June 21, 2024

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James Harden Has Proven He Can’t Carry The 76ers

James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots over RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks during the first half at Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2022 in New York City.
(Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

 

After an up and down first round, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Harden was good – 19 points and 10.2 assists across 40.6 minutes per game on 40.5% from the field and 38.2% from deep.

He struggled in games 2, 4, and 5, but had strong showings in games 1, 3, and 6 to close out the series against the Toronto Raptors.

However, he did not have a great showing in Game 1 of the ECSF against the Miami Heat.

16 points on 5-13 from the field, 2-7 from beyond the arc, and 4-4 from the line to go along with 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 turnovers.

Harden’s struggles in Game 5 of the first round and Game 1 of the ECSF are particularly worrying because they came when Joel Embiid was hampered by a torn ligament in his thumb (Game 5) and not playing due to an orbital fracture and mild concussion (Game 1).

“The Beard” was brought to Philly to alleviate some of the stress put on Embiid to carry the offense.

Harden was supposed to make life easier on Joel but also maintain offensive efficiency when he sat.

So far, that has not been the case.

Early returns from the playoffs and regular season make it evident Harden cannot carry the 76ers without Embiid.

 

Harden Is Not The Player He Once Was

On paper, Harden is still putting up impressive numbers.

21 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.1 rebounds per game on 60.1% true shooting across 21 regular-season games with the 76ers.

The numbers are down slightly in the playoffs – 18.6 points, 9.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds on 57.7% true shooting – but still look solid.

However, the eye test does not back up what is being written down in the stat sheet.

James does not have the same explosiveness he had back in Houston.

Whether that is from his hamstring issue or just getting older, it has become a problem.

What made Harden an all-time great scorer was his ability to beat his defender in isolation and make a play.

He could either finish at the rim, toss a lob to a rolling center, or kick out to an open shooter.

But it was all reliant on Harden being able to get by his man completely.

That has not happened much with Philly and even when it has, his lack of burst has limited his ability to finish in the paint.

Outside of one dunk in Game 6, Harden’s half-court finishes have consisted almost entirely of floaters and layups.

With defenses no longer fearing him like they once did, he does not attract as much attention.

This has led to passing lanes closing and fewer open teammates.

Adding this to his reduced effectiveness around the rim, Harden simply cannot carry an offense like he once did.

 

Advanced Lineup Statistics

While Harden’s individual stats do not paint a dire picture, the lineup data does.

Here are the lineup splits from the regular season with Harden and Embiid on and off the court, all given in per 100 possessions:

  • Harden On, Embiid On: 1,214 Possessions, 124.1 points, 108.4 points allowed, +15.8 differential (99th Percentile)
  • Harden On, Embiid Off: 374 Possessions, 114.2 points, 125.7 points allowed, -11.6 differential (9th Percentile)
  • Harden Off, Embiid On: 3,350 Possessions, 114.3 points, 109.2 points allowed, +5.1 differential (78th Percentile)

And here are those same splits from the postseason:

  • Harden On, Embiid On: 371 Possessions, 121.6 points, 106.4 points allowed, +15.1 (90th Percentile)
  • Harden On, Embiid Off: 150 Possessions, 110 points, 118.4 points allowed, -8.4 (21st Percentile)
  • Harden Off, Embiid Off: 66 Possessions, 112.1 points, 124.6 points allowed, -12.5 (11th Percentile)

A small sample size warning exists on nearly all of these splits, but they begin to paint a picture.

And they are not perfect stats – the most common Harden-only and Embiid-only lineups in the playoffs are both massively positive.

But overall it seems clear Harden cannot carry the Sixers’ offense when Embiid is not on the floor.

This is not a massive indictment of Harden.

Anybody playing without their MVP-caliber teammate will see a decline in play.

But Philly needs their star guard to lessen the dramatic swing when Embiid sits.

So far, Harden has not been able to accomplish that.