James Harden will be entering his second season with the Philadelphia 76ers. While the first year came with a lot of ups and downs, there is immense pressure on the 14-year veteran to produce at a very high level. Looking at the overview of the Eastern Conference, the Sixers should be projected to be a top contender in the conference. While Joel Embiid is expected to dominate at an MVP level, the question is how will Harden produce as his right-hand man?
Everyone knows the situation that went down in Brooklyn. Tensions perhaps boiled over between stars and they could no longer co-exist. When Harden was traded to the Nets, there were high expectations for the team to win a championship. It was likely the first team where we saw three SUPERSTARS joined together in Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving.
Unfortunately, injuries held this team back from reaching its full potential. Harden went down in game one of the 2021 Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Even though he did return to the series, he was still hobbling around. The next season, chemistry issues in Brooklyn would force Harden on his way out to join the Sixers in Philly.
Now Harden is a Sixer. Insiders were excited about the dominant tandem of what would be with him and Joel Embiid. It was so exciting that even NBA Analyst Kendrick Perkins called them the greatest duo since Shaq and Kobe before they played a game. At the time of the trade, Embiid was having a monster season despite the loss of Ben Simmons. So it would be only a matter of time before Embiid would elevate playing alongside a former MVP.
Unfortunately, the Sixers weren’t able to hit their stride come playoff time. Once Embiid went down with a face injury in the first round against the Toronto Raptors, Harden was looked upon to step up as the first option. Little did anyone know that Harden was dealing with a lingering hamstring injury himself. Because of it, he wasn’t able to produce at the highest level in the second round against the Miami Heat.
Over the last few years, Harden has been a laughingstock across the NBA. It’s insane to watch a star win the MVP Award and then years later be bullied because of his weight. So according to many insiders across the NBA, there are low expectations for Harden in the 2022-23 season.
Harden may be in his 30s and isn’t the same scoring machine he was in years past, but his IQ for the game is still there. The one factor in his game that people don’t appreciate is his versatility to become a playmaker. Playing alongside players like Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and others, Harden doesn’t necessarily have to be a top-scoring option for the team (I’m not saying those guys are better scorers). His main priority can be to run the offense and place others in a position for success.
If I can predict Harden’s averages for next season, I would predict 21 points per game along with eight assists. With Embiid expected to have another MVP-caliber season, a lot of responsibility will be taken off of Harden’s shoulders. James Harden plays just as important a role to the 76ers as everyone else. Without his presence, the championship expectations shouldn’t be as high for Philly as they are with him.
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