James Harden: An Interesting NBA Draft Prospect

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 13:  Guard James Harden #13 of the Arizona State Sun Devils goes up for a shot against the Washington Huskies in the Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at the Staples Center on March 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Stats: 20.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 3.4 t/o's, 48.9 percent FG, 35.6 percent 3PT's, 75.6 percent FT

Listed Size: 6'5", 218 lb, 8/26/89 (19 years old)

About Him: James Harden is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft class...the main reason being that everyone seems to be talking about his shortcomings much more than what he can actually do as a player.

And despite how good he was at Arizona State the last two seasons, he does have some flaws as a prospect. The biggest issue for most scouts will be his athleticism, or relative lack thereof. Harden will not be entering the dunk contest, and he lacks an explosive first step.

As a result, a lot of critics worry that Harden will not be able to finish at the rim in the NBA (although, according to Draft Express's stat analysis, he was one of the best wings this year finishing at the rim).

What Harden lacks in athleticism, however, he makes up for with a great understanding of the game and what he can do. I like to say he has "old-man's game." His outstanding array of fakes, hesitations, and dribble moves make him so difficult to stay in front of.

This is even more evident when you consider that Harden was really the only player on his ASU team with the ability to create his own shot, and he was still able to average 20 despite defenses gearing toward him (he was also able to penetrate almost at will even though teams knew he is much better going left, to his strong hand).

Right now, Harden is the best two-guard prospect in the draft and probably good enough to land in the top five this year. But if anything will scare off teams, it is his lack off aggressiveness—he has a tendency to "let the game come to him."

As evidenced by his subpar tournament performances (19 points and just three FG's in two games), Harden was more than willing to pass up an open look when the defense was shading his way (Ty Abbott and Rihard Kuksiks combined to go 12-23 from three against Syracuse).

This isn't actually a bad thing in a player because it means he is unselfish and can fit into a team style of play, but it could cause Harden to slide a bit in the draft (more on that later).

What Harden lacks in aggressiveness he makes up for in pure basketball IQ.

He understands how to score given his limited athletic gifts, but he also understands how to draw an extra man and get an open look for his teammate (4.2 apg). Knowing how good of a defender he is will be tough due to ASU's zone defense, but Harden had a knack for jumping passing lanes and making big plays on that end of the floor.

The last question mark in his game is his perimeter shot. He did shoot almost 36 percent from deep as a sophomore, but almost all of them were a set shot when he had his feet set.

Shooting off the dribble or on the move off of a screen, he becomes much less reliable. But that is the kind of thing that can develop over time, especially when you are dealing with a kid who is just 19.

His form isn't ideal, but in watching him play you will see a consistent release (which is a good sign—think about Reggie Miller's form).

Comparisons: Best Case—Manu Ginobli; worst Case—Courtney Lee.

Bottom Line: Harden's one of the best scorers in this draft class, but the issue of his aggressiveness may scare off some teams. When you are picking in the top three or top five, usually you are trying to find a guy that can be a franchise cornerstone.

Harden seems like he is going to be more of a system guy, a guy who needs to find the right fit. If he does, he could end up being at 15-17 ppg guy down the road.



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