Whenever I think of the Philadelphia 76ers, I think of Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, or Allen Iverson. They are some of the greatest players ever to wear the jersey.
While James Harden might have only spent a short amount of time with the Sixers, is it possible that he could put himself in the conversation as one of the best players to ever play for the franchise?

There’s no denying he’s talented. But given the average age of retirement in the NBA is 34-35, you have to think Harden will be looking to hang up his boots in the next few years.

Harden joined the Sixers in February 2022 after he was traded alongside Paul Millsap. Unlike Millsap, however, Harden pretty much hit the ground running, starting 21 of the 21 games he played, putting up an average of 21 points per game in the regular season and 18.6 in the playoffs! He is impressed because a few months later, in July, Harden was given a new 2-year, $68.6million contract with the Sixers, which will make him the third highest player over that 2-year stint on the Philadelphia roster, behind only Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris!

Photo: The Philadelphia Inquirer

But what can we expect for the 2022-23 season from the Sixers and James Harden in particular? There’s no secret that he has been one of the best players in the NBA for a while now, particularly between the 17-18 season and the 19-20 season for the Rockets, and sure, he hasn’t quite hit those numbers since but his consistency is still pretty outrageous. But for the Sixers, having Harden now isn’t just about him being a top-level player himself; it’s about what he can do for the players around him.

I think if you take a look at what those in the know thought running into the latter parts of the 2021-22 season after Harden joined the Sixers, I don’t think anybody quite expected him to gel as quickly as he did the lineup. Still, after missing the first 2 games upon joining, he played pretty much every game possible after that. 21 in the regular season and every game in a short-lived playoff run. Where he recorded the highest assists in nearly every one of those games, closing in on those top spots in the assists leaderboard! Talk about an immediate impact!

If we consider last season a settling-in period, can we expect more from James Harden this season? Well, as I mentioned earlier, at 32 years old, he probably isn’t going to be the utterly electric player he once was; age comes for the best of us, unfortunately, and whether he has 2 years or 8 years left, with each passing season now theoretically his performances will start to decline bit by bit, first, the pace will go, then vision, etc. We all know how this works.

Photo: Sportsnet

But that isn’t what the Sixers have brought in Harden for; they know better than anybody what he is capable of right now; as an experienced TOP level player, his experience around some of the younger guys, as well as 28-year-old Joel Embiid, who seems to be improving season on season, his influence is going to prove to be huge! In fact, looking at Embiid’s stats, he consistently improves, with the 2021-22 season being his best in terms of games played, minutes, and points per game. Hitting 30.6 points per game and having a solid playoff showing too. His thumb injury slowed him down; however, he did play through the pain.

So if we take a look at the upcoming season, what are the experts and sportsbooks expecting for the Sixers? Well, they’re currently the tied 6th favorite to take it all for the 22-23 season at 12/1, tied with the Lakers and Heat with most bookmakers, so they’re clearly thinking the Harden-Embiid linkup is going to be something special. To put that into perspective, they’re second favorites to win their division behind only the Celtics, coming in at 3/1.

Checking out BetMGM Illinois betting odds to truly see the Harden effect on the Sixers; if you look at who they’re putting top 3 for regular season MVP, you’ll see at second, sandwiched between Luka Doncic (5/1) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (7/1) is Sixers own Joel Embiid at 6/1 and honestly if he can stay fit and produce similar numbers to last season, now he’s actually building a solid partnership with 2018 MVP Harden, he could actually do it.

I think the sportsbooks kinda have it spot on; whether this is the season everything clicks or not, I believe this Harden pickup has been a stroke of genius for the Sixers, and even if it turns out 2022-23 is the season where they figure out what takes them to that ELITE winning level, the immediate future is quite bright for the Sixers, but the next thing you need to look at is building off any success they may get from this linkup.

Harden, in particular, will be wanting to prove to the world that he still has what it takes in what could be considered his twilight years.

We all know what he can do, we all know how good he can be and how much he’ll help the guys around him improve, but everything he does now he’s at the back end of his career will be under a microscope. Misplays put down to age etc. I have faith in him, however, and can see him keep going for another 5-7 seasons, likely. The next question is, if his partnership with Embiid DOES continue to grow, how soon do the Sixers tie him down to a longer deal than the 2 years he’s been given now? Interesting.

And that’s it for today! It’s hard to argue that any team picking up Harden is making a bad decision, but for the Sixers, in particular, it has shown to be a great decision so far, and if they can build on their short stint together last season and grow it more this season, I think Sixers fans are in for a wild ride!

Of course, playoff basketball is a different beast to the regular season, but they’ll be wanting to run deeper than the conference semis, that’s for sure; I think they can do it.

What about you folks? What do you think needs to change to take the Sixers from where they are to where they WANT to be?
Let us know!

Featured Image: The Philadelphia Inquirer
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