Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on Sept. 27.
Contract Status: $33 million for 2022-23, $35.6 million player option for 2023-24
As our player profile series winds down, we turn to probably the most polarizing (current) 76er, James Harden. Harden was the prized return of the Ben Simmons trade last trade deadline. The Beard averaged 21 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in 21 regular season games for Philly.
It is hardly a secret that Harden struggled through most of the 2021-22 season due to a hamstring injury he suffered in the playoffs the season prior. Now he is back on a team-friendly discount and has added some old faces from his days as a Houston Rocket. So what version of James Harden will the Sixers get this upcoming season? Or more importantly, what version of Harden do they need?
Season Outlook: While they didn’t get a ton of reps last season because of the timing of the acquisition, it is clear that Harden is a very good fit on the court with this Sixers’ core. Lineups with Harden and Embiid on the floor scored 124.1 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, per CleaningtheGlass.
Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey adjusted their games on the fly very well last year to accommodate Harden. Harris excelled in more of a 3-and-D role, while Maxey’s blinding speed gashed defenses with Harden’s passing ability. Lineups of Harden with Embiid, Maxey and Harris were in the 97th percentile in offensive and defensive points per 100 possessions. Even with a hobbled Harden, this is a team that meshes well.
The fit will hopefully improve with the additions of De’Anthony Melton, and Harden’s old pals from Houston, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House. It was because of Harden taking a paycut that the team was able to bring all three of these guys in this offseason.
There is also a good reason to believe that Harden will look a lot better physically this year than he did last year. Due to the pandemic compressing the last couple offseasons, Harden never felt like he had time to properly rehab his hamstring.
Harden’s three-point percentage was just 33 percent last year, a significant drop from his career 36 percent average, as he struggled to create the separation he is used to on his patented step-back three. He was very clearly lacking the same burst on drives as well. The hope is that Harden, or as Maxey has been calling him all summer, “Skinny James” was able to use this offseason to heal up.
While Harden will likely never again be the 35-plus points-per-game scorer he was in Houston, the Sixers don’t need him to be. James Harden doesn’t need to be the best player on this team for them to win a championship, he only needs to be the second or maybe third, depending on the development of Maxey.
Make no mistake about it, this is Joel Embiid’s team, but the Sixers have set James Harden up well for success this year.