James Harden Falls Just Outside Top 10 in Latest ESPN Player Rankings

James Harden, Sixers

Getty James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles against P.J. Tucker #17 of the Miami Heat during the first half in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals

With the NBA season rapidly approaching writers, analysts, and fans are all doing their best to evaluate which team has the leg up. One of the teams with the most eyes on them this year is the Philadelphia 76ers. In the latest piece by ESPN, the 25th-11th best players were released. Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey each found themselves in the top 100 which were released yesterday. While it is safe to assume the Sixers superstar and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid will find his name in the top ten, Philly saw another member of the team on the most recent ranking article. According to the article, which was composed based on the opinions of a panel of nearly 200 media members, James Harden is listed as the 11th-best player based on what is expected for the 2022-23 season.

Reasons James Harden’s Ranking is Right

There has been so much chatter surrounding the decline of James Harden. The 33-year-old is entering his fourteenth season and has one of the most accomplished resumes of all time. He is a former MVP, 10-time all-star, three-time scoring champ, and made the NBA’s Top 75 Anniversary team as one of the best 75 players to every play.

Even amid what was perceived as a “down season” in 2021-22, Harden averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. In the 21 games he spent with the Sixers, he produced 21.0 points, 10.5 assists, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. This is still an extremely high level of production for a player on the downside of his career.

With the Sixers set to be one of the NBA’s biggest contenders and James Harden pulling the strings of the offense, there will be plenty of opportunity for production. Embiid and Harden ranked as the top pick-and-roll duo in the NBA last season and will have more opportunities to build off this success.

Harden also notably opted out of his $47.3 million player option in favor of a more team-friendly deal. The 2-year $68.6 million deal he did agree to has a player option following this season in which the superstar has the chance to opt-out. This would pave the way for him to ink a new max contract with more long-term security. While some may look at this negatively, it means that Harden believes he has more in the tank than he showed last year which is a positive sign for the Sixers. If he plays to the best of his abilities, it is tough to imagine there are more than ten players better than him across the NBA.

Reasons James Harden is Ranked too High

The NBA is absolutely loaded with talent right now. While Harden’s production on paper was still impressive last year the eye test was not quite the same. He had a notable lack of pop in his step which caused him to struggle to create separation when attacking the basket or on his step-back jumpers. The star guard and Daryl Morey have both attributed the struggles to lingering hamstring issues. He has made recovery from this a priority of the offseason and it does provide a fair reason for optimism.

However, Harden is not getting any younger. He also shot a career-low 32.6% on three-point attempts during his time with the Sixers. His points, assists, and rebounds output all decreased in the postseason and, with the exception of the 31-point Game 4 victory over the Heat, he did not look to be the co-star for Embiid that was hoped.

Father Time has an impressive track record in its fight with athletes and Harden will look to further fight this battle. For the first time in the past decade, James Harden’s back is against the wall. It is evident that one way or another the perception of the Sixers’ guard will shift drastically this season.

If he can show a renewed burst and look refreshed he will cement his place among the NBA’s best once again. If this is not the case, he likely will see his status slip from the championship-caliber co-star he hopes to be. The emergence of Tyrese Maxey has allowed this to be a possibility for the Sixers, however, the hope is certainly for Harden to return to form.

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