close friend.

“We’re a family,” Harden said. “These are my friends, these are my teammates. We hang out off the court more than anybody. I love them and I appreciate everything they do for me. It’s not a surprise that they’re here. I knew that they would be here because that’s the type of brotherhood we have, and it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”