Led by Joel Embiid, a perennial MVP candidate who has established himself as one of the game’s best players, the Philadelphia 76ers are currently positioned to go as far as Embiid’s co-star takes them.
When Philly made a deal to acquire James Harden in exchange for Ben Simmons, many felt as if they stumbled into the most fortunate situation possible. Simmons was not going to suit up again for the 76ers, and many teams were hesitant to trade for him. Unexpectedly, James Harden became unhappy in Brooklyn, paving the way for Philly to facilitate a blockbuster trade.
After suffering another disappointing second-round exit, the 76ers are hopeful that an entire offseason of Harden and Embiid alongside each other can get their star duo ready for a championship pursuit. While the team knows what they’re getting from Joel Embiid, the current sense is that James Harden will decide Philadelphia’s ceiling.
What Philly needs from Harden
One of the most elite playmakers in basketball, James Harden leaned well too far into that facilitator role once he arrived in Philadelphia. While nobody was expecting the James Harden from Houston to appear in Philly, the superstar guard who consistently averaged 30 PPG in his prime, was attempting a staggeringly low number of field goal attempts with the 76ers.
Attempting just 13.6 field goal attempts per contest in his 21 games with Philly last season, the fewest of his career since he came off the bench in Oklahoma City, James Harden displayed a level of timidity that fans had never seen from him. This transferred over to the playoffs, where he averaged just 13.2 field goal attempts per game, shooting just nine times in Philly’s fateful Game 6 against the Miami Heat.
While his playmaking remained elite, Harden’s lack of scoring prowess put a hard ceiling on Philly’s title hopes. Showing real signs of regression, some feel as if the former league MVP is simply incapable of the scoring dominance he displayed for so many years. At age 33, there may be some truth to that belief; however, head coach Doc Rivers knows that Harden is capable of more than what he showed last season, and is urging his star guard to show that this year.
Doc’s message to Harden
Parts of Philly’s training camp were made public, with microphones picking up conversations between players and coaches. In a video posted that caught parts of a conversation between Doc Rivers and James Harden, one message was made abundantly clear: Philly needs their star guard to be aggressive.
“We gotta get you in what you want,” Rivers told Harden. “You cant just say you’re going to be a facilitator, I need you to be a scorer and a facilitator. And it’s gonna take time to figure that out. I need you to be the aggressive James that you were those last five minutes [of practice]. And it’s gonna come, it’s gonna take a while. But when it clicks, James, we’re gonna be unbeatable.”
Already led by one of the most dominant players in the game, the 76ers may be an aggressive James Harden away from serious Eastern Conference contenders. That version of Harden has yet to show himself in a 76ers uniform, but if he does, Doc believes his team will be unbeatable.