On NBA Trade Deadline Day, the Philadelphia 76ers stunned the basketball world when they sent their disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets for superstar shooting guard James Harden. Simmons spent years angering a Phialdephia fan base and Sixers coaching staff over his refusal to take jump shots consistently.
The latter did everything in their power to encourage the LSU product to shoot, but those hopes were never realized. The Sixers simply had enough, and after watching Simmons sit out the entire season, they decided to make a move.
As for Harden, Rumors persistently swirled as to the Sixers interest in the Net’s star guard, but up to that point, they had failed to pull the trigger on a deal. 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has a long-standing relationship with Harden dating back to their time together with the Houston Rockets.
Morey even tried to acquire Harden before the deadline last season, although he ultimately was unsuccessful. Now Harden, along with MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid, form one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA. The only remaining question is how far can the pair take the Sixers in the playoffs?
The Results So Far
The 76ers have only played two games so far with their superstar pairing, but the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Harden became the first player in NBA history to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in each of his first two games with the team. Additionally, the Embiid-Harden tag team has already put up a whopping 127 points in just two games together.
It seems clubs are already having difficulty guarding both Harden and Embiid without fouling them. In the pair’s second game against the New York Knicks, Harden poured in a triple-double. He became the first Sixer ever to record 25 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists, and five steals in a game. This also included ten free throw attempts for good measure.
Additionally, the Sixers have cruised to two easy victories with Harden on board. While the competition was inferior to say the least, both games were away from the Wells Fargo Center. For a Sixers squad that has had issues winning on the road recently, this development is certainly encouraging. While Harden has only recently joined the team, the 76ers have a much improved 21-10 road record this season.
Perhaps this will all change with the addition of Harden, but for a team that has proved it can now win on the road, “The Beard” will certainly only help their fortunes. For his part, Sixers Coach Doc Rivers spoke glowingly of his superstar shooting guard. He said Harden was “the best fit for my team” after the Sixers win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Current Team Composition
Not lost in the new superstar tandem the 76ers have put together is their surrounding cast members. The most important member of the team not named Embiid or Harden is Tyrese Maxey. The 6’2 point guard has played every bit as well as his backcourt mate in the past two games. Maxey recorded 28 points against the Timberwolves and 21 against the Knicks.
The Kentucky product seems to have found a niche feeding off of Embiid and Harden. Additionally, Maxey has been putting his speed to good use, flying around the court as teams double Harden and Embiid.
Other notable teammates include starting forwards Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle, and bench players Furkan Korkmaz, Danny Green, Georges Niang, Shake Milton, and Paul Millsap. It is important to note that the majority of these players have been disappointing thus far for the 76ers. Korkmaz, Green, and Niang are all capable of chipping in 15-20 points on a good night, but none are consistent enough to do it night in and night out.
Milton has precipitously dropped off since last season when he was in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. Millsap, who came over from Brooklyn in the Harden deal, has played reasonably well back up center minutes behind Embiid. But the Sixers would be in deep trouble should their starting big man ever succumb to injuries.
The Future Outlook
When the 76ers first acquired James Harden back on February 10, many thought the remainder of this season would be a transitional period. As Harden got acclimated with Embiid and his other new teammates, the Sixers would naturally struggle. But as you can see, the Sixers have hit the ground running with their new superstar guard without any need for a transitional period.
The team is currently in third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a record of 37-23. They are a game behind the Chicago Bulls and just 2.5 games out of first place. A good month from Embiid and Harden could easily catapult the Sixers into the top of the conference.
Looking past the regular season, Harden and Embiid look like a potential nightmare to face in the playoffs as both are capable of pouring on 30 or more points on any given night in addition to drawing fouls at an ungodly clip. The Sixers probably have as good a chance as anyone to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
As for next season and beyond, Harden has agreed to pick up his $47.3 million option for the 2022-2023 campaign. So long as he and Embiid stay healthy, the 76ers have a good shot of making a deep playoff run. This is especially true if Morey opts to make further moves to augment an already strong Sixers roster.
The Sixer Roundup
The Philadelphia 76ers, for all their recent misfortunes, finally seem to be experiencing the proverbial silver lining. That of course would be the arrival of James Harden. The superstar shooting guard and 2017-18 NBA MVP has quickly solidified an uneven Sixers lineup and meshed well with fellow superstar Joel Embiid.
In just two games together, the pair have shown off their limitless potential. They have scored in high volumes, shot free throws at a remarkable clip, and perhaps most importantly, been unselfish teammates.
A team that already included a rising star (Maxey), several proven role players (Harris, Thybulle, Green, Niang, etc), and a homegrown superstar (Embiid) now has another star to add to its ranks. Moving forward, the sky’s the limit for this Sixers team.
A deep playoff run or finals appearance could be in store this year. And even if it’s not, an augmented roster with higher ambitions for next season could get the job done. It really does seem like there are no bounds to speak of in Philadelphia. But as they say, only time will tell how successful the Sixers are in their quest to win a championship.
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