The Philadelphia 76ers have not been off to the strong start it was hoped to start the season. One of the biggest bright spots of the early season has been the strong play of James Harden. Unfortunately, it has been announced via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Harden is now set to miss a month due to a right tendon foot sprain.
What Is The Injury?
The injury occurred during last night’s matchup with the Wizards. He first fell harshly to the floor in the first quarter after going knee-to-knee on a drive early on in the game. Harden also went to the locker room in the second half with his right shoe off to get this foot looked at. The 33-year-old returned to the matchup and played a vital role in the Sixers remaining in the game. He ultimately ended with 24 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds in the loss and hit some big shots for the Sixers down the stretch.
This right foot tendon sprain is set to hold Harden out for a month which is a massive hit to both him and the team. The former MVP came into training camp looking in great shape and with an improved burst in his game. This was a major swing factor for the Sixers, but there is concern Harden could lose momentum in this time away.
As things currently stand, the three-time scoring champion ranks 10th in the NBA in minutes at 36.8 minutes per game. This has been an interesting decision for a player who has not been fully healthy during his tenure in Philadelphia and the postseason will be where he is needed most. While injuries can happen at any time, the Sixers may be paying the price for this unnecessary risk.
What it Means for the Sixers
There are a few notable storylines that are sure to come out of Harden’s missed time. For starters, the roster will be brought into question as there will be a major hole in the team’s playmaking ability without Harden in the lineup. The second unit has struggled without a true floor general already this season and the loss of Harden will further put this on display. It will be interesting to see if Daryl Morey goes out and gets another guard in free agency or in a trade to help with this. Shake Milton and De’Anthony Melton will each likely see increased opportunity, but neither is at their best as a primary playmaker.
While Tyrese Maxey is capable as a playmaking option, he is most natural when creating his own shot. The 21-year-old truly hit his stride last season next to Harden as he was able to put his focus on scoring. With Harden out of the lineup, expect there to be a real push for Maxey to earn his way into the All-Star conversation. There has already been a great deal of buzz surrounding the guard. So far this season he is averaging 24.2 points per game and shooting 46.8% on three-point attempts. Expect him to take an expanded role in the offense which will grow his numbers and be beneficial to his overall growth in the long run.
Joel Embiid will see a similar uptick in production which could drive him back into the MVP conversation. It has been a slow start to the year for the big man as he has already missed three of the Sixers opening nine games. Hopefully, he has begun to work himself into better fitness and is prepared to take over as the Sixers will need this to be the case. Embiid proved to be capable of keeping the Sixers afloat last season before the Harden trade. With Maxey taking strides forward in his development and an overall improved supporting cast around him this year, the Sixers will need similar production.
On the bright side of things, it is still early in the season. Harden will have plenty of time to find his stride after returning and this may just be another hitch in the road when looking back on the season. The true focus of this team is on the postseason and getting past the second-round plateau that has tripped the Sixers up for so long. For now, the Sixers will focus on surviving without their star guard while Harden nurses himself back to health.