After winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the year award last season, James Harden, on his first season with the Houston Rockets, is looking like the favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, turning into one of the best players in the league, and bringing a lot of truth to the tagline “fear the beard.”

Harden was a big star in high school, leading Artesia High from Lakewood, California, to win the state title during his Junior and Senior years, leading him to being named an McDonald’s All-American. All this without the beard.

College Basketball and playing for Arizona State got him to add some hair to his face, growing gradually. Harden played only two years for the Sun Devils, averaging 20.1 points per game during his Sophomore season, named as a consensus All-American and winning the Pac-10 player of the year award.

He was the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, heading to the growing Oklahoma City Thunder. The beard began getting noticed, but it took him a couple of season to be really recognized, because Harden started getting more minutes off the Thunder’s bench, as the team rose to prominence, eventually reaching the NBA finals in 2012. Harden averaged 16.8 points per game last season coming off the Thunder’s bench.

This season? Harden is averaging 26.4 points per game, possibly leading the Rockets to the postseason for the first time since the Yao Ming – Tracy McGrady era, making his first All-Star game as well.

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