While Harden’s absence ignited the backup guards De’Anthony Melton and Shake Milton, the Sixers know they are much better off with Harden’s value as a playmaker and ball-handler. Plus, the veteran guard was off to a decent start in the scoring department as well.
Through the first nine games of the Sixers’ season, Harden averaged 22 points, ten assists, and seven rebounds. After going down with a foot injury that was diagnosed as a tendon strain, Harden was ruled out for at least a month.
For the last 14 games, Harden remained sidelined. During that time, the Sixers have gone 8-6. They certainly survived in the absence of key starters, but fatigue is beginning to set in, and the Sixers need reinforcements at this point.
Fortunately, Harden could be back in the mix as soon as Monday. As the Sixers geared up for their Wednesday night matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Harden was targeting next Monday’s matchup against the Houston Rockets as a potential return game for the recovering guard.
If that’s indeed the case, then the Sixers played their final game without Harden in the fold when they visited the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Doc Rivers couldn’t confirm nor deny that Harden would reunite with the team in Houston, but the head coach surely is hopeful that will be the case.
“I’m hoping we’re getting a couple of guys back soon,” Rivers said following Friday’s loss against the Grizzlies. “James possibly can be back.”
Since Harden has gone out, De’Anthony Melton has started in 12 of 13 games, averaging 31 minutes on the court. Prior to that, Melton averaged just 22 minutes on the floor while coming off the bench.
Once Tyrese Maxey went down, Shake Milton became the next man up in the starting lineup. Starting in the last eight games, Milton averaged nearly 40 minutes on the floor. Before that, he averaged just 14 minutes on the court and even registered four DNPs at the start of the year.
Milton and Melton will remain significant pieces in the Sixers’ rotation when Harden and Maxey return to the lineup, but their minutes are sure to shrink as the team gets healthier.
Considering how much they’ve been playing lately, the Sixers need a reinforcement like Harden to help the team stay fresh as the season progresses.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for All76ers, a Sports Illustrated channel. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.