Updated: May 25, 2022
The Philadelphia 76ers lasted six games in the second round of the playoffs before losing to the Miami Heat. As the playoffs resume without the 76ers and James Harden, both parties are left looking at each other trying to decide what's the next move. Does Philly offer Harden the supermax contract extension? Or does Harden take the $47 million player option on the table?
James Harden has been widely considered one of the greatest scorers this game has seen. Just look at the career stats and you'll find that hard to debate. In his nine seasons with the Houston Rockets Harden always got to a bucket. He had a stretch where he was putting up insane numbers. The type of numbers you would put up with your NBA 2K MyPlayer. His averages of 29.6 points, 7.7 assists, and 6 rebounds as a Rocket set the standard. Shit, his three scoring titles, MVP award, and spot as a top 75 player solidified him as an all-time great. Rightfully so.
Ever since he left the Rockets, there has been a lot of drama following him. Forced trades and more playoff shortcomings have been the discourse around Harden. This season tells the whole story. 22 points, 10.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds with 41%-33%-87% shooting splits; that's what Harden did this season. Follow that with consistent struggles in the postseason and you'll see why the title is what it is.
If you watched Harden hoop this season then you saw what was going on out there. A nagging hamstring issue stemming from last season plagued him for much of the year. He has noticeably lost a step and his explosiveness has all but disappeared. Noticeably out of shape and uninterested for most of the year, Harden isn't the same player he was in Houston. In his last full season as a Rocket Harden put up a 29.1 PER in the regular season; fast forward two years and his PER for this season was 20.9. Advanced stats don't tell the full story, but that dip is something crazy. When was the last time you saw him do his vintage step back with some fluidity to it? When was the last time you saw him go between the legs five times and explode by a defender?
He is already known as a habitual choker in the playoffs, and the last series he played in did nothing to help. To become a top 75 player in NBA history and then regress to the third-best player on your team during the playoffs is glaring. There were plenty of moments when second-year player, Tyrese Maxey, outplayed Harden in the postseason.
In the first-round win against the Toronto Raptors Harden put up 19 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds on a poor 40% field goal percentage. Granted they won the series but Harden's performance repeated against the Miami Heat where he put up 18 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds on similar shooting numbers.
For years people questioned his supporting casts on those Houston teams. Now it seems like all of his excuses are evaporating into thin air. After barely playing a season with two of the league's best players (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) and rushing to leave, Harden is now on a second team in two years. His last hope is Joel Embiid and the 76ers. Somethings got to give. Harden isn't the player that we all remember in Houston. This isn't what made him a top 75 player. His lack of explosiveness and bounce has hurt him. A lot of this can be attributed to that nagging hamstring injury he picked up last season. Is this the beginning of Harden's descent? Only time will tell.