James Harden’s Playmaking Will Take Sixers Offense to New Heights

NBA: FEB 06 Rockets at Lakers
LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 06: Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) looks at the basket before the Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers game on February 06, 2020, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)

There is a lot to like about the addition of James Harden. His ball-handling ability and perimeter shooting provide a new element to the Sixers’ offense that has not been seen alongside Joel Embiid. Harden has the most well-rounded skill set of any Sixers guard in decades.

His ability to guard bigger guys helps the Sixers defense to be able to switch more and create more fluidity. But perhaps the most impactful area of his game that will be seen is James Harden’s high IQ and passing ability. The impact of this has been fully put on display in Harden’s brief time with the Sixers already and as the chemistry continues to build it has a chance to take this Sixers offense to heights it has never seen before.

Joel Embiid:

For several years James Harden has been in search of a legitimate co-star to help him reach his championship goal. Joel Embiid is by far the best big man Harden has ever been paired with and the duo has the potential to be a near-perfect fit. The lack of easy baskets that have been available to Joel Embiid has been a major cause for frustration and having one of the best passers in the NBA running the show is the exact solution for this.

Following Harden’s debut with the Sixers, Joel Embiid put it– “That was probably the most open I’ve ever been in my career.” There were moments where Embiid looked surprised to have the basketball in his hand and taking some shot creation responsibility off of his plate will go along ways moving forward. While Ben Simmons is still an above-average distributor, the way James Harden is able to manipulate a defense and create windows will open things up for Joel Embiid in a way that Simmons was never able to.

The Supporting Cast:

This passing ability applies that Harden possesses benefits just about every Sixers player as well. There has been a frustration with the Sixers offense so far this season with so much of the offensive burden falling on Embiid’s shoulders. While Embiid has improved as a passer by a great deal, relying on him as a primary distributor is not the best way to utilize him and the lack of movement in the Sixers offense makes it difficult for him to succeed in this role as well.

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 Crypto.com Arena on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers have done a great job ignoring the distraction of Ben Simmons, but it can clearly be seen in the offense as the Sixers have functioned without a legitimate point guard all season. Danny Green shot a career-high 6.3 three-point attempts last season, but has seen this number drop to 4.7 triples attempted this year.

Despite Furkan Korkmaz seeing over 4 more minutes per game this season, he has seen his three-point attempts slip by half of an attempt per game and his per 36 attempts has slipped from 9.1 last year to 6.7 this season. Tobias Harris shot 5.0 attempts from three in his first two seasons with the Sixers, but has seen this number slip to 3.4 attempts per game since this time. There are three-point looks available in the Sixers offense, but there has not been a proper point guard to guide these passes and capitalize it until now.

Overall Thoughts:

There will obviously be growing pains moving forward but at the moment James Harden is on one of the best honeymoon periods in Philly sports history. In his debut game, Harden ended with 27 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds. He shot 7-12 from the field, 5-7 from the three-point arc, and 8-9 from the free-throw arc. Helping the Sixers to tie their highest scoring total on the season and it is clear the new elements that the team now possesses. The Sixers have played with a roster void of the max-level contract they were paying for until this point. The addition of James Harden more than cures this and will continue to elevate the rest of the roster as he grows more and more comfortable.

Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire