Current Third Options on NBA Teams Who Will Be the Next James Harden

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2012

Current Third Options on NBA Teams Who Will Be the Next James Harden

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    Until recently, James Harden was a superstar being forced to play the part of the role player.

    On the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was the third offensive option, an option that came off the bench no less.

    With the Houston Rockets, however, he is something more. Something much more.

    Not only has he assumed a starting role, but he's become the first offensive option and the face—beard and all—of the entire franchise.

    Now that his situation has been resolved, though, there's a slightly surprising, yet inevitable realization we must come to—he was not alone.

    There are plenty of other studs in the league playing third-fiddle to a host of other scorers.

    Like Harden, though, these offensively gifted players will one day become the primary option for which their current—or future—teams will build around.

Kevin Martin, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Let's start with the obvious.

    At 29, Kevin Martin isn't a source of youth exuberance, but the man can still score.

    The shooting guard has averaged over 17 points-per-contest in each of his last seven seasons and put up 20 or more points a night in five of his eight NBA seasons.

    But that was as the focal point of the Rockets offense. With the Thunder, he, like Harden, will be forced to take a backseat to the offensive stylings of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    And just like Harden was, Martin is set to explore free agency this summer. Unlike Harden would have been, though, he'll be an unrestricted free agent, meaning he can sign wherever he wants, and Oklahoma City will not have the opportunity to match.

    After spending a year playing the part of a third wheel, he may want to get as far away from the Thunder as possible.

    Sure, at this stage of the career he may be more inclined to chase a title, but there are contenders out there in need of second or even first options—paging Mark Cuban—that will be willing to pay for his services.

    Simply put, playing for the Thunder will undoubtedly be an adjustment for Martin, as he is poised to get a taste of the life Harden was living, borderline enduring. 

Paul George, SG, Indiana Pacers

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    Paul George is the victim of a team set in its own ways.

    The Indiana Pacers are so used to feeding the ball to Danny Granger that the opportunity to assume an expanded role is limited. They're also inclined to feed Roy Hibbert in the low post, which means even less touches for the shooting guard.

    In Granger's absence, we will likely get a taste of the scorer George can truly be, as he will be either the first or second option when Indiana has the ball.

    Much like Granger he can scorer from anywhere on the floor, yet he is noticeably more athletic, which makes him more of a threat when attacking the rim. He also took quite a statistical jump between his rookie and sophomore seasons, going from 7.8 points-per-game to 12.1.

    This year we can expect much of the same, as he continues to hone his jump shot and increase his aptitude for dribble penetration when the ball is in his hands.

    The end result?

    George and the Pacers are going to have quite the decision to make two years from now when he is eligible for an extension.

Evan Turner, SG, Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Philadelphia 76ers have an offensive gem in Evan Turner.

    Though the third-year shooting guard is still plenty raw and has to improve his efficiency from behind the arc, he is a versatile scoring threat with a great mid-range game and a penchant for attacking the rim.

    That said, once the Sixers are fully healthy, his offensive prowess will be buried behind both Andrew Bynum and Jrue Holiday.

    Will he receive plenty of opportunities to score?

    Yes, but not to the extent he deserves, especially moving forward.

    He's only 24 and has shown a willingness to improve and evolve as player; he's someone who will eventually, at the very least, become a second, if not first, offensive option for a team.

    Fortunately for Philadelphia, it has a team option for the budding stud heading into next season. After that, though, he'll be eligible to explore free agency in 2014, by which point he'll be looking to take on a more significant workload.

    Whether or not that additional responsibility will comes as a member of the Sixers remains to be seen.

Wesley Matthews, SG, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Wesley Matthews is an offensive beast.

    And yet, he still gets featured behind the likes LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. There will even come a time when is relegated to a fourth option behind Damian Lillard.

    Is that a sign of Portland's potential offensive depth? Yes. Is it also a shame? Most definitely.

    Matthews boasts a lethal offensive arsenal. He's a career 39.5 percent three-point shooter who can also score off the dribble and even with his back to the basket.

    His offensive numbers tend to fluctuate, though, as do most of the league's premier scorers that are third in line. Without a consistent number of touches it's difficult for him to establish offensive continuity on a nightly basis.

    Increase his role, though, and he's bound to thrive.

    And that's a reality the Blazers must explore or he's liable to request a trade before his contract is up in 2015.

Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors

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    Behind the likes of Stephen Curry and David Lee there lies Klay Thompson—an offensive savant.

    The sophomore shooting guard caught plenty of people's attention during his rookie season, which will propel him to third-option prominence within Golden State's offense.

    He won't be suited for such a role very long, though, as his ability to score in bunches from all areas of the floor, and do so efficiently, will warrant an increased level of significance.

    Thompson won't be eligible for free agency until 2015, but even then, the Warriors will have a team option. After that, though, all bets or off.

    Because by that point, Thompson will be a bona fide star, someone whose talents will justify being a team's primary pillar and most certainly its go-to offensive option.

    Will he be allowed to become this player with the Warriors or will he be forced to leave the confines of a system that restricts his ability the way Harden was?

    We'll find out.

    Eventually.