Only two games in to the James Harden era in Philadelphia, and the positive impact is already clear. A 31 point win against the Timberwolves and a 16 point win against the Knicks showed just what Harden can do for the offense. Harden had 12 assists in Minnesota, and 16 assists in New York. Not to mention the 27 and 29 points he dropped in each game.
29.8 points per game – 11.1 rebounds per game – 4.4 assists per game – 9.5 free throws made per game – 11.6 free throws attempted per game
Stats With Harden:
35.5 points per game – 9.5 rebounds per game – 3 assists per game – 17 free throws made per game – 20 free throws attempted per game
Embiid was already the MVP favorite according to Vegas prior to Harden joining the team. Now it is going to be even easier for Embiid to score at will. The proof is already there in Joel’s scoring numbers, but more importantly his free throw numbers. Embiid was already the league leader in free throws made and attempted a game. Well that number skyrocketed even more with Harden in the lineup.
With Embiid playing alongside another superstar in James Harden, teams no longer can put as much of a defensive emphasis on Embiid. Joel has been the victim of constant double and even triple teams by opposing defenses. Teams have not been able to do that as much with Harden on the floor with him. That is why 7-foot 280 pound big man has gotten to the charity stripe so much. Even when Embiid was getting double teamed, defenders still had to foul to prevent him from scoring. Now with Embiid getting more one-on-ones, there is practically no one in the league that can stop him.
Finally, and I mean finally, Embiid has someone he is capable of running the pick and roll with. With Ben Simmons, the 76ers occasionally ran it. But with Simmons lack of a jump shot, defenders just stayed under on the pick to guard the driving Embiid and or Simmons. It made it pointless. With a very capable shooter in Harden however, defenders no longer can commit to just stopping Embiid from rolling. It is a pick your poison for the defense. Either prevent Embiid from dunking on you in the lane and leave Harden wide open behind the arc, or stop Harden from shooting and give Joel the easy bucket.
Pick and Roll and Step Back
Also, there was this notion that Embiid might not work in the pick and roll as a roll man. This man masters anything he wants to, just remember Embiid already trying to learn Harden’s patented step-back. The very first practice, here is Embiid trying to learn it from Harden.
Then here Joel is traveling against the Celtics trying to do it.
And then the very next game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Embiid drains it, and makes it look easy.
This man will learn anything he wants to and will master it. So if you think Embiid cannot figure out how to run a simple pick and roll with Harden, you are sadly mistaken.
17.2 points per game – 3.6 rebounds per game – 4.5 assists per game – 47.7% FG% – 40% 3PT%
Stats With Harden:
24.5 points per game – 4.5 rebounds per game – 2.5 assists per game – 66.7% FG% – 80% 3PT%
The biggest beneficiary so far of the Harden addition has been Maxey. Tyrese has had a completely different role with Harden in the lineup. Some thought that this new role might be worse for Maxey since he would not have the ball in his hands as much. In reality, he has thrived playing off ball with Harden setting him up. Not only is he scoring at a higher rate, but his efficiency is through the roof. Obviously no one should expect him to keep shooting at this high of a rate, but an increase in his already high percentages is very likely.
The gravity Harden has on offense draws defenders towards him when he has the ball. That applies to defenders on Harden, and defending off ball. The off ball defenders guarding Maxey have been burnt several times when they shade too close to Harden. This has resulted in wide open looks for Maxey to shoot, and also enables Tyrese’s crazy speed on cuts to the rim on great passes from Harden. Check out this great video from The Ringer to see exactly how well Harden and Maxey fit together.
5.8 points per game – 2.4 rebounds per game – 1.2 assists per game – 49.8% FG%
Stats With Harden
9.5 points per game – 6.5 rebounds per game – 2 assists per game – 61.5% FG%
The question with Thybulle has always been around his offense. Everyone knows how good of a defender he is. That was proven when he was named Second-Team All-Defense in just his second year in the league. It is even more impressive when you consider he was the first player ever to be named to an All-Defensive team while averaging 20 minutes per game or less. Offensively however, Matisse is very limited. He is not a great shooter, and he does not have the ability to create his own shot. That is okay, because he more than makes up for it on the defensive end, but it has hurt the Sixers a lot on offense.
Enter James Harden. Harden’s elite passing, averaging the second most assists in the league this year at 10.3 per game behind only Chris Paul, allows Thybulle to show off his athleticism on cuts to the rim. Much like how Harden helps Maxey get open on cuts to the rim, Thybulle is capable of doing the same thing. And while the three-point shot is not there just yet for Thybulle, the wide open looks Harden is going to create for Matisse will eventually start paying off.
18.3 points per game – 7.2 rebounds per game – 3.6 assists per game – 47.9% FG% – 34.7% 3PT% – 1.2 threes made per game – 3.5 threes attempted per game
Stats With Harden
9 points per game – 4 rebounds per game – 3 assists per game – 27.8% FG% – 36.4% 3PT% – 2 threes made per game – 5.5 threes attempted per game
You may be wondering, how does Harden make Harris better? Almost of his stats have plummeted in the two games sharing the court with the beard! While there is no denying that, there is reason to believe that Harris just needs time to adjust playing with Harden. Then when they Tobias does get comfortable playing with Harden, it will ultimately make things easier for him.
The first place to look is his three point shot. That has been a struggle all year for Tobias, but that is the one area where his game has actually improved with Harden. We have already talked about the gravity Harden has and the open shots he creates for others. Last year, Harris shot 39.4% from behind the arc. That was with another elite passer in Ben Simmons getting him open looks. With no elite ball handler in the lineup this season until now, that is why Harris’ three point shooting has dipped. Harris has been forced to try to create more on his own, and less of his teammates setting up good looks for him.
Harris has had rough stretches before, and that is truly what I think this is. Tobias has the hardest transition for any player due to the addition of Harden. Harris is going from the number two scoring option behind Embiid, to now the third or even forth option behind Embiid, Harden, and wherever you rank Maxey. Harris has had the ball in his hands a lot this year. But as we saw last year, Harris had the best season of his career when he had a great point guard in Ben Simmons running the offense. Expect Harris to get back to how he was playing last season with Harden at the helm.
Photo via: Associated Press