The first round of returns on NBA All-Star balloting are in, and James Harden is fourth for guards just behind his Rockets' teammate Jeremy Lin and one spot ahead of former Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook. There's still plenty of time for Harden to rise or fall but what's clear already is he's emerged as one of the hottest talents in the Western Conference. His 25 points per game have the NBA community talking. The game's best sixth man is now one of the league's most feared scorers. All it took was an offseason change of atmosphere to get him there. Here's a look back at some other NBA players who made the same sort of leap one year to the next and saw their scoring numbers hit new heights as a result:
Al Jefferson: Everyone suspected that Jefferson was going to be a solid pro, but Boston couldn't make the investment in the young big man in 2007. After his initial three-year contract expired, Jefferson left for Minnesota where he averaged 21.0 PPG the following year, only topped the next year with 23.1 PPG. Today, he's continuing to light it up for Utah. This consistent force of points and rebounds can slot into any rotation effortlessly.
Joe Johnson: With the contract Johnson got from the Nets and his reputation as one of the league's top scorers, it's hard to remember a time when Johnson was anything but a sure thing. But it took half a year in Boston and three and a half in Phoenix to prove that Johnson was the real deal. When he left in 2005 for Atlanta, Johnson had his own team for the first time and responded by delivering five consecutive 20+ PPG seasons.
Jalen Rose: Already in his last years in Indiana at the start of the new century, Rose was hitting his stride. It was the move to Chicago mid-season in 2001 though that brought Rose to his highest scoring levels, finishing that year with the Bulls at 23.8 PPG. He delivered similar numbers the following year for the team before things started to fizzle and he was shipped to Toronto. This Fab Five player had a long and illustrious career that's often forgotten since he often commanded teams that were in transition and trying to forge an identify.
Tracy McGrady: Another surefire scorer who waited out his first contract in Toronto before taking the league by storm. McGrady's career hit its stride in Orlando when he averaged over 25 PPG in all of his four years there, including leading the league two of those years. In 2004, he moved onto Houston, keeping up that pace for a few years before fading out. McGrady's career year-by-year scoring numbers form a nearly perfect bell curve. During that time, he went from high school to China, with a 15-year pit stop in the NBA.
Michael Finley: If it took Steve Nash leaving Dallas to head to Phoenix for his starpower to show, Finley needed the reverse switch. During his first full year in Dallas in 1997-98, Finley averaged 20 PPG for the first time. He stayed at or around that level for another six years in Dallas before his numbers dropped and left for greener pastures of San Antonio. Used more sparingly as a shooter and not an all-around scorer, Finley fit into the Popovich system and had a different sort of success, winning his only championship with the Spurs in 2007. As of last month, he was reportedly considering a comeback.