Former Champ Issues Wake Up Call to Sixers After James Harden’s Injury

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The injury bug rests for no team, not even the Philadelphia 76ers. On Thursday, the club was given some difficult news when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that superstar James Harden would miss a month with a strained foot tendon.

The team has already seen Harden’s teammates Joel Embiid and De’Anthony Melton miss time with their own injuries and illnesses so far this season. And given the fact Philadelphia added four new players to the team this summer, the more time the team spends apart, the longer it’ll take for the team to mesh and build some semblance of chemistry that’s eluded them so far. It’s a tough hand to be dealt so early into the season, no question about it.

But according to former NBA champ Kendrick Perkins, the Sixers are “going to be fine,” with a slight caveat. The team needs its remaining stars to step up, whom Perkins called out by name.

[Adrian Wojnarowski] just talked about Tyrese Maxey, but this is his chance and his opportunity, again, to show why his name should be up there with the names of other young stars in the game today, when you mention their name in certain conversations. This kid could flat out ball. Doc Rivers trusts him. Joel Embiid trusts him a lot. And I think Tyrese Maxey is going to rise to the occasion even more and elevate his game. And it’s also giving them an opportunity to get Tobias Harris right back to his All-Star caliber play, when he had to step up and get his confidence going again when you could see some of those 30-point nights every now and then.

Can Maxey Hit Another Gear for the Sixers?

In just about every category, Tyrese Maxey has improved this season from last year’s quasi-breakout. Points per game? Maxey’s netting 24.2 points this season versus last year’s 17.5. Three-point percentage? Up to 46.8 percent this year after hitting on 42.7 percent last year. Even better? His volume’s up: Maxey’s attempting nearly three more triples this season (6.9) than last year (4.1).

But Harden’s absence has the chance to unlock Maxey’s playmaking abilities. Thus far, his assist total is down this season (3.4 per game). That’s largely because of Harden, whose 10 assists are second only to point-god Chris Paul.

And Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report expects Maxey to rise to the occasion.

“With James Harden set to miss a month with a tendon strain in his foot, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Maxey will get a real shot to ascend as his team’s clear No. 2 option behind Joel Embiid. He hasn’t peaked yet, but he’s about to get a golden opportunity,” Hughes wrote on October 4.

The real question is whether Harris can step up.

Can Harris Elevate His Game for Philadelphia?

Last year, Philadelphia’s most lethal lineups featured Maxey, Harden, and Embiid. And over the course of last season, Maxey supplanted Harris as Philadelphia’s second (and then after Harden, third) option in Philadelphia.

So what did lineups look up like with Harris, Embiid, and Maxey last season without Harden? Generally . . . meh. It wasn’t like these lineups were bad by any means: a plus-2.5 point differential in which they only gave up 111.1 points per 100 possessions. But the team was horrible at rebounding on the offensive end (an issue that’s continued to plague Philadelphia this season, contributing to the atrocious transition defense).

So far, Harris is averaging just 13.4 points on 47% shooting from the field. Once upon a time, it was fair to wonder if Harris could be Philadelphia’s fourth All-Star this season. But unless Harris unlocks a new gear while Harden’s out and never looks back, it’s not happening.

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