James Harden, 6-5 SR SG Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia, is definitely a kid who loves to compete. His high school team won the CIF Southern Section and State championship. His Pump N Run team won the Cactus Classic and Super 64 (and he was MVP in both events). And the Pump team stands a good chance of winning the Best of Summer, with Harden once again the clear MVP of the team. For those of you west of California who might not have figured it out yet – this guy is the top shooting guard in the west, without question. There is no more debate.
Harden is a complete player. He's very good at every aspect of the game – shooting, handling, passing, defending, rebounding, etc. But Harden also has other attributes that make him a great player. He's tough and physical – he plays with an edge to him. He's very competitive. He has an outstanding feel for the game. He has such a good feel that we could see him playing some minutes at point guard in college. He's got great vision and he makes excellent decisions. Unless people are completely asleep at the wheel, Harden will be a McDonald's All-American.
While Harden is the best 2007 shooting guard in the west, the best one period is Jrue Holiday, 6-2 JR SG North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall. Holiday put on a show yesterday, as he carried his Double Pump team to the quarterfinals of the tournament. Holiday doesn't have much to work with on his team, beyond his brother Justin and point guard Jerime Anderson. But he can dominate a game at times, at both ends, and he did just that on several occasions during the day. The superlatives were flying up and down the row of coaches who were watching Holiday play. He's the best point guard and the best shooting guard in the country for 2008. Whatever position you put him at, he's the best.
One of the great things about Holiday's game is he plays hard all the time. It doesn't matter if it is a big game or a meaningless game – he plays the same way. He plays the game in attack mode, whether he's on offense or defense. There will be times when you look up and realize he just made every play for a couple minutes. Hit a three, grab a rebound, assist, steal, bucket, rebound, dunk, steal and then another assist. He dominates the action. Look for every top school in the country to try to get in on Holiday's recruitment.
Malcolm Lee, 6-3 JR PG Riverside (Calif.) North, hasn't received as much hype as some of the other 2008 point guards, but he has a chance to be the best of the bunch when it's all said and done. Lee was terrific in the game we watched yesterday morning. His decision-making was sharp and he made several outstanding passes. The competition was admittedly not that good, but Lee showed why he should be considered for the top spot among 2008 PGs in the west. He's not as pure a one as Jerime Anderson or Larry Drew, but Lee has more upside. He's longer, and more athletic, than either player, while also being a better shooter. Lee has a chance to be a great defender when he gets taught how to defend. He hasn't received much coaching to this point and it's very intriguing to think about what he might become once he gets some real instruction.
Jerime Anderson, 6-1 JR PG Anaheim (Calif.) Canyon, also had a very good day yesterday in leading his Double Pump team to the quarterfinals. While Jrue Holiday is clearly the star of the team, Anderson is the one who runs the show. He thinks the game as well as any point guard in the west and he does a great job of setting up teammates. His shot has been inconsistent this summer, but we saw him shoot it well enough in the regular season to know that he'll be fine in that area. Anderson is a pure point and his decision-making has been excellent all summer. He rarely turns it over and his assist numbers would be much higher on a more talented team. He's also one of the best defensive guards in the west. Despite what some may have written, the debate over the top point guard in the west has not been settled and Anderson is squarely in the mix.
Another player who is in that discussion for top point guard is Larry Drew, the 5-11 junior from Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft. Drew was terrific again yesterday, as he found just the right mixture of shots and playmaking for others. The Pump N Run team is loaded with talent and Drew does a great job of getting everyone involved. Drew did not shoot the ball well during the regular season, but he's been consistent from the outside most of the summer. He's playing with a lot of confidence, as his game has seemingly gone up a notch since the end of the high school season. Projecting him against the other point guards in the west, the one issue against Drew might be his size. We've been expecting him to grow a little more for some time now – his long arms appear to be disproportional to his body – but he's been the same size for a while now. Even if he doesn't grow, though, Drew has a case to be the top-ranked point in the west. He's got a complete game and a very advanced understanding of the game.