Joel Embiid stated the obvious following the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat. When asked about his relatively new co-star James Harden, Embiid mentioned that Harden hadn’t been the same player he once was.
“Ever since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden," said Embiid on Thursday night. "But that’s not who he is anymore."
Can Harden get back to his MVP-caliber ways? You can never say never when it comes to the NBA. But the numbers don’t lie; the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers versions of James Harden simply didn’t match the guy that starred for the Houston Rockets.
Harden averaged just under 30 points per game for the Rockets for eight full seasons. He was crowned the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2018 and led the league in scoring for three-straight seasons.
Between eight final games in Houston, 80 games in Brooklyn, and 21 in Philadelphia, Harden’s averaged 23 points in the last two seasons. The elite scorer we’ve witnessed over the years simply didn’t look the same.
Is that a bad thing? While it’s definitely not ideal, as the Sixers needed an aggressive scorer to take some of the load off of Embiid — Harden still brought value to the Sixers as a playmaker. And in Morey’s eyes, he viewed Embiid’s comments as more of a compliment to Harden’s passing rather than a shot at the ten-time All-Star’s lack of production in the scoring department.
“I think a lot of what Joel was saying is that I think until you have a guy on the team, you don’t know how good of a passer he is,” said Morey on Friday. “I think a lot of what Joel was seeing there was someone who was a better passer than he expected.”
In 21 games with the Sixers, Harden averaged over ten assists. Without a true point guard on the roster prior to the big trade with the Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers didn’t have a seasoned playmaker outside of the three-time All-Star Ben Simmons, who refused to play for his team.
With Harden on the court, Morey believed that the veteran did his job well despite what the critics said about his lack of scoring.
“I think James did a really nice job finding guys and maybe getting the ball to Joel and others on the team more than he might have anticipated based on what they understood,” Morey continued. “Look, he’s a great player. I think we can we can unlock him more. We’re excited about going forward, but he is a very good passer. So I’m glad that Joel pointed that out.”
Whether they’re getting “Houston Harden” or not, the Sixers will likely enter the 2022-2023 season with the All-Star guard on the roster as he plans to pick up his team option. Harden thinks that an entire offseason without rehab and preparing to play for the Sixers next year will help him get back on track. It seems Morey is confident that will be the case as well.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.
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