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“At that point, he really understood that I have to be more of an all-around player, to have an impact,” Brooks said.

Brooks decided to stick with defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha as his starting shooting guard this season, but he made sure Harden understood that his minutes would line up with the usual breaks for Durant and Westbrook and Harden could be the featured player during those stretches.

“You have an opportunity if you don’t start to be the facilitator and to be a scorer and to do everything during those minutes that Russell and Kevin are on the bench getting their rest,” Brooks told him.

“That’s intriguing for James. He has six or seven minutes a half where he has to do everything _ keep the scoreboard moving and lead us on the defensive end.”

Harden shined, increasing his scoring output from 12.2 points per game to 16.8, improving his shooting percentage in all areas and recording more assists in 62 games this season than he did in a full 82-game schedule a season earlier.

And now, he has something else to be known for besides his trademark beard and that elbow to the head he took from World Peace. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest player to win the Sixth Man Award and only the fifth of the 30 recipients to be 25 years old or younger.

Ben Gordon was the youngest to win it, at age 21 with Chicago in 2005.

“He has a great game and he has a cool look. His beard, that is a cool look,” Brooks said. “I didn’t like it at first but it’s growing on me. I would never want him to shave it.”