As the only back court player on Team USA with an Olympic gold medal, James Harden has emerged as a leader for the young team competing for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball title.
Since the beginning of the summer, Harden has done his best to shed the notion that he isn’t interested in playing defense and assuming a new role on the offensive end.
Harden has been the offensive catalyst for the Rockets, averaging over 25 points per game each of the past two seasons, but he has taken on a different role for the United States this summer.
On a roster with three All-Star point guards, Harden has emerged as the distributor, leading Team USA in assists each of the past two games while also providing a scoring impact.
Harden’s all-around talents were on display during a 98-71 victory over New Zealand Tuesday afternoon, as his relentless attack of the basket not only set up open looks for himself, but created perimeter scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The United States as struggled shooting the 3-point shot throughout the World Cup of Basketball tournament, Tuesday was no different, as the team made just 6-of-17 shots from beyond the arc.
The perimeter players still were able to have an impact, as Harden was able to create shots with his passing and thrive behind the ability that has transformed him into an All-Star shooting guard in Houston, his knack for getting to the free throw line.
Harden attempted just five shots from the field, but still managed 13 points, as he earned eight free throws by constantly driving to the rim.
Along with his scoring prowess, Harden was able to frustrate New Zealand with his ability to create open scoring looks for his teammates.
The 25-year-old guard dished out a team-high four assists, marking the second consecutive game he led the team in assists.
Serving a leadership role seemed to be a stretch for Harden entering the tournament.
Following the departure of former teammate Chandler Parsons to Dallas in free agency, Harden declared the loss wouldn’t impact the Rockets, as he and Dwight Howard are the cornerstones of the franchise.
Both Howard and Harden are playing on max contracts for the team and were on the Western Conference All-Star team this year, but stating everyone else on the team is an interchangeable role player could have easily come back to haunt him.
Parsons was invited to try out for TeamUSA this summer and the two were able to talk things out and end their feud.
The other more condemning criticism of his game is that he often saves himself on the defensive end so he can attack offensively.
There have been times during this tournament when he has been caught slipping, but overall Harden has exuded the necessary efforts on both ends of the floor to help his team succeed.
Team USA improved to 3-0 in pool play and has won by an average of 36 points during victories against Finland, Turkey and New Zealand.
Harden leads the team with nine steals in the past three games and he blocked a shot during the opening contest against Finland.
When the team was wrapping up its initial portion of the summer, USAB team officials were impressed with Harden’s insistence on being a lock-down defender on the perimeter.
If there were any true concerns about his defensive efforts, then he would have seen a reduction in his playing time, but Harden is among the team leaders, averaging 22 minutes a game.
Since tournament play began, Harden is averaging 12 points on 58.8 percent shooting from the field, 4.7 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.7 rebounds per game.
The United States has won 57 consecutive games against international competition and the team has been able to win its first three games in pool play while still searching for its identity.
Harden has proven to be much more than just a scoring guard for Team USA this summer, and his efforts on both ends of the floor are critical for the team throughout the rest of the tournament.