James Harden Career Journey: The Quest for the Ring

james harden career journey

James Harden is one of the most prolific scorers and playmakers in the NBA today. He has won an MVP award, led the league in scoring three times, and made 10 consecutive All-Star appearances. In 12-years of James Harden career, each with its own challenges and opportunities. In this blog post, we will look at how Harden evolved from a sixth man in Oklahoma City to a superstar in Los Angeles, and what he has accomplished along the way.

James Harden Rookie Year

Harden was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, after a stellar sophomore season at Arizona State University. He joined a young and talented core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, who were looking to make some noise in the Western Conference.

Harden came off the bench for the Thunder in his rookie year, averaging 9.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 22.9 minutes per game. He showed flashes of his scoring and playmaking abilities, but also struggled with his efficiency and consistency. He shot 40.3% from the field, 37.5% from the 3-point line, and 80.8% from the free-throw line. He also had a negative plus-minus rating of -1.6, meaning the Thunder were outscored by their opponents when he was on the floor.

Harden helped the Thunder improve from 23 wins in the previous season to 50 wins in his rookie year, earning them the eighth seed in the playoffs. They faced the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, and pushed them to six games before losing. Harden averaged 7.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in the series, shooting 37.5% from the field, 27.3% from the 3-point line, and 76.5% from the free-throw line.

James Harden career rookie year was a learning experience for him, as he had to adjust to the NBA game and his role as a sixth man. He showed glimpses of his potential, but also had room for improvement. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, behind fellow guards Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, and Jonny Flynn.

James Harden in the Oklahoma Thunder

Harden spent his first three seasons in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he played alongside Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. He was the sixth man of the team, providing scoring and playmaking off the bench. He was also part of a close-knit group of young players who grew together and developed a strong chemistry.

Harden improved his numbers in each of his three seasons with the Thunder, averaging 12.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in his second year, and 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in his third year. He also won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2012, becoming the second-youngest player to do so, after Ben Gordon.

Harden helped the Thunder reach the playoffs in each of his three seasons, and the NBA Finals in 2012, where they lost to the Miami Heat in five games. He averaged 16.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in the 2012 postseason, but struggled in the Finals, shooting 37.5% from the field, 31.8% from the 3-point line, and 79.5% from the free-throw line.

Harden’s tenure with the Thunder ended abruptly in October 2012, when he was traded to the Houston Rockets, along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward, in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks, and a second-round pick. The trade came after Harden and the Thunder failed to agree on a contract extension, as the Thunder offered him a four-year, $55.5 million deal, while Harden wanted a four-year, $60 million deal. The Thunder were unwilling to pay Harden the max contract he desired, as they were already committed to paying Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka, and wanted to avoid the luxury tax.

Harden’s trade to the Rockets was a shock to the NBA world, as the Thunder had just reached the Finals, and were expected to contend for the title for years to come. Many fans and analysts criticized the Thunder for trading away one of their core players, and breaking up a potential dynasty. Harden himself was hurt by the trade, as he felt he was part of a family in Oklahoma City, and wanted to stay with the team.

Harden’s time with the Thunder was a memorable one, as he was part of a young and exciting team that made history and challenged the best in the league. He also established himself as one of the best sixth men in the league, and showed glimpses of his superstar potential. He formed a strong bond with his teammates, especially Durant and Westbrook, who remained his friends even after he left the team.

James Harden Career in the Houston Rockets

Harden’s trade to the Houston Rockets in 2012 marked the beginning of a new chapter in his career, as he became the face of the franchise and the leader of the team. He also became one of the best players in the league, and one of the most dominant scorers and playmakers in NBA history.

Harden spent eight and a half seasons with the Rockets, where he averaged 29.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.8 steals in 621 regular season games. He also shot 44.2% from the field, 36.3% from the 3-point line, and 86.0% from the free-throw line. He set or matched several team records, such as most points in a game (61), most 3-pointers made in a game (16), most consecutive games with 30 or more points (32), and most consecutive games with a triple-double (7).

Harden’s tenure with the Rockets was marked by his offensive brilliance and versatility, as he could score from anywhere on the court, and also create for his teammates. He was the focal point of the Rockets’ high-octane offense, which relied heavily on isolation plays, pick-and-rolls, and 3-point shooting. He also improved his defense, which had been a weakness in his game.

Harden’s tenure with the Rockets was also marked by his constant pursuit of a championship, which eluded him despite his best efforts. He played with several All-Star teammates, such as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall, but none of them could help him get past the Golden State Warriors, who were the Rockets’ main rivals and roadblocks in the West that time.

James Harden MVP Year

Harden’s breakout season came in 2017-18, when he won his first and only MVP award. He led the league in scoring with 30.4 points per game, and also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals. He shot 44.9% from the field, 36.7% from the 3-point line, and 85.8% from the free-throw line. He also set career-highs in usage rate (36.1%), player efficiency rating (29.8), and win shares (15.4).

Harden was the driving force behind the Houston Rockets, who finished with the best record in the league at 65-17. He had 32 games with 30 or more points, including four games with 50 or more points. He also had four triple-doubles, and became the first player in NBA history to record a 60-point triple-double, when he had 60 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists against the Orlando Magic on January 30, 2018.

Harden was a unanimous selection for the All-NBA First Team, and received 86 out of 101 first-place votes for the MVP award, beating out LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and DeMar DeRozan. He became the third player in Rockets history to win the MVP award, after Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Harden’s MVP season was a testament to his offensive brilliance and versatility, as he could score from anywhere on the court, and also create for his teammates. He was the leader and the focal point of the Rockets’ high-octane offense, which relied heavily on isolation plays, pick-and-rolls, and 3-point shooting. He also improved his defense, which had been a weakness in his game.

Harden’s MVP season was also a validation of his decision to leave the Thunder in 2012, when he was traded to the Rockets after failing to agree on a contract extension. He wanted to be the star of his own team, and he proved that he could carry a team to the top of the league.

James Harden Career in Brooklyn Nets: The Big Three Era

James Harden’s tenure with the Brooklyn Nets was marked by the formation of a formidable “Big Three” alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Harden played a total of 80 regular season games in a Nets uniform, averaging 21.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 10.6 assists in 37.7 minutes per game. However, the era was short-lived and fraught with challenges, contributing to Durant’s frustration with the team.

Philadelphia 76ers: A Brief Stint

Harden’s move to the Philadelphia 76ers was a significant event in the 2022 NBA season. However, his time with the 76ers was brief and marked by controversy. Despite his vision of a long-term future with the team, Harden claimed that he was forced out because the front office ‘had other plans. His statistics during this period were not remarkable, with several games recording no points, rebounds, or assists.

James Harden Career in Los Angeles Clippers: The Homecoming

The most recent chapter in James Harden’s career has seen him join the Los Angeles Clippers. This move marks a homecoming for the LA native, and expectations are high. In his debut game against the New York Knicks, Harden scored 17 points, with 3 rebounds and 6 assists. The Clippers’ lineup, which includes stars like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook, promises exciting times ahead.

Throughout his career, James Harden has proven himself to be one of the greatest scorers and shooting guards in NBA history.


James Harden’s career trajectory from a promising sixth man to an NBA superstar is a testament to his relentless work ethic, adaptability, and basketball IQ. His ability to score, create plays, and lead teams has made him one of the most exciting and effective players in the league. Despite facing challenges and changes throughout his career, Harden’s pursuit of excellence and a championship title remains undeterred. As he continues to write new chapters with the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden’s legacy as one of the game’s greats only continues to grow.