NBA – Superstar or on the decline, what’s wrong with James Harden (Philadelphia 76ers)?

At the start of the series, with the absence of Joel Embiid, victim of a fracture of the orbital floor, the Heat had prepared to face a great James Harden. Erik Spoelstra and his assistants had particularly carefully studied videos of the bearded man, when he was still playing for the Rockets as the only superstar in charge.

In nine years spent in Houston, Harden compiled 29.6 points and 7.7 assists, winning an MVP trophy and three championship scoring titles with peaks with 36 and 34 points throughout the season. in 2019 and 2020. Harden was then a formidable attacker, almost unstoppable, and regularly author of completely surreal performances, slamming for example triple-doubles while scoring more than 50 points. But this player no longer exists. In any case, we have only seen him too rarely since the start of the series between Philadelphia and Miami. He had already been clumsy and less visible in the finish against Toronto (19 points), even if his team ended up qualifying with difficulty in six sets after having started with three straight wins.

A statistical decline that hurts the Sixers


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The Florida defense certainly reserves special treatment for him, the same as that inflicted on Trae Young in the first round. The Hawks point guard, one of the league’s most prolific forwards, couldn’t do better than 15 pawns at 31% with more drop balls (6.2) than assists (6). With such an aggressive defense on his back, James Harden is put in trouble. He still managed to find several good shooting situations for his comrades in Game 2. The Sixers failed to take advantage of it with only 8 three-point baskets scored in 30 attempts, including 1 of 9 for Danny Green . But even if he ensures the creation, the All-Star rear clearly displays a less impactful face than in recent seasons. He has always been slightly underperforming in the playoffs. Except that there, his statistics are finally in line with the 20 games played with Philly (21 points at 40% on shots).

James Harden

Credit: Getty Images

A numerical – and visual – decline! – quite paradoxical for a player of his caliber who has just requested his transfer. One would have thought that the change of scenario, moving from the Nets to the Sixers, would give new impetus to the career of the guy. Not really in the end. Harden started with four straight 25-plus outings before letting his foot down. He is not much more productive than in Brooklyn, where he was already showing some limits. It’s already cringe within his new franchise. Everyone expected him to raise his level of play. It didn’t happen. Except in game 4, at 31 points (6/10 at three points), the leader is dragging his sentence on the floors. Like his performance in game 5: 14 points at 38.5% success rate, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 37 minutes of play.

I had opportunities to score a lot of points this season. At the point where I am, it’s a sacrifice. I could score 30 points without making us win, or score 19 but still come away with the victory. I will do what it takes to win. I will sacrifice myself, I’m the ultimate team player“, defends the person concerned. His former teammates at the Rockets must have a good laugh. For once, precisely, what is asked of him is to plant 30. To mark the meeting with his imprint to destabilize the defense of the Heat. To assume his role as a superstar. The fact that he confines himself to this role of facilitator – which he does rather very well in general – is perhaps also a sign that he is not more able to make the difference with the ball in hand. He is less explosive, the fault of a sometimes dubious physical condition and hamstring injuries which have been bothering him for several months. He no longer penetrates the racquet with as much punch as before.

An evolution as a playmaker

It was already causing problems before Embiid’s injury. The Cameroonian had taken his teammate to task publicly after the Raptors came back to 3-2. “I haven’t stopped saying it since he arrived here: he has to be aggressive and play his game. But it’s not my job to tell him. It’s probably up to the coach to tell him to take more shots.“The Duo’s Very First Cracks Featured As”unstoppable” by the Sixers when Harden arrived in February. But the 32-year-old’s game has evolved. Perhaps he is no longer physically capable of being as aggressive and sharp as at the Rockets. It’s pretty hard to know what’s going on in his head, but according to early rumors, the veteran would be ready to extend for less than the maximum this summer, although he is eligible for an extension around $ 233 million, with potentially a salary of more than 61 million at the age of 36. Claiming a lesser sum would also be a sign of a certain awareness of his regression.

James Harden is probably no longer the soloist who will chain the 45 points here, 50 points there. He can still do it, but very occasionally. He’s probably a player in the 20-point, 10-assist bracket. Which is still great. His evolution as a “playmaker” and pure leader should allow him to remain an All-Star, unlike his ex-teammate Russell Westbrook for example. In particular, he must be given credit for the great performances of Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey, who take full advantage of his vision of the game. The only problem is that the Sixers brought him in to be the second superstar alongside Joel Embiid and not a third luxury option. If he is no longer capable of it, it is the whole plan and the ambitions of Philadelphia which are to be reviewed.


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