Harden, Pendergraph off to play with the pros

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Filled with intrigue and unknowns, this year’s NBA draft class wasn’t exactly the strongest in recent years. But that’s not to say Thursday’s draft passed without excitement.

Once Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet were taken off the board, the real fun began, as no one knew what Oklahoma City would do with the No. 3 pick.

Turns out, OKC landed on none other than James Harden, the bearded, bow-tie wearing wunderkind from ASU. Don’t give him too much credit for his draft night attire, though.

“My stylist did an amazing job dressing me and making me look good,” Harden told The Oklahoman. “The bow-tie thing did it.”

Harden told reporters he believed he would be drafted anywhere between the No. 2 and No. 6 spots, but said he thought Oklahoma City was the best fit.

It appears he will have an immediate chance to start at shooting guard on one of the most promising up-and-coming teams in the NBA. Harden could step right in and contribute alongside Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green come October.

Westbrook voiced his support of Harden in the most recent issue of ESPN The Magazine, saying “He can handle, shoot and he's athletic. And he was in a good system at Arizona State.”

Harden said he’s familiar with Westbrook dating back to their high school days in Los Angeles, and he’s established a rapport with Durant from their AAU days.

Though he’s only been with his team for a few days, Harden is already predicting big things for the future.

“We have so much talent to build on,” Harden said. “We can grow as a unit. Give us a couple of years, and we’ll be the face of the NBA hopefully.”

Meanwhile, Harden’s former teammate Jeff Pendergraph had to wait a little longer to hear his name called. Perhaps just one pick too late, as the Sacramento Kings selected Pendergraph with the first pick of the second round.

While Pendergraph fell just short of receiving guaranteed first-round money, he ended up in a great situation, thanks to a trade oozing with Pac-10 story lines.

As part of a draft-day deal, Pendergraph was shipped off to Portland for Jon Brockman, whom the Blazers selected with the No. 38, and Sergio Rodriguez.

Pendergraph and Brockman, a University of Washington graduate, spent the past four years battling each other in the paint. The trade also means Pendergraph will be playing for coach Nate McMillan, father of ASU junior point guard Jamelle McMillan.

“Pendergraph was a big guy that was available in the second round that filled a need,” McMillan told The Oregonian. “I have seen him play with my son, but I think he’s a solid player who will come in and work hard to get out on the floor.”

Whether Pendergraph will actually see playing time is questionable, but he already has some competition heading into training camp. The Blazers also selected former Villanova forward Dante Cunningham with the No. 33 overall pick.

Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said he thinks both Pendergraph and Cunningham will make the team, while McMillan said Rodriguez’s departure should open up some more minutes for UA graduate Jerryd Bayless at the backup point guard position.

Once again, the Pac-10 left its fingerprints all over this draft, boasting six first-round picks and nine overall. The conference has racked up the most first-round draft picks over the past two years (13) and the most overall during that span (21).

Reach the reporter at alex.espinoza@asu.edu