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Is James Harden a perfect fit for Oklahoma City Thunder?

By MIKE BALDWIN, Staff Writer

MIKE BALDWIN Modified: June 17, 2009 at 1:20 pm •  Published: June 16, 2009

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.

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