Friday was a big day for professional basketball in Philadelphia, as a new era was ushered in. After taking advantage of the All-Star break for added rest, James Harden finally debuted for the Philadelphia 76ers. A lot of eyes were on the Sixers matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves to see how the former MVP will look with his new team, and he managed to silence a lot of his critics.
James Harden played 35 minutes against the Timberwolves and posted a stat line of 27 points, eight rebounds, and 12 assists en route to a blowout victory. Outside of shaking the rust off in the opening minutes, it appears the Sixers will have an easy time integrating Harden into the mix.
As far as debut performances go, this was as good a showing as anyone on the Sixers might have hoped. If it had to be given a grade, it’s worthy of an A+.
Daryl Morey heavily pursued James Harden because he felt his skill set would be a perfect fit on the Sixers, and how things played out Friday was a testament to that. Not only did the All-Star guard fill up the stat sheet, but he did so without taking away from anybody else.
Not to discredit Tyrese Maxey, but having an elite facilitator on the floor again did wonders for the Sixers’ offense. Harden’s ability to grab a rebound and push the break led to a plethora of easy buckets, especially from beyond the arc. Given the attention Embiid and Harden command, it allowed them to fully space out on the offensive end and get up close to 40 attempts from three.
When you bring in a high-level talent like Harden, it makes life easier for other players on the court. Easily the biggest beneficiary of this was Maxey. Since Harden is more than capable of the primary playmaking duties, it allowed the 21-year-old to embrace his scoring nature. The result of this was Maxey scoring 28 points in Minnesota on stellar 12-for-16 shooting from the floor.
Shot creation in a half-court setting is an element the Sixers have long needed and now find themselves with an abundance. There were multiple occasions Friday where it was late in the shot clock, and James Harden was easily able to shake his defender and get a bucket. He even broke out his patented step-back three en route to connecting on five triples.
The other major storyline in this matchup was how the new superstar duo will perform together. Like the rest of the group, Embiid easily acclimated to the presence of Harden. Seeing how effective they are in the two-man game already does not bode well for opposing defenses moving forward.
Embiid has been a frontrunner for MVP again this season, and the addition of James Harden does not seem to be getting in the way of that. Even with another superstar on the floor, he was able to tally 34 points, ten rebounds, and three assists in the win. The two played off each other very well and did a fine job picking their spots when they were there.
The Sixers have a lot going for them right now, but time is not on their side. Following Friday’s win, they only have 23 regular-season games left. While they might have little time to piece things together, how they performed in Minnesota might be a sign of things coming together quicker than expected.