Will the 76ers acclimate James Harden in time for Playoffs?
With All-Star weekend 2022 officially in the books, it is time for the 76ers to get back to the hardwood. This time around, that group of Sixers should include James Harden who is expected to be ready to go this Friday for his season debut. As exciting of a time it is to be a 76ers fan, another mid-season block buster acquisition poses the same question 76ers fans have seen before. How long before James Harden is truly familiar with the Sixers system?
Many Sixers fans remember the 2018-19 season where both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were added to the roster during the season. One of the biggest issues of that regular season was how to build an offense around two new starters along with Embiid and Simmons. That final stretch of the regular season was far from perfect, and saw some frustrating results as the roster got acclimated with each other.
With James Harden projecting a big run for the 76ers with him joining the roster, it makes one wonder how long it’ll take The Beard to get used to this new system. Pulling from that 2018-19 season once more, maybe Harden will fit into the system seamlessly like Jimmy Butler did. Butler’s tough defense, leader persona, and clutch factor all helped him contribute for the Sixers early. Especially when it came to getting big wins on the road at the buzzer.
While Butler flourished quickly, the other Sixers acquisition really struggled to find his footing after being added mid-season. Tobias Harris’ shooting splits from the field (46.9) and deep (32.6) were some of his career lows after swapping coasts in the middle of the season. One could argue Harris never really looked like the player the 76ers traded for until after his max contract with the team.
Now James Harden joins the 76ers as their third major mid-season acquisition of the last four years. There are few things more important to the success of the Sixers this season than getting Harden adjusted to the team before playoffs. Philly has just 24 games left to make sure that happens, and there is a couple of things the Sixers and James Harden have to do in order to be ready for a title run.
Off the bat it is important that the 76ers and James Harden establish his role on the team. Despite the star power of the Beard, this team runs through Joel Embiid. Harden is firmly the second option of the team, albeit one of the best second options of the league and it is important all parties understand that. Luckily with his time in Brooklyn next to Kevin Durant, I believe James Harden has evolved his game to play as that second option. Plus, in his opening presser Harden made it a point on multiple occasions to mention how he’s here to elevate the play of others, something the 76ers need desperately without Ben Simmons.
Past that, the obvious way James Harden needs to get acclimated to the 76ers is on the court. Especially when it comes to playing alongside Embiid. Harden has had the luxury of playing alongside some of the NBA’s best, but none have the skillset of Joel Embiid. A point of contention since his acquisition from fans and critics is Harden not being used to playing with a big that pick-and-pops like Embiid. While that shouldn’t be an issue considering the defensive attention both players demand in a screen scenario, it is important they use the rest of the regular season to tune that offensive set effectively.
In the end, it is all about getting James Harden time on the court with everyone. If Harden is truly here and embracing the role of elevating his teammates, he needs see how they move with him on the court. At the top of that list is obviously Joel, but includes guys like Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey. On top of that, if Doc is serious about making sure one of Embiid/Harden/Maxey/Harris are on the court at all times, that list should also include Matisse, Korkmaz, and Shake.
While the prospect of Harden and Embiid together remains contender-worthy, none of it will matter if Harden isn’t adjusted to playing in the 76ers system come April. That makes these final 24 games for the 76ers not only crucial for the standings, but team chemistry overall.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher.