Paul Pierce isn’t one of those pros that prodigies aspire to be like. Kobe, D-Wade, LeBron, ‘Melo — these are the scorers that every high school and college kid between 6-4 and 6-8 patterns their game after. Pierce doesn’t really work for them. He’s not what you’d call sleek or smooth, and he’s probably cracked NBA.com’s daily Top 10 less often than Hedo Turkoglu.
But in the case of James Harden, who else but Pierce could he follow? The 6-5, 220-pound Cali native is built similar to a young Pierce, and his game is the same blend of joystick moves, strong takes to the cup, soft jumpers, an ability to draw fouls and live at the line, and underrated defense.
Up until March Madness, the only difference — aside from Harden being a lefty and Pierce getting buckets right-handed — was that Harden had yet to face significant adversity on the big stage. He rarely ever lost a game in high school, then walked onto Arizona State’s campus as the Big Man. But after ending his sophomore year on a bad note, averaging 9.6 points on 22 percent shooting (6-for-27 FG) in a three-game stretch that included the Pac-10 title game and two NCAA Tournament games, for the first time in a long time, Harden’s skills had come into question.
And if that lasting impression causes a Draft Night drop — just like Pierce — it could also spark that fire in Harden to spend the next decade punishing those who doubted him. Just like Pierce. And as good as he was in college, Harden’s game is made to be even more successful in the pros. Just like Pierce.