(We’ve all had our thoughts post-trade about what the Thunder needs to do, where they need go and who needs to step up. Here’s one fan’s take on it.)
By Cody Thrasher
To say things have been a little crazy in Thunderland the past week is a massive understatement. After months of wondering whether or not Jeff Green would be in the team’s future, he was traded to Boston right before the trade deadline. Nenad Krstic was also included in the deal, and the Thunder received Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson in return. It was a bittersweet day for many Thunder fans, including myself, because Green had been such a big part of the team since coming to Oklahoma City. Quite frankly, he was one of my favorites.
The trade has been finalized, and fans are ready to welcome the new additions. Perkins will be out another week or two, and things could be a little rocky until he comes back. It’s time to move on without Jeff Green, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who still has questions that need answers. The Thunder definitely made the right move to improve the center position, and things are even better now that Perkins has been signed to a long-term deal. That being said, who is going to replace Green and the 15 points per game he put up?
Enter James Harden. The second-year player out of Arizona State was the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Many fans wanted Oklahoma City to pick Ricky Rubio because of his huge upside, but most of those fans are thankful we got Harden because he was the safest pick at the time. Also, Rubio hasn’t played a minute in the NBA, and that makes things sweeter as well.
Harden hasn’t had the kind of impact some expected, but he has started to show improvement in a number of areas. His minutes have gone up a little in his second season, and his points per game are also on the rise. He had a dreadful first month of the 2010-2011 season, but since then, he has improved. He averaged 13 points per game in February, including 17.0 points per game over the last five games. His defense has also improved, and it really stood out down the stretch against the Lakers Sunday afternoon.
The Thunder have only played two games since trading Jeff Green, and it’s pretty obvious the team has missed him so far. We were short-handed both games, and the opponents were the Magic and Lakers. Nonetheless, we struggled to score when the opposition shut down Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. James Harden is going to get more minutes down the stretch now that Green is gone, and it’s time for him to take the next step in the NBA. To this point, he has been a very solid weapon off the bench. From this point on, however, he is going to have to be the third option who isn’t scared to take or make the big shot or play when it counts.
Kendrick Perkins will give us great interior and team defensive help, but Harden is going to have to be the man who takes over when KD and Russ are off. And to be quite honest, he has plenty of tools to get the job done. He is extremely versatile on the offensive end of the floor, as he is able to get to the rim, create for others, and hit the outside shot. He has been passive at times throughout his young NBA career, but it’s time he realizes just how talented he is. The time for being passive is over, and the time to become a guy who averages 15 points per game and be a true impact player is now!
James Harden is going to be on the floor more in late-game situations now that Jeff Green is gone, and he will have every opportunity to shine on this team down the stretch. There are plenty of winnable games on the schedule, but some of those games are losable if we don’t have a third option on offense. Perkins and Nazr Mohammed will be key pieces the last couple months of the season, but Harden is the single-most important piece to the puzzle if this team is going to take the next step. Many fans around the league recognize Harden as the man with the great beard, but it’s time he shows everyone why the Thunder picked him third in the 2009 NBA Draft instead of Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, etc.
Does James Harden have what it takes to make an even bigger impact now that Jeff Green is gone? Will he become the third option down the stretch and take some of the offensive pressure off Durant and Westbrook? What is your prediction for Harden as the team heads into the last couple months of the NBA season? Thanks for reading, and as always, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.