Harden's value rises with Rockets

Updated: October 28, 2012, 2:32 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

If I'm a Houston Rockets fan, I'm finally feeling a little less bitter this morning.

Because I know I would still harbor some resentment over the revocation of the original Chris Paul trade. Remember that one? That trade would've made Pau Gasol a Rocket.

Post-Pau, instead of assembling a team built for now, Houston went young, opting for a more traditional rebuild/reload that would hopefully allow it to eventually add a legit marquee name or two.

Well, the Rockets finally got one, as the Rockets acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb.

Rockets fans should be happy. And if you're a James Harden owner in a fantasy league? You should be happy, too.

Happy because your fantasy team's starting shooting guard just became a starting shooting guard in real life. A starting shooting guard for a team (no disrespect to Jeremy Lin) that just became his team.

Let's take a look at Harden's new lineup:

PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons/Carlos Delfino
PF: Patrick Patterson/Marcus Morris/Royce White
C: Omer Asik

[+] EnlargeJames Harden
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJames Harden's fantasy value soars now that he'll be one of the primary options in the Rockets offense.

As you can see, Harden's fantasy value just got a boost.

The first, and best, reason? Minutes. In Oklahoma City, Harden would have been fortunate to average 30-31 minutes per game. Now, instead of coming off the bench, he'll start and becomes a marquee max player. Harden's minutes should climb into the 34-35 minute range.

The second reason? Touches. Harden goes from being the third scoring option behind two top-10 talents (Durant and Westbrook), to being the face of a franchise. Harden is now the unquestioned No. 1 option in a lineup that will desperately need his scoring. As a result, Harden's usage rate will undoubtedly shoot into the mid-20s.

Take a look at that lineup. Who else is going to get the ball in crunch time?

And don't forget that Houston also just traded both their starting and backup shooting guards. I like Lamb's potential, and think he would have ended up earning some real playing time in Houston. But now, instead of having Lamb pushing for developmental minutes, Harden has only  Daequan Cook to contend with.

I like Harden to add 15 percent to his numbers across the board. And Harden was already one of the best across-the-board producers in fantasy.

His hidden value lies in the percentages. Harden's percentages are sky-high for a shooting guard. And his true shooting percentage (66.0 in 2011-12) ranks among the absolute best in the game (fourth in the NBA last season).

A conservative estimate would nudge Harden's scoring into the 20.0-20.5 ppg range. His rebounds and assists should both end up around 4.5 per game. And you can count on at least 2.0 3-pointers a night.

So if you're going into your draft, where should you take Harden?

You probably don't put him in the penthouse at SG with Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. That would mean Harden is now a late-first-round pick. But there is a chance Harden could end up in that rarefied air by All-Star Weekend. That level of upside -- that 24 ppg, 5 rebounds, 5 assists kind of upside -- is there.

For now, I'd put him ahead of Lawson (a PG/SG), but behind Kobe and Wade. Before, I was worried Harden was a little overvalued as a sixth man. But as a starter, Harden becomes a legit top-15 player in fantasy. I start thinking about him in the middle of the second round.

In auction keeper leagues? Bid with absolute confidence. I'd price him in the $46-52 range. Remember, in a keeper situation, you'd rather have Harden going forward than Kobe or Wade. Harden's percentages aren't discussed enough in terms of his fantasy value. He's going to anchor your team in both categories while still generating 3s.

If you're a Jeremy Lin owner? In a way, I believe this trade is going to help Lin. It takes off some of the pressure to that contract as he continues to find his legs after offseason knee surgery. Now he gets a running mate who will have no problem being the guy. Lin can breathe a little easier as he settles into his still-new role as a highly compensated franchise player.

Lin's preseason struggles depressed his ADP (63.3) a little too much; I liked him in the late sixth round even before the trade. There's a ton of young upside featured at PG in fantasy this season. Lin could end up generating fourth-round value, even with Harden siphoning off some of his shots.

So what about Kevin Martin? He's still going to be looked to for scoring, but not with the same urgency there was in Houston. Here's his new situation:

PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Thabo Sefolosha/Kevin Martin
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins

[+] EnlargeKevin Martin
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireKevin Martin will still provide lots of scoring for the Thunder but mostly off the bench, much like James Harden had done.

Martin joins a contender, but likely loses his starting job. Now he has to get in line to find his touches & behind Durant and Westbrook. Conversely, Oklahoma City will need Martin to fill Harden's role, which prioritizes adding scoring punch off the bench. He'll still get the green light when he's in the game.

Before, I believe Martin was primed for a nice undervalued campaign in Houston. With the market so thin at SG, I thought his ADP (79.5) was running a little low. Now, I like Martin just where he is: grouped with Wesley Matthews and Jason Terry in the pecking order at SG.

As a member of the Thunder, I think Martin stays around 16-17 ppg, with 1.5 3-pointers and a gaudy free throw percentage (.894 in 2011-12).

Unfortunately, Lamb's deep sleeper value just went way underground. I still like his long-term potential, but it's hard to see Lamb carving out a fantasy-worthy role behind Martin and Sefolosha. Lamb and Perry Jones will bear watching as developmental players, but shouldn't land on most fantasy radars until 2013-14 at the earliest.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.