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Sixers Film Fix: James Harden’s passing and pick-and-roll play

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

We’ve reached the dullest part of the NBA offseason. The Sixers have made their main free agency signings and James Harden’s new contract is finalized at long last. As you might well be missing watching the NBA by now, it seems like a good time to bring back the Sixers Film Fix series. Each episode will feature a few videos highlighting specific topics.

For this episode of Sixers Film Fix, let’s focus on the Sixers’ newly signed star: James Harden.

A lot has been made about Harden’s limitations at this point of his career. His burst was inconsistent last season with the Sixers and his ability to consistently beat defenders off the dribble suffered because of it. With a full offseason and more time to get over any lingering hamstring issues, though, this summer could do Harden a lot of good. By all accounts, his training is going well. If he’s any quicker and bouncier attacking the basket and collapsing defenses, that’ll go a long way to helping the Sixers reach their potential.

But besides his scoring and drive game, Harden’s passing in particular has already made a huge difference to the Sixers’ offense. They’ve simply never had a passer of Harden’s caliber to make everyone’s life easier and support Joel Embiid to this degree. Everything in Harden’s elite playmaking arsenal has made a serious impact — his pick-and-roll mastery, long-range outlet passes in transition, and plethora of passes when attacking out of isolations.

Harden finished the regular season averaging 10.5 assists per game for the Sixers (8.6 in the playoffs), and his overall offensive production is particularly impressive when you factor in his assists. In his time with the Sixers last regular season, Harden ranked in the 95th percentile in overall half-court offense when you include his passing possessions.

Enjoy some of Harden’s finest passes in this collection of some of best assists since coming to Philadelphia.

Of course, one of the highlights of Harden’s passing with the Sixers has been his pick-and-roll connection with Embiid. Their chemistry looked strong from day one. The attention Harden commands as a shot creator and Embiid’s gravity when attacking downhill to the rim means they can create space for each other in a variety of ways. And with how easily Harden can make complex pocket passes, smooth lobs, and tricky entry passes when Embiid can post up against a switch, Harden can do anything his superstar running mate needs.

Here’s a second compilation of passes focusing on how effortlessly Harden can create easier scoring opportunities for Embiid in pick-and-rolls (and their effective Chicago action, where Harden comes off a screen into a dribble hand-off and works with a diving Embiid):

As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor mentioned in this video on The Beard, Harden and Embiid in 2021-22 were the most efficient pick-and-roll duo of the last four years. If they could be that dominant when developing chemistry on the fly late in the season, just think what their potential for next season is when they’ve had more time together. Factor in some more depth around them and Harden potentially improving after this offseason, and the Sixers’ leading duo has an awful lot of potential for 2022-23.

If you missed the last episode of this series, you can check it out here (it includes Tyrese Maxey highlights, so watching those is always time well spent). And if there are any Sixer-specific things you’d like to be featured in future episodes of Sixers Film Fix, let me know in the comments!

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