The Next James Harden: Finding a Diamond in the Rough Part 1

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When Daryl Morey found his first diamond

In 2012 Daryl Morey had five winning seasons under his belt as the Houston Rockets GM, but he knew his team need more star potential to make a run at the NBA finals. Morey traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first round picks for James Harden and a handful of role players. In James Harden Morey knew he had a potential All-NBA player to build around. Harden went on to lead the Rockets to several western conference finals appearances, won three scoring titles and a league MVP in 2018.

In his second season with the Philadelphia 76ers Daryl is tasked with trading Ben Simmons. The likely hood of the Sixers getting a certified star in return for Simmons is slim at this point. Daryl may need to uncover another diamond in the rough so he can truly unlock the Sixers.

Defining a diamond

A diamond in the rough can be any player lacking the opportunity to be the lead play maker in their current situation. This athlete may be overshadow by another player or simply buried on the bench do to playing style.

Not all diamonds turn into and All-NBA player like James Harden, some are like Jeremi Grant who recently signed with Detroit to create more opportunities for himself. The signing resulted in Grant maintaining his efficiency while posting career highs in points and assists.

Types of diamonds

For the sake of this study I will refer to players that can make the leap to multi time All-Star levels as a Tier 1 diamond (the James Harden level). Players that can boost their production like Jeremi Grant, but don’t quite reach All-Star level consistently are Tier 2 diamonds. There are always diamonds in this league just waiting to be discovered by Daryl Morey or any other GM.

The Diamonds

Tier 2 – Bogdan Bogdanovic

Image vis Statmuse, Bogdan Bogdanovic stats without Trae Young in the lineup

Bogdan Bogdanovic is one of my favorite role players in the NBA right now, but can he be more than that? Bogdan has displayed consistent perimeter shooting, ability to attack the rim and phenomenal decision making through out his career. Last year he posted 16.4 ppg (career high), 3.3 apg and 3.6 rpg. He shot 43.8% from 3 on 7.6 attempts per contest, making him one of the leagues best shooters. He has a nearly 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio and constantly makes the right play when the ball is in his hands.

Bogdan as a lead playmaker

Last year in 6 game without Trae Young in the lineup Bogdan became the focal point of the Atlanta Hawks offense. He averaged 25.2 ppg, 5.0 assists and 4.5 rpg. He was able to match most of Trae Youngs scoring production (25.3 ppg, 9.7 apg and 3.3 rpg) and shot an effective field goal percentage of 63.2%. This would put Bogdan number 8 in the league in eFG and make him the only guard that is top 15 in that category. Typically lob catching roll men like Rudy Gobert, Clint Capella and Dwight Howard are the types of players that fill out the top ten in eFG. For reference Trae Young’s eFG is 49.9%.

Bogdanovic shot a red hot 50.8% from 3 in those 6 games. Having the ball in his hands allowed him to effectively maintain his shooting rhythm through out the game. This does not just occur when Trae Young is out. Bogdan shot over 50.0% from three in 13 out of 20 of his highest usage rate games last year with Trae young on the court for most of them.

I believe Bogdan is very capable of being a borderline All-star in the right situation. He has been an excellent number two man in Atlanta. His skill set allows the hawks to run the same offense when Trae is not on the court.

Tier 1 – Mikal Bridges

Image and stats vis Statmuse, Mikal Bridges regular season averages.

Mikal Bridges is one of the best young two-way players in the game. He had an underwhelming rookie season, but his defensive attributes were apparent from day one. His combination of height (6’6″), wingspan (7’1″), agility and activity off the ball have already made him one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Bridges has now added a reliable 3pt shot at 42.5% (4.4 attempts per game) and some creation ability. He attacks the paint both as a ball handler and a cutter proficiently. As a result Mikal has one of the highest eFG% at 64.3%, this is top five in the league.

Bridges projection

If Bridges continues on his path of offensive development he could be one of the best two-way players in the game. The Suns are hoping he can be the next Kawhi Leonard. Statistically the two players are almost identical in their first three seasons (see below), but Bridges has been a more efficient shooter. Bridges is a superior shooter inside and outside of the paint (64.7% 2pt FG, 42.5% 3pt FG) compared to 3rd year Kawhi (57.9% 2pt FG, 37.9% 3pt FG). Overall Mikal Bridges has a bright future.

Kawhi Leonard First Three Seasons

Career31.3.4933.9.384.535.547.8586. View Original Table
Generated 10/21/2021.

Mikal Bridges first three seasons

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/21/2021.



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