The value of James Harden

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As Bill Simmons mentioned in his column today, fans will likely wonder for a long time if Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti made the right call by drafting low-risk shooting guard James Harden with the third overall pick over Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, and Tyreke Evans. Curry and Evans have put up far better numbers than Harden so far, but play the same position as Russell Westbrook, one of the Thunder’s key players. A backcourt featuring any of those three guards alongside Westbrook certainly would have a ton of upside, and could easily have given the Thunder one of the most exciting and dynamic offenses in the league.

However, Harden has been able to come in right away and contribute to an NBA playoff team, which is something that neither Rubio, Curry, or Evans can claim. On Daily Thunder today, J.G. Hastings has a post up that shows how valuable Harden has been to the Thunder, even if he’s been quite a bit less spectacular than some of the point guards the Thunder passed up to draft him. 
As Hastings notes, the Thunder have struggled to get any scoring from their shooting guard spot since Harden went down with an injury, and their bench production has also suffered. Harden hasn’t been incredible in any one area over the course of his short NBA career, and has struggled mightily to finish at the rim. However, Harden’s versatility has allowed him to be effective in a number of ways coming off the bench, particularly with his outside shooting and playmaking. 
One final thought: If Harden was healthy, he probably would have been the one left alone when the Spurs double-teamed Kevin Durant on the Thunder’s final possession last night. Since Harden is a 37.7% three-point shooter, that may have been a gamble the Spurs were unwilling to take. Instead, 30% three-point shooter Thabo Sefolosha was the one given the open looked, and he fired a brick to give the Spurs the game. If Harden had been on the floor, it may have meant the difference between a win and a loss in a game crucial for playoff seeding in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference. 

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: