ORLANDO, Fla. — James Harden and Tyler Hansbrough are giving a glimpse of what to expect from them this NBA season, and it’s exactly what the team that drafted them hoped to see.
Harden and Hansbrough enjoyed solid performances for the second straight night, creating matchup problems, making shots and doing just about everything that made them sought-after stars in college.
Harden, the former Arizona State star and third overall pick by Oklahoma City in last month’s draft, had 19 points and five rebounds Tuesday night in the most anticipated matchup of the five-day Orlando summer league.
Hansbrough, the 13th pick by Indiana, was even better. With team president Larry Bird watching from the baseline, Hansbrough scored 23 points, hit two 3-pointers and led the Pacers to a 91-88 victory.
“It’s not really about showing for me,” said Hansbrough, who has 40 points and nine rebounds in two games. “It’s about getting a feel for what we like to do and how we run things. I’m still trying to expand my game. The Pacers, all their guys can shoot, so I’m really working on that.”
All that practice — Hansbrough took about 250 shots a day from 3-point range earlier this year — looked like it paid off. He nailed both of his 3-point attempts against the Thunder.
“He can really shoot,” said Pacers teammate Roy Hibbert, who had 24 points and eight rebounds. “People don’t really know that. Obviously, with me in the post, it sucked people in and he hit 3s. That’ll widen up the floor for us.”
Hansbrough takes offense to anyone who questioned his long-range shooting ability heading into the draft. He made just 12 3-pointers in four years at North Carolina.
“I didn’t need to go out and shoot 3s,” he said. “I just dominated inside.”
Hansbrough, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career-scoring leader, also wants to prove he’s athletic enough to play in the NBA. He put the ball on the floor several times against the Thunder, finishing once with a two-handed baseline dunk and getting fouled several times. He was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
“That’s what I proved in my workouts, things like that,” he said. “People were just saying that and people bought into it. I still get the job done, whether it’s athletic or not. I think I’m athletic.”
Harden has proven to be one of the more athletic guards in the summer league. The 6-foot-5 left-hander from ASU played nearly the entire games against the Pacers and continually beat defenders off the dribble. He showed a smooth shooting stroke and played with swagger.
And don’t be fooled by his full beard and receding hairline. He’s only 19 years old.
Harden had a chance to send the game into overtime, but came up just short on a wide-open 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“Wide-open look. Got to knock those down,” Harden said. “Big shot. Got to get used to those and be ready to shoot at all times. It looked good, felt good, just didn’t go in. It’s good that coach has that trust in me to take those big shots.”
Everyone has high expectations for Harden, even those surprised he was drafted ahead of fellow guards Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Stephen Curry.
The Thunder are using summer league play to get Harden and point guard Russell Westbrook to learn how to play with one another, knowing the backcourt could be a huge compliment to franchise player Kevin Durant.
“It’s fun,” said Harden, the highest-drafted player taking part in the Orlando summer league. “We’re growing together, we’re having fun and getting to know one another. I’m not trying to come out here and show my individual game. That’s not the kind of player I am. I’m having fun with my guys, creating different shots for my teammates and seeing everybody else score makes me happy.”
Summer league games often look like college All-Star games, and Orlando is no exception. A.J. Price, AJ Abrams, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Dionte Christmas, Brandon Rush, Derrick Byars, Jeff Adrien, Nick Fazekas, Chris Lofton, Maurice Ager, Levance Fields, Eric Maynor and James Augustine are on rosters.
Harden and Hansbrough, though, have garnered the most attention.