New Process Needs Healthy Partnership


On the heels of the All-Star break, we can finally get back to basketball, both literally and spiritually.

I don’t think I can take anymore of people weighing in on the mental-health status of Ben Simmons, his comparison to Joel Embiid, what he did or didn’t do.

I just want to appreciate the on-court product for a change. We’ve all earned it at this point. With the trade deadline past us, rumor season simmered down, and nothing but the playoffs and NBA Finals as our destination, it can just be about basketball.

This brings us to the debut of James Harden as a Philadelphia 76er, set to take place on February 25th at Minnesota. For better and worse, I still can’t believe I’ve typed out that sentence.

The fit is…interesting. The team still has a glaring hole in its defense and rebounding Harden can’t fill. Moreover, the loss of Seth Curry means the loss of one of the best pure shooters in the league.

However, what Harden lacks in pure shooting, defense and rebounding, he brings in overall scoring, the ability to run an offense, and someone who can carry a team in stretches when Embiid sits.

A combination Embiid has never had in a teammate.

Every Harden exit has been a crash and burn, but his arrivals have been spectacular. 

So what do we need to see in Harden’s debut — both the first game and this first half-season — to truly buy into championship expectations?

Do something, anything, off-ball

Off-ball Harden is legendary. And by legendary, I mean legendarily bad.

By any metric — and just by observation — Harden isn’t very active when the ball’s not in his hands. Even going back to his Oklahoma City days, he excels when he runs the offense.

Luckily, that’s exactly what this team needs.

More crucially, they need Harden to flow in an offense as opposed to just running it. We’re not looking for Iversonian levels of running, cutting and using each game like a track meet in an effort to get open. That’s unrealistic for Harden at this stage of his career.

Something more than standing in the corner seemingly disengaged until he gets the ball back, however, would be nice.

Embiid as still undisputed captain

Fingers and toes crossed, Embiid stays healthy for the rest of the season. One crucial outcome of this event would be Embiid’s best shot at an MVP award in a still very hotly contested race (please don’t at me saying Embiid is undisputed). It would be a tremendous accomplishment for someone who picked up basketball late in life and started off his career at Kansas in the shadow of Andrew Wiggins.

There seemed to be no real issue with whose team it was in Brooklyn. Kevin Durant was always the guy there, but Daryl Morey has always been very supportive of Harden. Hopefully that doesn’t mean the crown that has fully been bestowed on Embiid has to be shared again. That the luxuries afforded to Harden don’t wrestle away leadership of the team from Embiid.

That’s in the team’s personality and their style of play. For all of Harden’s playoff woes, he does bring Finals experience. This should serve to support Embiid in his role as leader, not take it away. In all, the aftermath of the Harden trade, one analyst seemed to put it most clearly of the path to a healthy partnership.

He is staggering

Doc Rivers has been named as one of the 15 best NBA coaches of all time. That is a thing that happened. Take that any way you will. There’s also this.

His work bringing a title back to Boston leading the original modern-day big 3 (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) can’t be questioned.

Everything after that can, however.

Game 7 losses. 3-1 series leads evaporated. And somewhat-questionable lineup choices. With both Harden and Embiid in place, he has two bonafide superstars who can carry an offense for any stretch of a game.

But who will he surround them with? Will we get forced Paul Millsap minutes? More Point Korkmaz? Will he continue to run out Tobias Harris plus four second-unit guys? Or can we fully see Tyrese Maxey in his most ideal role?

Speaking of Maxey.

Maximum Maxey

You could argue Philadelphia’s new favorite son, Tyrese Maxey, has been playing way over his head this season. He’s certainly played well above expectations as a former late first-round pick.

But his destiny was never to be a full-time point guard. Despite him having the ball less in his hands with Harden in tow, this is a perfect opportunity to see the best use of Maxey. He can play off Harden and get more wide-open looks. He can shred second units as one of the primary scorers.

With less responsibility, he can do more. It will be up to the lineup choices of Doc and Harden’s intentionality when they share the floor together to create more easy opportunities for Maxey’s burgeoning jump shot, and natural affinity for slicing to the cup for runners and floaters.

Overall, Shaq has a point

I mentioned that one prominent NBA analyst provided the blueprint for a healthy and successful Harden-Embiid pairing. It was Shaq. No diagramming sets. No talk of minutes. I think he echoed what every Sixer fan is looking for. It’s so perfect, nothing more needs to be said but to hope for this.

About Matthieu Hertilus

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