As the Oklahoma City Thunder enter Tuesday night's Game 2 against the rolling San Antonio Spurs, the focus around the OKC side of the series has shifted away from superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and towards James Harden, the man tasked with defending the resurgent Manu Ginobili.
ESPN's Grantland has a timely long-read on the development of Harden, whose sleeper potential could be finally realized at the moment OKC needs him the most, to break San Antonio's style of selfless ball distribution and passing:
At his best, Harden breaks the Thunder out of this pattern. Yes, he can play brilliant one-on-one basketball as the primary scorer and creator of the Thunder's second unit. And yes, his ability to shoot, drive and finish, and read defenses makes him one of the most effective pick-and-roll players in the NBA. But Harden's most crucial role may come near the end of games, when he shares the floor with Durant and Westbrook and becomes the Thunder's best facilitator and uses off-ball screens to remain a scoring threat. "It's really important for them to have someone who can get points but doesn't need to have a lot of possession," a Spurs basketball staffer told me during the second round. On top of this, Harden can carry the team if necessary, like he did in Game 4 against Dallas.
Check out the entire read here, which does a phenomenal job at surmising what Harden could be in Game 2 and beyond.