Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

James Harden’s electric debut headline Philadelphia’s 133-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

Harden’s Scoring

Obviously, the biggest thing on everyone’s mind was James Harden’s Philadelphia debut. There’s been so much anticipation and Harden responded with an excellent performance. The newly-acquired star affected the game in countless positive ways offensively. First off, James scored the ball in a variety of ways and dominated by doing so. Notably, Harden cashed two step-back triples. What’s more, The Beard splashed another step-back triple over Karl Anthony Towns twice.

Also, The Beard’s dribble penetration was too much for Minnesota to handle. Harden sliced through Minnesota’s defense from the baseline, top of the key, and the wing. As a result, James scored at the rim or got a trip to the line. Harden debuted with 27 points (on 84.6 true-shooting), 8 rebounds, and 12 assists. 

Developing Chemistry with Maxey

On top of this, Harden’s playmaking is already significantly benefiting his teammates. Fellow guard Tyrese Maxey shined tonight because of him. For example, when Towns guarded Harden, he faked him out and hit Maxey back-cutting to the hoop. Additionally, Tyrese was able to dominate on the fast-break off of Harden’s elite court vision and passing. In the half-court, the sophomore guard got great looks off of Harden’s perimeter gravity.

Maxey capitalized on these opportunities and destroyed Minnesota at the rim. In addition, James connected with Maxey on the perimeter. Tyrese Maxey totaled an exciting 28 points (on 81.3 effective field-goal percentage) and 4 steals. Besides Rese, Harden’s playmaking set up Korkmaz in transition and Tobias Harris. However, Tobias couldn’t take advantage of Harden’s creation as his decision making wasn’t at its best. The forward over-dribbled at times and didn’t make quick decisions. Harris finished with 6 points on 2-9 shooting from the field. 

Pairing with Embiid

It’s essential to talk about how well Joel Embiid and James Harden played off of each other. Above all, Harden made fantastic entry passes to Embiid in the post, which is something Philadelphia struggled with in the past. Specifically, James dished it to Joel at the baseline and he splashed a contested jumper of Karl Anthony-Towns. Also, Harden sighted Joel Embiid cutting from the weak-side, which resulted in fairly easy buckets in the painted area. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a ton of pick-and-roll action with the two-stars. This was partly because of Minnesota’s high blitzing that enabled Harden to display his elite IQ and playmaking. With that being said, it just goes to show how dangerous this new look 76ers offense is. 

Despite this, Harden and Embiid’s gravity greatly benefitted each other’s production.

Furthermore, Joel got great looks from beyond the arc and in the post off of Harden’s gravity and vice versa. With Harden’s ability to score from all three-levels, Philadelphia spacing was excellent. Therefore, when Minnesota trapped Embiid or went into a zone, the big fella was able to create for others. This was most visible in the first quarter, where Philadelphia’s ball movement and rotating were immaculate. For example, Embiid threw a beautiful cross-court pass to Georges Niang for a corner three. Also, Embiid worked well with Maxey in their developing two-man game. Tyrese drained an elbow jumper off an Embiid drag screen in transition.

Besides Harden’s playmaking, Joel had success creating his own shot against Anthony-Towns. The MVP candidate hit a plethora of shots from the mid-range and restricted area over Towns. With this in mind along with the blowout victory, Embiid clearly got the best of this matchup. To boot, Embiid’s nightmarish rim pressure and physicality rewarded him with free-throws galore. The big man shot 11-13 from the charity stripe. All in all, Embiid led all scorers with 34 points (on 71.4 true-shooting) and 10 rebounds. 

Evidently, James Harden’s elite three-leveling scoring and top-tier playmaking heavily impacted Philadelphia’s offense and led them to their first victory in the Harden-Embiid era.