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How high should Harden go?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's "No-shave November," and what better a spokesperson for that tradition than Rockets guard James Harden, who has been letting his beard grow since the first hairs sprouted on his chin.

Harden has become the most discussed player in the NBA following his Oct. 27 trade to Houston and subsequent ghoulish evisceration of the Detroit Pistons four days later on Halloween.

With the NBA season just getting started, there are bound to be plenty of leagues that haven't had time to draft yet -- the NBA fantasy draft has not become a ritual like the NFL, it's more a chore that you just need to get out of the way.

We already know Harden's value to the beard community, but what about to fantasy leagues? How high should he go?

I'll tell you. It really comes down to the same decision the Oklahoma City Thunder had to make in dishing out huge contracts -- Russell Westbrook or Harden? And I'm taking Harden, even if I have the fourth overall pick.

That's where Westbrook is going, right after LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul (Westbrook's Yahoo! ADP is 5.0 because Kevin Love was going fourth prior to his injury and the ADPs haven't entirely caught up to the new draft trends yet).

Even if you just stretch Harden's 2011-12 averages out to starter's minutes, the choice is obvious. Let's use the 35 mpg Westbrook last season as a guide in place of Harden's 31.

Harden played 62 games; 35 mpg equates to 2,170 total minutes. If Harden played those minutes last season, he would have scored 18.8 points with 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.1 3-pointers made and an 84.6 free-throw percentage as well as 2.5 turnovers per game.

Westbrook averaged 23.6 points, grabbed 4.6 rebounds, dished out 5.5 assists and had 1.7 steals, all better than Harden's 35-mpg averages, but he was significantly worse in 3-pointers made (0.9) and turnovers (3.6) and shot a worse percentage from the foul line.

Since standard eight-category fantasy leagues place more value in well-rounded players, it's clear Harden would have been a better option than Westbrook if he played the same number of minutes last season. As is, he already ranked 14th overall, with Westbrook 9th.

That's before you take into account how differently Harden will be used by Houston this season. It's clear that Harden is the man, as evidenced by his 25 shots (10 3-point attempts!) and six free-throw attempts. The Rockets are going to give him a chance to be exactly who he wants to be with no restrictions and no strings attached.

Harden can get to the rim and run the pick-and-roll when he has the ball, and Houston has some decent outside shooters he can dish the ball to if needed.

The important thing is that when Harden wants to play off the ball, he has a point guard in Jeremy Lin that can still get him easy looks. Just look at a play Houston ran in the third quarter as proof of that.

Lin brought the ball up as Harden spotted up behind the right-corner 3-point line. Lin dribbled right, and Harden's defender came towards Lin just enough that Harden was left with a wide-open lane to the hoop. Lin hit him on a bounce pass for an easy dunk.

With the Rockets, Harden will be equal parts point guard and shooting guard; slasher and spot-up shooter; distributor and scorer. And "No-shave November" may last well into the spring in Houston.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.


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