Sixers Star Produces Ridiculous Opening Night Dribble Total

James Harden, Sixers

Getty James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts during the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on October 18, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.

There are few players as comfortable with the ball in their hands as James Harden. The Philadelphia 76ers star has been known for his impressive output of dribble moves, step-backs, and ankle-breakers throughout his career. His shot creation is among the most elite in NBA history and, even when players know what’s coming, it is near-impossible to stop.

Harden put these handles on display in the opening night matchup against the Boston Celtics. The Sixers’ star guard was a major reason for optimism despite the loss due to his throwback performance in which he led the team in scoring with 35-points. The former MVP also sat atop the rankings in another unique category by dribbling the ball a total of 525 times in the matchup- which is more than the rest of the Sixers team combined.

Why This is a Good Thing:

The biggest X-factor coming into the season for the Sixers was what version of Harden took the court. The lingering hamstring issues and overall questions about his fitness prevented Harden from finding his true form last season. The explosiveness in his game was lacking and he was unable to create separation in the way that has been seen throughout his career.

On the positive side of things, there were some massive strides forward in this area. He connected on five of his nine three-point attempts during the game. This threat of the perimeter jump shot opened the door for him to blow by defenders, and he showed the ability to do just this. Here is a play where he attacked Grant Williams, who is regarded as an above-average perimeter defender, and got to the basket for an easy layup.

Harden will continue to serve as the point guard and lead ball-handler in this offense, so leading the team in dribbles is no surprise. In fact, it was encouraging to see him seeking out his own shot based on how passive he was last season with the team. Joel Embiid struggled early on in the matchup and Harden was able to pick up the slack and keep the Sixers’ offense rolling. If it were not for Harden’s 35-point performance, Philadelphia may not have been in this game at all.

Why This is a Bad Thing:

While Harden dominating the basketball is expected, this much of a lopsided share of it is not great to see. The 10-time all-star taking 114 more dribbles than the rest of the team combined is a stat that should raise some eyebrows. Tyrese Maxey is worthy of more time on the ball, and while he is effective as a floor spacer, it is a waste of the other dynamic aspects of his abilities. It is not so much the number of dribbles that is a concern, but what Harden is doing with these ball-handing opportunities is the bigger question.

The Sixers’ lack of pace has been a problem in recent years and showed face in the opening night matchup. Philadelphia had a 3.5-second average touch length against Boston which is the third-highest mark in a game during the past two years. The bottom line is the ball stuck too much on opening night.

Harden dribbling the basketball is not an issue. But if he does not have a goal with these touches then it is cause for concern. His relaxed nature bringing the ball up the court is comforting but also eats away at precious seconds of the shot clock. While his performance was encouraging on opening night, the tune may not have been the same if he did not connect on multiple three-pointers with the shot clock expiring. Yes, it is great to see the shots going in, but the shot selection is still a work in progress. Here is a terrific breakdown from Nekias Duncan of the Dunker Spot Podcast where the Sixers’ lack of execution is cause for concern.

While no one should get caught up in the number of dribbles Harden takes moving forward, what he does with these opportunities is a notable storyline. The Sixers have a ways to go in injecting more movement and overall life into their offense. The isolation-based nature of both Harden and Embiid’s play is a major reason for this. They will need the 33-year-old to embrace that this is an issue and be open to more ball movement if the team is to hit its ceiling this season.

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