Analyst Dings Sixers’ Title Hopes for Surprising Reason

James Harden

Getty Images James Harden

The Philadelphia 76ers are in a dog fight at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The team is jockeying for position in a four-way battle with the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the conference.

The Sixers are currently 46-28 and sitting in fourth place in the conference, but are just a half-game back of first place. With such a tight race at the top of the conference, having homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs could be huge for whichever team gets it.

The Sixers went all in at the trade deadline when they made a blockbuster trade for superstar James Harden. For the most part, things have gone well in Philly since acquiring the ten-time all-star.

Harden Not Enough

Despite things well for the most part with Harden in Philadelphia, many still aren’t sure that the Sixers have enough to win the East or an NBA championship. Bleacher Report analyst Grant Hughes recently wrote an article where he made an argument against every championship contender.

When it comes to the Sixers, Hughes says their biggest problem is Harden isn’t enough to carry the team when Embiid is on the bench.

As usual, the Philadelphia 76ers struggle whenever Joel Embiid isn’t in the game doing MVP things.

That’s been a constant throughout Embiid’s prime, but one of the supposed main benefits of James Harden’s arrival was a stabilization of non-Embiid units. Who better to keep things running smoothly than the guy who spent several seasons with the Houston Rockets operating an offense almost entirely by himself?

Unfortunately for Philly, Harden-led units haven’t scored enough without the MVP candidate big man to offset the damage done by a porous defense. Philly’s net rating with Harden on the court and Embiid off is a worrisome minus-5.5.

Harden isn’t solely responsible for that figure. Tobias Harris and his $36 million salary have to wear this failure as well.

There are hotter takes available. We could cite the 32-year-old Harden’s lack of offensive burst, or his long history of coming up short in big games as the reason Philly won’t win it all. Or we could worry over the extremely free-throw-dependent Sixers offense stalling when playoff whistles go quiet.

In the end, this very different Philadelphia team’s problem is the same as ever. When Embiid is in the game, the Sixers wreck shop. When he’s not, they’re a wreck. And historically, Embiid hasn’t made it through the playoffs without missing time or suffering a nagging injury.

If and when that happens again, Harden and the Sixers won’t be good enough to cover for him.

Looking Ahead

Hughes makes some good points about the Sixers’ struggles without Embiid. Also, Harden’s past playoff performances and how dependant he and Embiid are on free throws could cause issues.

Ultimately though if the Sixers are going to make a deep playoff run, their role players will have to deliver. Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey has shined since the arrival of Harden, but the Sixers need more from other role players.

Ideally, for the Sixers, it would be Tobias Harris that would step up and help carry some of the load. Harris has been slow to gel with Harden but has been playing better over the last ten games.

Harris has been averaging 14.4 points per game while shooting 50.4% from the field and 44.2% from three. While Harris has been shooting it well the Sixers will still need him to be more aggressive for the team to reach their potential.

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