How Does James Harden Fit With Embiid/Sixers?

NBA: DEC 27 Nets at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 27: Brooklyn Nets Guard James Harden (13) argues a non foul call as the Los Angeles Clippers face off against the Brooklyn Nets at Arena on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers came out of yesterday’s trade deadline with one of the top ten players in the NBA. James Harden is now a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, and while the city is ecstatic, many are questioning the fit between Harden and the Sixers, more specifically, Joel Embiid. How will the Sixers’ new star fit alongside their current MVP candidate?

First and foremost should be defining the starting lineup, or at least Harden’s place within it. For the first seven years of his career, Harden played almost exclusively at shooting guard. That changed in 2016 when, while playing for Daryl Morey’s Rockets, Harden transitioned to a full-time point guard role. Since then, aside from years played with Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden has been one of the top point guards in the entire league. Coming into Philadelphia, that is his role.

Some may be concerned about Tyrese Maxey‘s role or minutes as he is the Sixers’ current point guard, but that will not be the case. Maxey is truly a combo guard, and while he has done well running the point for Philadelphia, his game is more about his ability to score than it is running the offense. With Harden at the point, not only will pressure on Maxey be relieved, but he can move into his more natural role as a scoring guard. With that, the guards are set in Philadelphia.

Now when it comes to Harden’s fit with the forwards, there’s a bit more to it. First, there’s yet to be a definitive answer as to who is the starting small forward of this team. Danny Green has started in 23 of his 36 appearances, while Matisse Thybulle has started in 24 of his 39 appearances. Going forward, Head Coach Doc Rivers may be inclined to start the veteran Green whose shooting will likely improve with passes from a fantastic facilitator like Harden. The same goes for Tobias Harris, who can now return to the role he was meant to play as a third option. Harris has already seen incredible improvement since January; with Harden in the lineup, he’s likely to improve even further.

Finally comes the big discussion, James Harden’s fit with Sixers’ star Joel Embiid. Much has been made of this topic as questions have been raised about the Harden/Embiid pairing and what that means for the Sixers from both the national media and social media.

One argument is that the duo will not be the well-oiled pick-and-roll machine that many hoped for initially. Some have made the point that Embiid is not the rim-running center that Harden has played with in the past, but that’s okay. Joel Embiid‘s ability to either roll or pop off the pick is what will make him so dangerous with Harden. Will he be among the league leaders in lob attempts like Clint Capela was in Houston? Probably not, but that does not mean they are a bad fit. If anything, expect Embiid’s versatility to bring the best out of Harden’s game as well.

Another argument many also think is that Harden is too much of an Alpha personality to play with the Sixers’ MVP favorite. That concept is ludicrous, considering Harden last played for Brooklyn, where he played with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The three boasted a winning percentage of 81.2 when playing together, albeit in fewer games than an NFL season.

James Harden thrived last season as a part of Brooklyn’s big three. It was only after a tumultuous start to the 2021-22 season for the Nets that Harden really began seeing his play decline. He also hasn’t declined to the degree that many will have you believe. Harden scored 33 points en route to a triple-double against the Lakers just two weeks ago. Two games before that, Harden had 37 points and yet another triple-double. While Harden is not the player he was in Houston, he is still a top-10 player in the NBA, one who will thrive with Joel Embiid, not hindered trying to play second fiddle.