James Harden was supposed to be the answer to the Philadelphia 76ers’ prayers after they spent the first half of the season dealing with the Ben Simmons drama. On paper, it seemed like a great idea, as Harden averaged 22.5 points, eight rebounds and 10.2 assists in 44 games played for the Nets in 2021-22.
Harden even had a similar output in the regular season for the Sixers, putting up 21 points, 7.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. That’s why they had a good amount of hope that they could make a deep playoff run, since Joel Embiid finally had a co-star who wasn’t afraid to take big shots when it mattered most.
Well, that’s simply not who they got in the end. Instead, Harden’s field goal attempts dropped between Brooklyn and Philadelphia. While still with the Nets, he averaged 16 field goal attempts per game. That dropped to 13.6 with the Sixers. I have a hard time understanding how a man can take more shots while Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are on the same roster compared to having Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.
His real disappearing act came in the playoffs, where he only went over the 30-point mark once, during his big Game 4 against the Miami Heat, where he scored 16 points in the fourth quarter on the way to 31 points. He scored 20 points one other time in that series in Game 2, but other than that had pedestrian performances for a star of his caliber.
It all came crashing down in his worst performance of the series in the elimination game. Harden made 4 of 9 shots on the way to 11 points, four rebounds and nine assists while playing 43 minutes. For a man who built a reputation as a scorer in Houston, it’s hard to reconcile how far he’s moved away from that role. There’s nothing wrong with him getting a lot of assists, but he never averaged less than 26.3 PPG in the playoffs for the Rockets, with his peak coming in the 2018-19 season, where he averaged 31.6 points in 11 playoff games.
Embiid did not mince words after being knocked out by the Heat.
Where do the Sixers go from here? I’m not really sure. But Harden certainly looked like a shell of himself in this postseason. Last year, we could turn a blind eye because of the hamstring injury he suffered. This time around, it’s difficult to avoid pinning the blame on him.
Look, I’m not saying it’s all James Harden’s fault that the Sixers are out of the playoffs. It’s fair to say that Joel Embiid went 7 of 24 from the field in Game 6, while Tyrese Maxey shot 9 of 22. The two of them combined to make 3 of 15 shots from beyond the arc too. However, Harden did not perform as expected.
Harden has said he wants to stay in Philadelphia, but now they’re in a bit of a quandary. He will almost surely exercise his player option for a $47 million payday, but he’s shown that he’s not worth giving a max extension at this stage of his career. Will the Sixers try to move his contract, sending him to a third team in three seasons? I don’t know yet.
All I know is ‘The Beard’ definitely disappointed this year, and I’m not sure things will improve as he gets older. Maybe a summer in recovery will help him out, but we’ll have to see.