This much we know. Behind Kevin Durant acting as the “one” in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s one-two punch is Russell Westbrook. But to make a run in the playoffs, the other, other guy that could punctuate OKC’s ascent to elite heights is James Harden; the lightening bolt that could roll the Thunder deep into the playoffs.
He’s smart. He’s savvy. He’s hardworking. He’s unnoticed. A No. 3 overall draft pick (he went a pick ahead of Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans, by the way), the shooter/slasher is averaging 15.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists since the All-Star break.
Those sound stats were aided by the trade that sent forward Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics. OKC not only gave more playing time to the 6-5, 220-pound guard, but also placed a little onus on the second-year pro from Arizona State to become the coveted and consistent third option that every playoff team needs to make a divvy in the NBA landscape.
Just look at all the teams that have more than two players that could single-handedly take over a game. The Lakers have Lamar Odom behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and the Spurs have Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to go with Tim Duncan. As it stands, the Thunder haven’t found that third offensive spark.
But Harden could develop into that guy, and unlike Green, he has the potential to mold himself into more than a great role-player. An exceptional playmaker off the dribble, he takes the pressure – and opposing defenses – off Durant and Westbrook. Harden’s unselfishness often keeps his full talent under wraps.
“I’ve known James since he was 13,” college teammate Derek Glasser told The Arizona Republic. “He’s a very humble kid. It’s never been about ‘me’ and that kind of reflects on his game. Coaches always want him to shoot more.”
Harden’s post-All-Star scoring numbers eclipse your usual NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidates in Jason Terry (15.5), Jamal Crawford (12.6) and Odom (13.2), all in similar minutes played. To make the jump from being a very young team to a threat, the Thunder could benefit from Harden breaking out of his sometimes overly-unselfish shell, even if Thabo Sefolosha remains the defensive-minded starter.
And if that comes in the upcoming playoffs where OKC opens against the Denver Nuggets, the Thunder could threaten the Lakers’ and Spurs’ grasp upon the top of the Western Conference.
What do you think?
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