Over the past decade, only nine players have made an All-NBA team after not being named to the All-Star Game that season. Pascal Siakam (2021-22), Jimmy Butler (2020-21) and Rudy Gobert (2018-19 and 2016-17) are the most recent examples.
James Harden has a viable case to become the 10th this season.
Perhaps Harden was left out of the All-Star Game because a foot injury sidelined him for a month toward the beginning of the season. Maybe it’s because he’s averaged “only” 21.0 points per game this season, a far cry from the mid-30s averages he put up during his prime with the Houston Rockets in the late 2010s. Either way, Harden’s absence from the All-Star proceedings only looks more ridiculous in hindsight.
Although Harden averaged his fewest points per game since his days as a sixth man with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he led the league with 10.7 assists per game. He’s one of only three players who averaged at least 20 points and 10 assists per game, joining Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton and Atlanta’s Trae Young, and he’s the only player in the league this year who averaged at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
With Harden on the floor this season, the Sixers averaged 119.4 points per 100 possessions, which is ahead of the Sacramento Kings’ league-leading mark of 118.6. With him off the floor, they mustered only 112.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have ranked 25th leaguewide. Remove garbage time from the equation, and the Sixers scored 120.8 points per 100 possessions with Harden on the floor, which ranked in the 94th percentile leaguewide.
Harden is one of the main reasons why Joel Embiid led the league in scoring for the second straight season with a career-high 33.1 points per game. Harden assisted on 244 of Embiid’s 728 made field-goal attempts this season, while the rest of Embiid’s teammates combined assisted on 212 of those buckets. Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon were the next-highest assist combo leaguewide at only 155.
Not only did Harden help to fuel the league’s third-best offense, but he also kept the second unit afloat after the All-Star break. The trade-deadline arrival of Jaden McDaniels and Paul Reed’s emergence deserve credit for the bench’s recent success as well, but Harden helped those units hum offensively. The Sixers averaged 120.8 points per 100 possessions with Harden, McDaniels and Reed on the floor (albeit in only a 168-possession sample size), which ranks in the 92nd percentile leaguewide.
And although Harden has taken a step back as a scorer, he had one of his most efficient seasons ever. He shot 38.5 percent from three-point range on 7.2 attempts per game, which gave him one of his higher effective field-goal percentages of his Hall of Fame career. He also averaged 122.7 points per 100 shot attempts, which ranked in the 87th percentile among all point guards leaguewide, per Cleaning the Glass.
The biggest All-NBA obstacle for Harden is the number of other guards with viable cases.
If voters don’t penalize Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard for their teams missing the playoffs, they’re likely All-NBA locks. Donovan Mitchell and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be as well. Haliburton, Stephen Curry, Ja Morant, Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox and Jrue Holiday will be among the players vying for one of those spots alongside Harden.
Morant would have been an All-NBA lock had he not received an eight-game suspension for livestreaming himself holding a gun in a nightclub. He was second-team All-NBA last year and averaged a career-high 8.1 assists this season, but his off-court troubles might cause voters to look elsewhere. The same goes for Kyrie Irving, who averaged an All-NBA-caliber 27.1 points on 49.4 percent shooting, 5.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 made three-pointers per game. However, the Brooklyn Nets suspended him earlier this season after he shared an anti-Semitic film on social media and initially refused to apologize for it, and the Mavericks collapsed after they traded for him in February.
Curry played only 56 games this season, although it’s hard to ignore his 29.4 points, 6.3 assists, 6.1 rebounds and league-leading 4.9 made three-pointers per game. Booker would be more firmly in the mix as well had he not been limited to only 53 games. The same goes for Haliburton, who played only 56 games for a rebuilding Indiana Pacers team that wound up missing the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
If voters turn away from Morant and Irving because of their off-court issues, that could leave Curry, Harden and Fox as the top three candidates for the two remaining All-NBA spots. Curry and Harden are far more established stars than Fox, although Fox may have the best All-NBA case of the three this season in part because of how little time he missed.
Fox played in 73 of the Sacramento Kings’ 82 games, and he guided them to the No. 3 seed in the West, which is perhaps the single most unexpected outcome of the season. He also led the league in total clutch points scored (194) and shot 52.9 percent in those situations, which should make him a lock for the first-ever Clutch Player of the Year award.
If the final All-NBA spot comes down to Harden and Curry, Harden will have the edge in games/minutes played, team record and assists, while Curry will outpace him in scoring. How voters weigh those factors could decide whether Harden sneaks past Curry for a third-team spot or if he narrowly misses out on an All-NBA nod this year.