James Harden Home Debut Warmup

We’re about one week into the new James Harden/Joel Embiid-led 76ers. Undoubtedly, Harden is bringing a lot to the table and it’s raising Philadelphia’s ceiling game by game. 

Harden’s impact on the 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers went from a playoff lock to star-powered contenders due to the acquisition of superstar guard James Harden. Philadelphia rebranded their rotation as a result of Harden’s much-anticipated arrival. Now, Philly’s starting lineup consists of James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid. Additionally, head coach Doc Rivers has been staggering Embiid and Harden’s minutes. We’ve witnessed rotations headlined by Maxey-Embiid and Harden-Harris duos. This coaching tactic from Rivers is greatly benefiting the 76ers. Throughout 48 minutes, Philadelphia always has a go-to scorer on the floor in Harden, Embiid, and Maxey. 

To boot, the 76ers are 3-0 since Harden’s exciting Sixers debut last Friday. This win streak featured victories against the Minnesota Timberwolves (133-102) and the New York Knicks twice (125-109 & 123-108). Further, Philadelphia scored 125.3 points per 100 possessions over the last three contests. This means that the 76ers had the best offensive rating in the NBA over their last three games. To compare, Philly’s offensive rating is 111.8 on the season, which ranks 11th overall in the NBA. Though it’s a small sample size, one can already see Harden’s significant impact on Philadelphia’s offense. In addition to this, the 76ers have been the most efficient team in the NBA since Harden’s debut. 

Furthermore, Philadelphia leads the NBA in true-shooting percentage at 66.9% throughout their last three games. As a side note, true-shooting is one of the best statistics to measure efficiency because it accounts for two-pointers, three-pointers, and free throws. This goes hand in hand with James Harden’s notable offensive impact. Evidently, Harden’s playmaking instilled an efficient shot diet for the entire team. Overall, Philadelphia’s recent success has much to do with the talents of James Harden.

Harden’s individual success

By The Numbers

Obviously, James Harden is excelling as a versatile scorer in addition to his top-tier playmaking. Firstly, “The Beard” contributed 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 12 assists in his electric 76ers debut. Subsequently, Harden notched a triple-double consisting of 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 16 assists against the New York Knicks last Sunday. Also, James finally premiered at Wells Fargo Center against the Knicks after weeks of heavy anticipation. Harden made a great first impression on the City of Brotherly Love in a game he described as “a movie”. All in all, he tallied 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. 

In total, Harden so far is averaging 27.3 points per game (on 79.2 true-shooting percentage), 9.0 rebounds per game, and 12.3 assists per game. Similarly, the Philly guard is the first player to average at least 25 points per game and 10 assists per game since Allen Iverson with the Denver Nuggets in 2006. Even better, Harden combined for 82 points in his first three outings, which is the most in franchise history. Philadelphia has an offensive rating of 131.0 when Harden is on the floor, which would be an all-time feat. But, “The Beard’ has only played three games in a Sixers uniform, so one shouldn’t look that deep into this. However, these numbers hint towards the tremendous effect Harden’s abilities have on the basketball court.

Harden’s Scoring

Now that you saw the numbers, let’s take a look at the magnificent things James Harden does to put up said stats. Above all, Harden is a versatile scoring threat that has generational offensive talents. He’s someone who can score at will, manipulate the defense, create shots for his teammates, score in isolation, pass like a quarterback, control tempo, and execute the pick-and-roll perfectly. 

As a scorer, Harden uses his crafty dribble penetration to apply pressure at the rim, which sets up many things. By doing this, he can score at the hoop with his gifted finishing, find the open man off the gravity he attracted, or draw a foul. This, alone, makes Harden a huge threat on the hardwood. By the way, Harden scored his first points as a 76er in this fashion. To support, Harden is shooting 73.3% at the rim since joining the Sixers. 78.3% of his field goals are unassisted, which shows off his ability to create his own shot. 

In the clip above, Harden blows by Anthony Edwards and splits Minnesota’s 2-3 zone defense to draw a foul and score at the rim.

In addition to that, Harden is one of the best shot-creators of all time and this is evident with his signature capability to drain the step-back three. Microscopically, “The Beard” utilizes his advanced instincts to size up his defender, hit him with a crossover, and step-back for the effortless triple. Statistically, he’s shooting 50% on step-back jump shots in his Philadelphia stint. To the pleasure of many, we’ve seen Harden do this quite a bit in his first three games with the Sixers. 

Here, James Harden drills his signature step-back three over R.J. Barrett.

Harden’s Playmaking

Harden is a maestro when it comes to playmaking. He can facilitate and generate open looks from all over the court, especially in half-court offense. Obviously, James constantly gets double-teamed at the perimeter and the interior solely because of his legendary scoring talents. He’s able to take advantage of these hopeless defensive strategies by finding baseline cutters, players uncontested at the perimeter, or he can sometimes split the defense and score at the basket. 

Here, Harden uses his perimeter gravity to spot a cutting Matisse Thybulle for an effortless dunk.

