7. James Harden, 2009
Slash Line: .443/.365/.857
Career Averages: 24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 2.6 3PM
For James Harden to land here the all-time No. 3 picks just shows the depth of players selected at this spot, and it’s possible and perhaps likely he becomes the second or third greatest of these high draft picks down the road.
Three years with glimpses of potential in Oklahoma City turned into immediate greatness with the Houston Rockets. A burst of 25.9 points per game redefined any career highs originally set with the Thunder, making everyone wonder why they only acquired Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and just two first-round picks; granted, one of them became Steven Adams, but it was not enough to supplement.
Harden became the face of the Rockets and one of the NBA’s best scorers with years of consistent and improvement, though for a few seasons he was a notch or two behind the game’s elite. That changed when Mike D’Antonio became the head coach, turning the Beard into the primary ball handler.
The result: 11.2 assists per game in 2016-17. If not for Russell Westbrook‘s historic triple-double average, Harden might have not one, but two NBA MVPs.
The hardware was properly given in 2017-18, when the Rockets rivaled the Golden State Warriors as the NBA’s best team. He had a career-high 30.4 points and looked more dominant than ever.
2018-19 took Harden to another level, soaring for 36.1 points per game. Remarkable for any era of basketball, and it might lead to another MVP, unless Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has something to say.
Harden will turn 30 years old for the 2019-20 season, but there are clearly terrific years remaining for this elite two-guard. He will leave the NBA as Pro Basketball Hall of Famer, it’s just a matter of where he places.