James Harden is back. The star the Sixers thought they traded for last year has finally returned back to his prime self. The Sixers as a whole however are taking a while to get back to themselves.
Starting the year 0-2, the team is looking a lot like the Houston Rockets. But not just because Daryl Morey has the keys and James Harden, Montrezl Harrell, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and De’Anthony Melton are back together on a team. But because of how lethal their offense is and how poorly they defend, all mixed with how badly they are coached.
James Harden and the Sixers are starting to look like the Rockets… for better and for worse
If Gregg Popovich saw the effort Embiid was giving last night he wouldn’t have seen the floor in the second half. Doc Rivers allowed the laziness to continue offensively with careless turnovers and defensively with lazy drop coverage, no help, poor attitude and lackluster defense from Joel Embiid. Nothing was done about this… partly because Andre Drummond, who was dealt in the Harden deal, will go down as the best backup big to have ever played with Joel Embiid.
Doc looks down the bench now and has Paul Reed or a 6-foot-7 Montrezl Harrell to choose from as a backup five option off the bench. Both of which are way too small for the position. So disciplining Joel, who was a -10 in 36 minutes on Thursday night, was hardly an option in Doc’s Defense. That being said, Joel’s non-leadership was on full display last night. As Stan Van Gundy pointed out, on multiple plays Embiid refused to get back defensively. Joel also avoided the media following the game. Maybe something is going on in his personal life, because he had nothing going on vs. the Bucks.
James Harden is fun to watch again. Yes, he is back. But so is his style of play and the Houston Rockets-type system. In Tuesday’s season opener loss to the Celtics, Harden (who was outstanding, 35-8-7) dribbled 525 times, The rest of the team taking only 411. The whole team seemed to umbrella the 3-point line (which is where teams want Joel to be) and spectate as Harden isolated himself for buckets. Leaving the rest of the team in a scramble and confusion on where to be on the floor and how to get involved offensively, which led to zero off ball movement. No baseline cuts, backdoor cuts, little to no dribble handoffs, rarely were there screens being set, just no movement.
It was post up Joel or spectate James. Not a recipe for success. The Sixers shot 5/24 (21% percent) from 3 in their loss to Milwualkee, who was without Khris Middleton. Part of which is because shooters stood and spectated Harden/Embiid until they were needed to hoist a bail out bad shot late in the shot clock. Similar to how the Houston Rockets used to play. We don’t have the knock down shooters on the roster to be standing around, so there must be way more off ball movement then we’ve been seeing.
As exciting as it has been watching James Harden return to stardom, this style of play has never led to him winning. We must see more commitment defensively from the whole group. Joel always plays drop coverage to conserve energy and stay out of foul trouble. So with him being so deep under the basket all the time we are too small defensively to not be committed. This Bucks team had no Khris Middleton, had Jrue Holiday shoot 2-of-15, and Giannis being the leading scorer at only 21 points, and they still won. They were all locked in and committed defensively. They had the size of Giannis, Lopez, Portis etc blocking multiple shots at the rim.
It can’t be expressed enough that more effort is needed from the 76ers defensively if they want to be contenders. They can not play Houston Rockets basketball. But they have been because of how ball dominant and half court heavy Harden and Embiid’s games are offensively.