A Team in Transition: How James Harden Has Helped the Sixers’ Fastbreak Offense

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)

The acquisition of James Harden has solved a lot of the Sixers‘ needs. One key area the superstar has helped is the team’s fastbreak offense.

As the season began, many wondered how the Sixers were going to play without Ben Simmons in the lineup. Although he had some offensive issues during his tenure with the Sixers, one thing he excelled at was getting out on the fastbreak. Ben Simmons was at his best in the open court, getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.

The Sixers were 3rd in the NBA in fastbreak points during last season, averaging 15.0 points per game. Ben Simmons was top 10 in fastbreak points per game and also had a knack for creating open three-point shots for players like Danny Green and Seth Curry. With some of the offensive liabilities Simmons presented in the half-court, the coaches encouraged him to run and get out in transition.

With the season starting without Simmons in the lineup, the Sixers’ offense revolved around Joel Embiid. With the focus on half-court offense, the Sixers were ranked 27th in Pace and 13th in Transition Scoring. There were some nights early on where Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris would push the pace, but it didn’t have the same feel as last season.

With Joel understanding that adding some pace to his play could allow him or his teammates to get easier buckets, he began pushing the pace on his own. He would get a rebound and go full court to get either a score or find a teammate wide open for three. Even with Joel trying to push the pace, the offense still spent a majority of the time working through the half-court.

With the arrival of James Harden, there has been an injection of pace and energy to this squad that adds another element we haven’t really seen this year. Not only does the eye test show you the difference Harden’s presence makes, but the numbers do as well. Since Harden’s debut with the team, the Sixers are 3rd in fastbreak points, scoring just under 20 points per game. They are also ninth in pace since his arrival. The team is getting up more threes and attacking the opponents on the secondary break.

Although the entire team has benefited from Harden pushing the pace, there are two players who seem to have benefited the most. Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle, the Sixers’ young studs, have been able to get out and open space for quick and easy shots off opponents’ misses.

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)

Maxey has always been a blur, but he has really been running on the fast break. James Harden has made some terrific passes to Maxey in transition that has allowed him to get out in the open floor for easy layups. If Maxey doesn’t get the rebound, he is already past half-court ready to receive a pass to create a scoring opportunity for himself or a teammate who may be trailing.

Thybulle has also gotten some more scoring opportunities with Harden starting the fastbreak. Thybulle isn’t the best offensive threat in the half-court, but he is super athletic and can really fly in transition. He has been the recipient of a few full-court passes from Harden that led to an easy dunk for Thybulle. Any offense you get from him is a bonus and knowing that Harden has already made it a point to reward him for running the floor.

If James Harden can continue to push the transition offense and get easy buckets, the Sixers won’t have to just rely on half-court offense. It is no coincidence that the Sixers have scored over 120 points in three straight games. Getting easy scores can be the difference between winning and losing, especially in the playoffs, and it is good to see the Sixers back in transition.