Throughout most of his career, Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden has been “the guy” on his team. During his time with the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey created a heliocentric roster that allowed the now-Sixers star to fully un-tap all areas of his game.
Even when he joined the Brooklyn Nets, the former MVP was asked to carry a large weight. Between injuries and other circumstances, the once highly feared trio of Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving only played in 16 games together. Before being moved at the trade deadline, Harden was the sole All-Star on the floor nightly for the Nets trying to keep them afloat.
Now in Philly, a large burden has been taken off his shoulders. Joel Embiid is playing like a top-three player in the world right now and leading the charge for the Sixers on a nightly basis. With his superstar teammate playing at such a high level, all Harden has to do is help fill in the gaps, whether that be running the offense or taking over when Embiid is off the floor.
After the Sixers' 111-101 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, Harden opened up on playing alongside the MVP frontrunner. While Embiid has no problem taking on a big scoring load, Harden still feels he has to maintain a certain level of aggressiveness.
“It's been great, but I still need to be aggressive. I think tonight was a sign of that. I still need to be in attack mode and look to score the basketball because that's what I do. Just trying to find a balance like I've talked about before. When to be a playmaker. I think tonight, especially in that fourth quarter, me attacking, the playmaking ability is going to come because we got lobs, we got threes. So that's going to come with my aggressiveness. You got to just read the game,” said Harden.
At his peak, Harden averaged just over 36 points per game one season with the Rockets. Everyone knows how gifted a scorer he is, which makes it slightly comical when he speaks on needing to be aggressive for the Sixers. This learning curve of when to pick his spots stems from sharing the floor with a dominant force like Embiid, who can easily average 30 points a night.
“It's definitely a switch, but you got another guy right now who is leading the league in scoring on my team. Night in a night out, he is used to and confident of getting buckets, and that's what my job is. Then, scoring the basketball,” added Harden.
Finding this balance has been one of the main growing pains for the new-look Sixers, but Harden seems to be finding his footing. Along with dishing a team-high 12 assists, he took over in the fourth quarter with Embiid on the sidelines to help secure the victory for the Sixers.
Getting comfortable knowing when to attack and when to facilitate will be a top priority for Harden in these final 14 games of the regular season. Judging by how he performed against the Mavericks, he looks to be trending in the right direction.