Count Scott Pera among those who think James Harden is the perfect fit for the Thunder.
Pera coached the Arizona State All-American shooting guard in high school and college.
"When the ping pong balls fell the way they did, I was ecstatic," Pera said. "He wouldn't need to go in there and shock the world and save the franchise. Kevin Durant is there. Jeff Green is there. Russell Westbrook is there.
"(Harden) is what those guys are not and they're what he is not."
The Thunder's evaluation of Harden continues Wednesday when the 6-foot-5 swingman comes to Oklahoma City for a workout.
Oklahoma City's two biggest needs are a center to anchor the defense and another 3-point shooter to stretch defenses.
Some mock drafts project the Thunder will take teenage point guard Ricky Rubio or 7-foot-3 Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet. Others have Thunder general manager Sam Presti targeting Harden with the No. 3 selection.
The draft workout buzz has labeled the 6-foot-5 swingman as a player with deceptive athleticism and a high basketball IQ.
"He's one of those kids that's a throwback from a different era," one NBA general manager was quoted. "His background came back as clean as it gets. His coach and teammates rave about him. He's all business on and off the court."
Because he's left-handed and has a similar build and perimeter game, Harden has been compared to Michael Redd, the Milwaukee All-Star who played on the U.S. Olympic team.
"(Redd) was the player I used to compare him to when he was in the 10th grade," said Pera, who left after Harden's junior year at Artesia High for an assistant job at Arizona State. "As he's grown I now see him more as a poor man's version of Paul Pierce or Brandon Roy.
"His game translates very well to the next level because of his length and he anticipates well, whether that's getting to a spot for a shot or defensively. In high school he led us in charges two years in a row."
Dispelling rumors he isn't as athletic as other lottery picks, Harden's emerged from a rookie combine with some impressive measurables, including a 6-foot-11 wing span and a 37-inch vertical leap that ranked near the top of this class.
He also ran 11.10 in lane agility, only .01 slower than Hornets All-Star guard Chris Paul ran in 2005. He also displayed good strength (17 repetitions of 200 pounds). The one drawback was 10.1 percent body fat.
Said Pera, "People look for weaknesses but he always has an answer." Said one Eastern Conference scout, "He's an above average athlete."
"He's not slow," the scout said. "He still needs to show me he can shoot it as well as some people think. ... Wherever he ends up he'll be a very good NBA player for a long time."
Harden isn't a one dimensional spot-up shooter. He averaged 7.1 free-throw attempts during his two seasons at Arizona State, shooting 75.5 percent at the line.
"No one ever expects Paul Pierce to dunk over people," Pera said. "But because of how big he is and how smart he is, he can get to be where he needs to be on the floor. He gets to the line. That's James' game.
"James has never been a super flashy, look-at-me type of guy. He just wants to win games. If he needed to dunk he did. If he needed to hit five 3's he did. If he needed three great passes that's what he did. His game will translate well to the next level."
Harden led Artesia to a 66-3 and consecutive California state high school championships before choosing Arizona State over Washington. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar called it one of his biggest recruiting disappointments.
The 25 victories Harden led Arizona State to last season were its second highest victory total in 34 years.
ASU coach Herb Sendek stresses that Harden is still young (19), is extremely coachable and has a tremendous work ethic.
"He was great for our program which didn't have much tradition," Sendek said. "Whatever team takes James Harden will get a very talented player, a team player."
"Whether it's Washington, Sacramento or Oklahoma City, I know he will be thrilled," Pera said. "But there's just something going on there in Oklahoma City that has his attention. With what they're trying to build, it would be a great fit."