Sixers Urged to Come to Terms With James Harden’s Grim Future

James Harden

Getty James Harden #1, Philadelphia 76ers

In a January 17 The Ringer story, Zach Kram delved into how the Philadelphia 76ers have fared thus far this season. Among everything that Kram went over regarding the Sixers’ performance, he brought up his concerns, most notably with James Harden’s decline.

“But for all the Sixers’ depth, Embiid doesn’t have a true costar to measure up against multistar outfits like the Celtics, Bucks, and Nets. Harden is no longer a top-10 player in the NBA, let alone an MVP candidate,” Kram said.

While Kram says that Harden is “still a very good player” and that he “shoots well, distributes, and scores with great efficiency,” Kram pointed out what he believes to be Harden’s red flags as he continues to decline.

“There are still worrisome signs. For instance, Harden is simultaneously taking a career-high rate of his shots in the midrange and a career-low rate at the rim, according to Cleaning the Glass—which is probably not a matter of consciously trying to diversify his shot distribution but rather an indication that he’s having trouble getting to the rim in a situation to score.”

The last time Harden was an MVP candidate was his last full season with the Houston Rockets. Averaging 34.3 points, 7.5 points, and 6.6 rebounds garnered him the third-most votes for the MVP Award during the 2019-20 season. Because neither the Nets nor the Sixers have depended on him like the Rockets once did, Harden has no longer been putting up those numbers.

Harden’s Minutes are Adding Up

Kram later explained that Harden’s decline could be on account of how many minutes he’s played over the last 10 years.

“Harden’s aging, with a whole lot of miles on his tires. As old Ringer pal Dan Devine noted last month, Harden’s played the second-most combined regular and postseason minutes in the past decade, behind only LeBron James. It might not be a coincidence that Harden is driving and blowing by his defender much less often this season than any other on record.”

Kram added that because Harden’s had his issues in the playoffs even when he was at the top of his game, his decline begs the question if that’ll be the same case from here on out.

“Given that Harden has never been the most successful playoff performer, even at his peak, it’s an open question whether this somewhat diminished version can succeed where previous iterations failed.”

In his career, Harden has made the NBA Finals once with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 while making the Conference Finals four times – 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2018 – the first two being with the Thunder and the last two being with the Rockets.

Harden Believes He Can Put Up His Numbers From Houston Days

In an interview with Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, Harden revealed that he’d like to have the same role he did in Houston and believe he still could, but that isn’t his focus anymore.

“I would love that, but not as much — if that makes sense,” Harden told Goodwill. “In Houston, I was doing that every single night. It was expected. It’s a lot of times I feel like I can have that same impact on games. But you see the bigger picture. I’m just focused on one thing, man. That’s all that matters.”

Harden made it clear that he left Houston because he believed they could no longer do the one thing he wanted more than anything.

“I wanted to have the chance to win at the highest level. Once I figured we weren’t gonna be able to do that in Houston, I tried to put myself in a situation to win at the highest level,” Harden said. “The ultimate goal for me is a championship.”