Playoff Pickup: James Harden
Oklahoma City’s rookie with a veteran’s game (and beard), James Harden, returned to action Wednesday night after missing six games with his recent hamstring injury. For the playoff-bound Thunder, it couldn’t be better timing. For any managers still in the fantasy championship mix, it also couldn’t be a better time to return to the floor.
As loyal reader Andrew mentioned when he tipped me off regarding Harden’s strong performance against the Rockets tonight, this is a red alert scenario (maybe). It’s hard to imagine Harden being the subject of a red alert, but head-to-head playoffs are often won or lost based upon waiver wire pickups. The unpredictability of the H2H playoffs is polarizing, as it attracts certain types of people while simultaneously pushing those who value consistency towards roto.
At this point in the season and based upon tonight’s performance, Harden could end up being one of those guys who makes or breaks your championship run.
Let’s look at some of the reasons this is a possible red alert scenario:
- Harden is currently at 25 percent ownership, meaning he is available in most leagues outside of deep leagues or dynasty formats.
- No restriction on minutes from the Thunder medical staff or head coach Scott Brooks.
- The Thunder are getting ready for a playoff run (the first of the Kevin Durant Era in the NBA — so exciting) so there is a definite need to get Harden back into the rotation and quickly. The last ten-plus games of the season are for tightening up playoff rotations for those preparing for the NBA’s second season.
- Harden played well tonight, in his first game back from injury. He dropped 23 point on 60/75/100 percent shooting, 3 threes, 2 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 1 turnover. For what it’s worth (not much), he was also a +23 while on the court (tied with Nick Collison to lead the Thunder).
- Plus, he did so against the scrappy Rockets and OKC picked up the W, which is very important to staying in the rotation.
Regardless of all that, Harden has pretty much had a green light from jump street. He is considered a core guy for the Thunder, who are committed to developing their team’s core players by letting them play together and mature as a team on the court. It is the Trailblazers’ strategy but perfected with a much more talented star as the focus (sorry, Brandon Roy). I’m required to point out that Portland could have had Durant playing alongside Brandon Roy right now had the Blazers made a different choice back in the summer of 2007. But I digress.
For all the reasons mentioned, Harden has the potential to be a solid playoff pickup for scoring off the bench. Move quickly if you have some dead weight you can cut loose.