Sixers: 3 goals for James Harden in 2022-23 season

James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Goal for Sixers’ James Harden: Lead the NBA in assists

Here’s the thing about James Harden: he can score a ton of points — focus on scoring a ton of points — and still lead the NBA in assists. He led the NBA with 11.2 assists per game in 2016-17 while also averaging 29.1 points per game. In 21 regular season games with the Sixers last season, Harden dished out a healthy average of 10.5 assists per game. He should make a concerted effort to score more in 2023, and he should still hope to lead the NBA in assists simultaneously.

Harden is one of the NBA’s true geniuses. Nobody can manipulate and process the game of basketball like him. Even last season, when it felt like he was moving at half-speed, Harden knew how to gain an advantage over his defender and locate passing angles. He’s extremely deliberate with his dribbles, often lulling his defender to sleep before pouncing: he can get his man off balance and draw a foul, he can force the help and dish to the open shooter, he can hit the patented step-back. There are any number of ways for Harden, in whatever state of health he’s in, to outmaneuver a defense.

The list of players who can read the floor like Harden is exceedingly short. He’s in the same tier as LeBron James, Chris Paul, Nikola Jokic — the great creatives of NBA basketball. Even when he couldn’t score last season, Harden elevated the Sixers by elevating everyone around him. He’s the first great passer of the Embiid era. He can sling bullets out of the pick-and-roll. He can reward cuts to the rim. He can kickstart transition opportunities. He generates countless 3s for teammates. While Ben Simmons passed a lot, Harden passes with a purpose and precision the Sixers simply aren’t used to. He was excellent last season because of that, no matter how maligned he was for his scoring woes.

Harden is always on the shortlist of players who might lead the NBA is assists. He should make a point of it next season. The Sixers’ clearest path to a championship involves Harden playing like a superstar next to Embiid. He needs to make the most of his many touches. It’s now a matter of waiting to see if he has another year of greatness left in the tank.

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