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 the 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. They’re young and they’re great and they have great chemistry there. So I want to go in there and try to help them out. “I have different paces to my game. I’m not the fastest guy. I’m not the most explosive guy. But I get from Point A to Point B.” Harden has the potential to slip into the starting lineup immediately between Westbrook and Durant. Westbrook endorsed Harden in the current edition of ESPN The Magazine when the publication asked a player from each team with a first-round selection which draft prospect they would take. “He can handle, shoot and he’s athletic,” Westbrook is quoted as saying. “And he was in a good system at Arizona State.” The addition of Harden, who doesn’t turn 20 until Aug. 26, continues the Thunder’s trend of building with young players. Durant won’t be 21 until Sept. 29, Westbrook doesn’t turn 21 until Nov. 21 and Green will be just 23 on Aug. 28. “I don’t think it’s wrong when you’re building to play all young players as long as they have high basketball IQ and high basketball character,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. Harden became the first player drafted out of Arizona State in the top five since New Orleans coach Byron Scott in 1983. “The reason why I like it is because they have guys that love to play the game of basketball,” said ESPN analyst and former point guard Mark Jackson. “You watch them in the off-season, they play together, they work hard. With quality guys, young talent doesn’t matter.” Harden, a Los Angeles native, sounded excited about the prospects of joining what is widely considered to be one of the most talented young teams in the league. “Just going in there and helping those guys out, Kevin Durant and Russell is going to be a great honor,” Harden said.
Thursday's NBA First Round Draft Picks 1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin, F, Oklahoma 2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut 3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden, G, Arizona State 4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis 5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio, G, Spain 6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn, G, Syracuse 7. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, G, Davidson 8. New York Knicks: Jordan Hill, F, Arizona 9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan, G, USC 10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings, G, Italy 11. New Jersey Nets: Terrence Williams, G, Louisville 12. Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Henderson, G, Duke 13. Indiana Pacers: Tyler Hansbrough, F, North Carolina 14. Phoenix Suns: Earl Clark, F, Louisville 15. Detroit Pistons: Austin Daye, F, Gonzaga 16. Chicago Bulls: James Johnson, F, Wake Forest 17. Philadelphia 76ers: Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA 18. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Miami): Ty Lawson, G, North Carolina 19. Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest 20. Utah Jazz: Eric Maynor, G, Virginia Commonwealth 21. New Orleans Hornets: Darren Collison, G, UCLA 22. Portland Trail Blazers (from Dallas): Victor Claver, F, Spain 23. Sacramento Kings (from Houston): Omri Casspi, F, Israel 24. Dallas Mavericks (from Portland): B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State 25. Oklahoma City Thunder (from San Antonio): Rodrigue Beaubois, G, Guadeloupe 26. Chicago Bulls (from Denver via Oklahoma City): Taj Gibson, F, USC 27. Memphis Grizzlies (from Orlando): DeMarre Carroll, F, Missouri 28. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Boston): Wayne Ellington, G, North Carolina 29. Los Angeles Lakers: Toney Douglas, G, Florida State 30. Cleveland Cavaliers: Christian Eyenga, G/F, Congo