James Harden is one of the most devastating offensive forces the NBA has ever seen. He can dominate the game in a variety of ways on the offensive end, thanks to his endless bag of tricks. What position does James Harden play in the NBA? Even though the lines have blurred between positions, it’s still important to ask this question to know how the league’s best players operate.
When Did James Harden Start Playing in NBA?
Harden was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009 as the third overall pick. He played for two seasons at Arizona State University. Playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the young trio was literally the core of the Thunder, even though Harden was primarily coming off the bench.
Harden developed into a reliable third option behind his All-Star teammates in his third year at OKC. Even though he was a reserve, he consistently plays starter’s minutes well over the 30s. He averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 49/39/85 shooting splits. This breakout season enabled the Thunder to bag the second seed in the West and go all the way to the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, the Thunder front office hesitated to give Harden the max extension he covets. They offered him a four-year extension that’s six million shy of the max and forced him to think it over in an hour. Since Harden could not make up his mind at that time frame, the Thunder pulled the offer and orchestrated a deal with the Houston Rockets.
It was in Houston where Harden’s star began to shine as bright as anybody’s. He was given the key to the offense, and James responded with an average of roughly 26-5-5 in his first full season at H-Town. The Beard was selected to his first All-Star game that year and has made 10 appearances in a row. That includes six first-team All-NBA selections and an MVP Award in 2018.
A huge part of Harden’s transition from OKC to Houston is the change of positions. Since Harden was playing behind Westbrook and Durant at Oklahoma City, he played shooting guard, which is his natural position. In Houston, the ball starts and ends with Harden; thus, he was a pretty much-playing point guard in those systems under Kevin McHale. That only changed when the Rockets acquired Chris Paul in 2017, allowing Harden to play off the ball in more situations.
Is Harden a PG or SG?
In the positionless game, basketball has become, James Harden is considered both. The Beard is a shooting guard and point guard, depending on the system’s needs. He’s so good that he can easily transition in either spot, as evidenced by his career in OKC and Houston.
Even when playing in Brooklyn, Harden seemed to be the primary initiator of the offense, even when Kyrie Irving was around. He recorded an 18-assist game in a playoff game against the Celtics in 2021. Now playing for the Sixers, he is officially starting as their shooting guard, with Tyrone Maxey at the point. Again, this only proves the point that Harden can be a point guard or a shooting guard depending on what the team needs him to do. Every James Harden team post-OKC has no problem slotting him at any of those positions.
Why Does Harden Play Two Different Positions?
The best players have consistently adapted their games for the team’s betterment. They may be comfortable in one or two positions but could slide over to the other spots and excel at them.
LeBron James is the epitome of such a player. James even played center in his 19th season and led the league in assists in his season 17 as a point guard. In Bron’s season 20, he often plays power forward alongside Anthony Davis as the center. Of course, James started his career as a small forward. The only position he does not consistently play is shooting guard.
Even before James graced the NBA with his versatility, Magic Johnson also displayed such qualities in the 80s. Magic famously started at center in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, replacing the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also primarily played power forward in 1996 as a last-ditch attempt at a comeback.
James Harden is cut in the same cloth. He can play both point guard and shooting guard really well because he can set up the offense and distribute while also being a scoring threat. This type of versatility allows his team to control the matchups and exploit them.
For example, putting Harden as a point guard means he can be paired with a traditional shooting guard in a big lineup. He can take smaller point guards on the block or get to his spots easier. His backcourt partner could, of course, take advantage of all the attention Harden is getting.
It remains to be seen whether James Harden can eventually transition into a small forward in his later years. Elite shooting guards often become small forwards as they get older, as they cannot consistently chase quicker and faster counterparts in the perimeter. Michael Jordan almost exclusively played the “3” in Washington, and Kobe Bryant also played small forward as he neared retirement.
Why is He Called “The Jack of all Trades”?
The listed James Harden height is 6-foot-5, which is right about the sweet spot of being “not too big” and “not too small.” His frame, along with outstanding offensive skills, allow The Beard to do so many things on the court. He may not be a standout defensively, but he does so much on offense that it barely matters.
To prove that, one should just take a look at James Harden’s career points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks. In the points category, Harden is just behind Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson all-time and trails only LeBron James and Kevin Durant among active players. He is still playing great basketball in Philly, so he could be in the top 20 by the time he hangs his sneakers for good.
What about the other categories? Well, Harden is No. 25 among active players in rebounds (5,328) and one of only two guards among the 25. He is fifth in assists (6,425), and while he may not be known for his defense, Harden is still sixth among active players in steals (1,352) and 38th in blocks. That is why James Harden is considered a jack of all trades.
Wrapping Things Up: What Position Does James Harden Play in the NBA?
James Harden has been around the league since 2009 and has become one of its faces. One thing is for sure: You can’t be a face and a superstar in the NBA if your game doesn’t speak for itself. And Harden’s game really speaks volumes about how good of an offensive player he is.
Speaking of being a “superstar,” many NBA fans are confused about James Harden’s natural position. What position does James Harden play? Is he a shooting guard or a point guard? The correct answer is both, and that’s why Harden is special. He can play both positions just as well– set the table and distribute to his teammates while being an elite scoring threat himself.
James Harden has records to prove that he is the ultimate jack of all trades. He amassed 70 triple-doubles and is eighth all-time in that category. He is also third in points, fifth in assists, sixth in steals, and 25th in rebounds among active NBA players.
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