Harden is a playmaking and scoring threat in the pick-and-roll whether a team switches, drops, or blitzes. Most of the time, defenses blitz and play medium drop coverage against Harden in the pick-and-roll, which allows him to dish it to the roll man for a fairly easy two. We’ve seen a lot of this with Harden and a certain Cameroonian center. This further emphasizes the fact that Harden is a top-tier offensive player that can do it all. Having James Harden’s gifts on this 76ers team is so important because he maximizes Philly’s offensive potential and he’s a dynamic fit with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

The Harden-Embiid Duo

The biggest storyline every NBA fan was eager to see was the partnership between James Harden and Joel Embiid following the blockbuster trade. Fortunately, the Embiid-Harden duo has been living up to the large amount of hype and the two stars are gaining more chemistry as each day passes. What’s more, Embiid even described the two-man game between him and Harden as “unstoppable” after Philadelphia’s win over New York. Furthermore, ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins deemed the Philadelphia duo as the next Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Though they’re not there yet, this star-studded duo is looking very promising.

What makes this duo so lethal

Now, it’s time to break down what makes the Embiid-Harden duo a nightmare for any NBA defense. First off, defenses obviously view James Harden as a massive scoring threat. As a result, defenses often attempt to trap or double Harden around the perimeter. For this sole reason, Joel Embiid’s life is so much easier thanks to Harden’s on and off the ball gravity. When teams double the superstar guard, Embiid has much easier looks in the post. 

Additionally, “The Beard” is able to make pocket passes to the big fella in the painted area. This is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. In years past, Joel’s teammates have struggled to do this at times because defenses would play high on the perimeter or blitz the pick-and-roll. Vice versa, Embiid is known to be a victim of double-teams, traps as a roll man, and zone defenses. But, Embiid can effortlessly use his gravity to create shots for others with Philadelphia’s new and improved floor spacing headlined by Harden. To boot, Harden is shooting 55.6% from the field and 40.0% from beyond the arc off passes from Joel Embiid.

Pick-and-Roll Action

However, the most lethal aspect of the Harden-Embiid duo is their pick-and-roll action. As of right now, the screen action between the two has basically been unstoppable. Neither Minnesota nor New York found a successful way to slow down the star duo’s pick-and-roll. In detail, the Harden-Embiid are involved in high pick-and-rolls, to which the Knicks responded with a mix of low drop coverage and blitzes. None of them worked, as Harden used his court vision to hit the roll-man in Joel Embiid for an effortless bucket down low. 

Here, Harden and Embiid execute a high pick-and-roll where Mitchell Robinson plays medium drop coverage and pays for it.

Additionally, Doc Rivers ran a good amount of Pistol action with Embiid, Harden, and one of Thybulle and Harris. On these occasions, the third man sets a flare screen so Joel can easily roll to the paint. This compliments Harden’s passing ability very well. All in all, it makes perfect sense why these two are nearly unstoppable with Harden’s gravity in the pick-and-roll and Joel’s dominant interior scoring. 

Here is Pistol action involving Harden as the ball-handler, Embiid as the roll man, and Harris as the flare-screener.

Harden-Maxey Backcourt

NBA fans expected Embiid and Harden to emerge as one of the NBA’s best duos, which they’re progressing towards. But, one could make a legitimate case that Tyrese Maxey has benefitted from Harden’s presence just as much as Embiid has. Evidently, Maxey and Harden’s relationship is very productive and loving in the locker room, in practice, and on the hardwood. 

Maxey’s Shot Creation

For one, Maxey has been soaking up Harden’s invaluable knowledge and in-game moves like a sponge. This is evident as he’s been much more confident from beyond the arc and in general. Furthermore, the second-year guard has even been drilling Harden-like step-back three pointers. Against New York, Maxey connected on a pair of step-back triples and an insane turnaround three with seconds to spare on the shot clock. Moreover, Maxey is able to create so much space between himself and his defender with his leaping ability and quickness. This was after Harden called the young guard out at halftime by playfully asking him if he was going to play (Maxey had 4 points at halftime). The Kentucky product is shooting 64.3% from beyond the arc since Harden’s arrival. On top of this, Tyrese is shooting 100% on step-back threes through Philadelphia’s last three games. 

Here, Maxey creates significant space from Quickley and splashes the step-back triple.

Maxey’s Off-Ball Play

Maxey is also playing off James Harden extremely well. The main reason for this is Harden’s facing double-teams on the perimeter. Maxey benefitted in these situations on numerous occasions as an off-ball cutter, in the catch-and-shoot, and driving into the paint. As a result, Maxey has been putting up All-Star-level numbers since Harden entered the lineup. He’s averaged 24.7 points per game on 75.0 effective field-goal percentage in the last three games. 

In this clip, Harden takes advantage of Minnesota’s poor weak-side defense and dishes it to Maxey for the catch-and-shoot three.

In detail, “The Beard” is pushing Maxey to be more aggressive and this is apparent in their play together. Harden constantly uses his court vision to escape the double-team and dish it to Maxey. In return, Maxey uses his speedy dribble penetration to finish at the basket. It also helps that Maxey is used to playing off the ball considering it’s what he’s done most of his career. By the numbers, Harden tallied 8 assists off of passes to Tyrese Maxey through three games. This displays Maxey’s high level off-ball play and ability to create his own shot, both of which are heavily influenced by James Harden.

Here, Harden finds Maxey in route to the basket. Then, the second-year guard uses his crafty dribble penetration to score over Russell.

James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey appear to be a three-headed monster. With the revived 76ers gaining chemistry every day, an unexpectedly elite backcourt, and Embiid’s MVP-caliber play, Philadelphia is a legit Eastern Conference threat.