After missing the four games before the All-Star Break while recovering from a hamstring injury, Harden has appeared in five of six games since.
Philadelphia has gone 5-0 in Harden games, averaging 125.4 points per game.
They have beaten three playoff teams (Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls) and the New York Knicks twice.
Philly’s sole loss has come to the Miami Heat, but that was without Harden and on the second night of a back-to-back.
Harden has averaged 24.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 12.4 assists per game while slashing 53/45/89.
Joel Embiid has averaged 30.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game while slashing 47/23/86.
Per Cleaning the Glass, in the 262 possessions those two have shared the court, their lineups rank in the 100th percentile in point differential, points per 100 possessions, effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, and free throw rate.
Even the most optimistic fans must be surprised how well Harden has fit in right away.
3. Harden Provides Elite Passing
While he was more dangerous in transition than in the half-court, Simmons still provided enough passing chops to keep the offense humming.
All the above are solid players, but not as skilled at running an offense as Simmons.
This is where Harden has provided the biggest lift.
During the first half of the season, Philadelphia relied almost exclusively on Embiid to run the offense.
Outside of throwing himself an entry pass, Embiid did it all.
Bringing in Harden has opened the Philly offense.
Harden is mainly known for being an elite isolation scorer, but he has averaged 10+ assists per game three times throughout his career.
If there is a pass to be made, Harden can and will make it.
From something as simple as a pass ahead to jump-start the transition to a skip pass coming off a high screen, Harden can do it.
In turn, it has greatly bettered the pace of the Sixers’ offense and has led to countless open looks for perimeter shooters.
The need to pair an elite scoring guard next to Embiid was well documented.
The need to install an elite passer in Philly’s offense was more of a side note.
It may end up being the biggest difference-maker.
2. Pick-And-Roll Maestro
Everybody knows Harden is an elite scorer and one of his best skills is running the pick-and-roll.
For years, Houston ran their offense almost exclusively through a Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll.
It would typically lead to one of three results:
- Harden drive to the basket
- Lob for Capela
- Open perimeter three for a wing
Harden mastered the pick-and-roll and was the main reason Houston ran one of the most efficient offenses in the league for multiple years.
After the trade to Philadelphia, there was potential there with Embiid but also some questions.
Embiid did not have much of a reputation as a roll man and he isn’t the springiest athlete in the league.
Would Harden be able to run the pick-and-roll with a more lumbering big?
So far, the answer has been a resounding yes.
Harden-Embiid pick and roll is too deadly… Best duo in the league??
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) February 27, 2022
Embiid has proven that he absolutely can be a roll man, he just never had much opportunity to prove it before.
The Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll has been sensational because there is no one way to stop it.
In Houston, defenses would try to trap Harden up top and force Capela to make a play on the roll.
In Philly, defenses don’t have that luxury.
Because of Embiid’s improvement in the distribution category, he can make that read and find the open teammate.
He can also knock down the three, shoot from mid-range, or rampage to the rim.
Elite defensive coaches will assuredly find some wrinkle to throw at the star duo.
But the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll seems unstoppable right now.
1. Desire To Win
The last reason Harden is a perfect fit with the 76ers is something that cannot be quantified or pointed to on film specifically.
And that is the desire to win it all.
Just like Embiid, Harden has yet to win an NBA title.
Houston was a top-three team in the league for many of the Harden years, but only had two Conference Finals appearances to show for it.
Most of that can be attributed to the rise of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty around the same time.
But the fact remains Harden has yet to win that elusive ring.
“I am still not complacent. I’m still not comfortable. Once it’s all said and done and I don’t play anymore, I want to be up there with the best to ever do it. Top 75 is a great start”
-James Harden. He says Sixers as a team have something to prove. They all want to win a title pic.twitter.com/Bf7iqRkHuj
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) February 27, 2022
And a desire to win can be a big factor come playoff time when it often comes down to who wants it more.
There is no stat to point to, but Harden has shown signs since joining the Sixers.
He has been in the gym after games to get in an extra workout.
He has been active on defense and shown effort on the less glamorous side of the court.
The lapses are sure to happen, but the fact he looks engaged on defense is a promising sign.
Philly loves a winner.
If Harden wants to win as badly as Philly does, he will have a home for the rest of his career.