Sixers: 3 reasons James Harden will look better next season

James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /
1 of 3
(Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

All signs point toward James Harden returning to the Sixers next season. The exact details of his contract are still undetermined, but the former MVP and future Hall of Fame guard will be back for his first full season in a Philadelphia uniform. That’s safe to assume.

For some fans, the thought of Harden’s imminent return sparks feelings of concern, even disgust. He flopped massively in the Sixers’ Game 6 loss to Miami, and he never quite managed to recapture the explosive scoring talent that once defined his game in Houston. Instead, he looked slow and labored. He was still very good, but he had to work harder for each bucket, and he focused much more on playmaking for others, rather than carrying the offense with his own shot-making.

That said, Harden’s season averages in Philly remain quite impressive on the surface: 21.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 10.5 assists on 60.1 percent true shooting in 21 regular season games with the franchise. Very few NBA players are capable of such well-rounded production, so even the diminished version of Harden is quite beneficial for this team. Plus, there’s every reason to believe he might look even better next season. Here’s why.

Why Sixers’ James Harden will look better: Full summer of training

Due to lingering hamstring issues, Harden has been unable to properly train for two summers now. A full offseason of work is important to any player, especially one with Harden’s track record of conditioning issues. He said late in the season that he’s just starting to feel right. With a full summer to work on his game and restore his conditioning, Harden should be in better shape. That alone should improve his production.

Age is an obvious factor here — how long can Harden stave off the inevitable advances of Father Time, and how long can he avoid further injury to that hamstring or any other part of his leg? Those concerns should guide the Sixers’ decision-making when negotiating what is likely to be a long-term contract with the 33-year-old. He has a lot of NBA miles on his body.

Even so, we know how special Harden’s talent is. He’s one of the smartest, craftiest players in league history. Give him time to get right physically, and there’s reason for optimism — even if he doesn’t return to pre-Brooklyn heights.