James Harden was not necessarily the best player available to the Thunder in the NBA Draft. But he was the best fit.
Fit has been the Thunder's favorite buzzword since Sam Presti took over this franchise two summers ago. It's not very exotic to talk about fit — does the piece fit? — but it's absolutely relevant in the building of this franchise.
And here's why. The Thunder now has four top-five picks from the last three drafts. That's a rush of top-shelf talent almost unmatched in NBA draft history. Only the Chicago Bulls, with four players from 2000-02, have done such an extreme roster makeover using elite draft picks.
Now think about it. Famously talented players who always have been the center of their basketball universe, suddenly grouped into a team that by definition is struggling to win (hence the early picks), carrying the future of the franchise. And only one ball to go around.
That's a recipe for selfishness and discontent. High draft picks are a blessing, but if not used wisely, they can become a curse.
Which is why Harden is the first draft pick in Thunder history and joins Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, chosen when the franchise was in Seattle, in this transforming cavalcade.
"We just feel like James Harden is our type of guy," Presti said. "Complete player. Great skill set. Really has a team-first mentality.
"There's some Jeff Green to his approach to the game."
That's all you need to know. Durant is and is going to be the star of this franchise. No telling how good Westbrook will be, and he's plenty good now.
But Green is the epitome of what Presti wants to build. An excellent player but blue-collar to the core. Willing to play out of position. Willing to play second chair to the prodigy, Durant. Willing to voluntarily come out on a hot summer day and sit on the sideline as Harden had his moment Saturday, introduced to OKC media and fans, supporting his new teammate.
The Thunder won't give much higher praise than comparisons to Jeff Green.
"One thing we value is high-character guys," said coach Scott Brooks. Harden "wants to be part of something special."
During pre-draft interviews, the Thunder was impressed with Harden's humility and modesty.
But make no mistake, Harden is more than just bucking for Salvation Army captain. He can play ball, too. It's just that Harden's style is what the Thunder wants.
Presti calls him a connector and raves about his court IQ.
Brooks talks about Harden's toughness and his knack for playmaking from the off-guard position.
"I like his commitment to getting other guys involved," Brooks said.
Harden admitted his coach at Arizona State, Herb Sendek, had to goad Harden into shooting more, which is rare if not unique for a guard chosen No. 3 in the draft.
"That's why I think Sam Presti and those guys chose me, because I'm a pass-first guy," Harden said. "They have great scorers over there, so with my ability to pass first and score second ... it helps that organization a lot."
Those Bulls from earlier this decade are a great lesson in fit. Chicago drafted Marcus Fizer No. 4 in 2000, Tyson Chandler No. 2 (via trade) and Eddy Curry No. 4 in 2001, and Jay Williams No. 2 in 2002. They didn't do their homework on character.
Fizer and Chandler weren't knuckleheads, but Fizer never really panned out as a player, and Chandler spent five disappointing years in Chicago, eventually butting heads with coach Scott Skiles, before getting traded to the Hornets.
Williams started 54 games as a rookie, with stats well below Westbrook's first-year totals, then had a career-ending motorcycle crash. Curry played four up-and-down years as a Bull, then was traded to the Knicks and has had a variety of off-court problems.
A series of high draft picks don't equate to automatic success. The pieces have to fit. You can't just draft great players and roll out the ball.
"There's no shortcut," Presti said, offering advice we'd all best remember in the coming years. "It's a process, not an event."
Drafting James Harden was another piece to the puzzle.
Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.