Pistons Call Out ‘Something Different’ About Sixers’ James Harden

James Harden

Getty Sixers star James Harden has been serving a new role as facilitator since returning from a foot injury.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers has tallked a lot in recent weeks about James Harden’s new role as the team’s facilitator. He has gone out of his way to praise his star guard for taking a backseat and embracing a pass-first mentality, even comparing his ability to drop perfect dimes to Tom Brady.

Harden has been the engine running the offense since returning from a foot injury on December 5. He has averaged 11.2 assists per game over his last six. It’s pretty remarkable that the one-time MVP has been willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, a fact not lost on Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey. Kudos to Harden.

“I’ll tell you what, James has done a great job of going and being different of what he was in Houston,” Casey told reporters prior to tip-off on Wednesday night. “From being the primary scorer, he has really adapted, him and Joel [Embiid] have a little rhythm going with each other, understanding where Joel wants the ball and getting it to him at the right time with the pocket pass – at the free throw line, iso [isolation], ready to play off of him, which is something different that Harden, that James has done from earlier in his career.

“Kudos to him, hopefully not tonight, it doesn’t work so well. But kudos to him, it’s something he had to do to help this team and he’s sacrificing because he can still go out for 25 or 30 [points] if he felt like he needed to. But he’s sacrificing for the team and you can just tell from outside looking in – I’m not in their locker room – it looks like he’s sacrificing for the benefit of the team.”

Doc Rivers Talks Minutes Restrictions for Harden

Harden has been forced to play extra minutes with Tyrese Maxey out due to a fractured foot. He saw 42 minutes the other night versus Toronto, fresh off 37 minutes three nights prior against Golden State. His 37.9 minutes per game are the most he’s averaged since the 2015-16 season.

Is Doc Rivers worried about him breaking down?

“Nah, not worried at all, it’s early in the year,” Rivers said. “I guarantee you by the end of the year when you look at his numbers, they are going to look great. It’s a whole year but we can’t overdo things when guys have a 3-week spikes in minutes and all of a sudden, we’re overreacting to that. We’ve been low on guards and so guys have needed to play minutes. And James is one of those guys who can handle minutes but by the end of the year his minutes will be down.”

And Maxey’s return will impact Harden’s minutes in an organic way, not necessarily by design.

“His minutes will go down slowly,” Rivers said. “It’s not on our checklist of things to do.”

Latest Tyrese Maxey Injury Update

Tyrese Maxey has been back at practice where he’s been seen running and getting shots up. It sure feels like the speedy guard is on the verge of returning, but Rivers wouldn’t put a timetable for when he’ll be back. Maxey has been on the shelf since November 18 with a fractured foot.

“He’s just working, I don’t think there’s an update,” Rivers said. “He’s improving and we will see him at some point, but I don’t know when.”

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