Just how good is James Harden?

Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (L) drives against Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo (R) in the second half of Game 2 of their second round Western Conference NBA basketball playoffs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

When the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted James Harden #3 overall in the 2009 draft, it was a sign that the team had confidence in Russell Westbrook as their point guard of the future. After all, the 2009 draft was loaded with point guards (Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison, to name a few), but the Thunder elected to go with a shooting guard instead.

After the 2009-10 season, while Tyreke Evans was winning Rookie of the Year, and while Jennings, Curry, Collison and Taj Gibson were joining Evans on the All-Rookie First Team, Harden was something of a disappointment. He was an important player in the Thunder rotation, but he came off the bench and could only muster an All-Rookie Second Team nod. It was a solid if unspectacular rookie season.

Now, with the Thunder in the Western Conference Playoffs, Harden is playing 31+ minutes off the OKC bench and is often closing out games. He’s like Manu Ginobili — he’s not a starter, but he’s a closer, and that’s what matters.

It got me wondering — how does Harden’s playoff performance (12-5-4 on 46% shooting) stack up with other guards his age (21)?

Below you’ll find a table with the Per 36 Minute stats of the Top 30 guards in Efficiency Per Game (EPG is also normalized to 36 minutes).

1Michael Jordan*1984-858226.
2Kobe Bryant1999-006621.
3Chris Paul2006-076416.
4Isiah Thomas*1982-838121.
5Rodrigue Beaubois2009-105620.
6James Harden-Playoffs2010-111314.
7Russell Westbrook2009-108216.
8Stephen Curry2009-108017.
9Gilbert Arenas2002-038218.
10Kevin Johnson1987-888013.
11Derrick Rose2009-107820.
12Ennis Whatley1983-848011.13.311.0.469.000.73017.4
13Allen Iverson1996-977621.
14Clyde Drexler*1983-848216.
15Jason Kidd1994-957912.
16Rajon Rondo2007-087712.
17James Harden2010-118216.
18Baron Davis2000-018212.
19Mike Bibby1999-008213.
20Jordan Farmar2007-088216.
21Quentin Richardson2001-028118.
22Josh Childress2004-058012.
23Tyreke Evans2010-115717.
24Louis Williams2007-088017.
25Monta Ellis2006-077717.
26Dorell Wright2006-076611.
27J.R. Smith2006-076320.
28Andre Iguodala2004-05829.
29Kyle Lowry2007-088213.
30Brandon Jennings2010-116316.

Keep in mind that all of these players were 21 years old on February 1 of the season in question and the data only goes back to the 1982-83 season. I only included players that appeared in at least 50 games during the season to eliminate the riffraff.

I included both Harden’s regular season stats (#17) and his 2011 playoff stats (#6). As you can see, both sets of numbers should be encouraging for Harden supporters. His efficiency is up in the playoffs because he’s shooting at a higher percentage and is tallying more rebounds and assists.

If Playoffs James Harden is the real James Harden, then he has star written all over him. Even if his regular season numbers are more indicative of his ability, he’s still going to be a solid starter in the NBA for most of his career.

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