James Harden pounded his cream three-piece suit and bow-tie-covered chest and smiled.
The Oklahoma City Thunder had just made the Arizona State shooting guard the third overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
Harden is now the newest member of the Thunder’s talented young core, joining Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. The Pac-10 Player of the Year seemingly will become the team’s shooting guard of the future and serve as the answer to the Thunder’s perimeter shooting problems last season.
The Thunder passed on Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, who is widely considered the second best prospect behind former Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin. In doing so, Oklahoma City avoided a potential predicament in which the 18-year-old Spanish sensation likely would have moved Westbrook to shooting guard.
Rubio, who the Thunder showed increased interest in over the past week, was available to the Thunder when the Los Angeles Clippers used the first selection on Griffin and Memphis passed on Rubio in favor of Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet.
Harden is regarded as one of the most polished players in the draft. He is touted for having a high basketball IQ, great instincts and excellent decision-making. He led the Pac-10 in scoring with 20.1 points to go with 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 steals as a sophomore for the Sun Devils last season.
Harden is expected to help an Oklahoma City team that ranked 28th in 3-point percentage at 34.6 percent. Harden converted 35.6 percent of his 3-point shot attempts this past season.
Questions about Harden include how capable of a defender he is, whether the left-hander can attack the basket going right and if he can develop a mid-range shooting game. Critics have also said Harden isn’t a great athlete, a notion he proved largely inaccurate during athletic testing at the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago.
"I don’t think I need to prove anything,” Harden told ESPN after being drafted. "I just need to go in there and work hard and try my best to earn a spot on that team.