Sixers: 3 players who must step up with James Harden out

James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /
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Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Philadelphia 76ers will be without James Harden for a month after he suffered a right foot tendon strain in Wednesday’s loss to Washington. The former MVP averaged 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists through the season’s first nine games.

Tough blow. The Sixers relied heavily on Harden to open the season, especially with Joel Embiid already missing three games to various maladies. If the Sixers’ 4-5 start to the season proved anything, it’s that this relatively new group of players still needs to mesh. Now, any chemistry growth will have to wait another month.

The Sixers are losing one of the game’s premier facilitators and an extremely talented isolation scorer. Very few players generate points so prolifically as Harden. How does the team survive his absence? Well, it starts with these three players stepping up.

Without James Harden, the Sixers need the emergence of Shake Milton

Shake Milton’s playing time has been quite sparse to open the season. He’s ostensibly the 10th or 11th man when everyone is healthy. Well, now not everyone’s healthy — and it just so happens that Milton plays the same position as the presently absent James Harden, at least on offense.

It would be quite easy to mention De’Anthony Melton here (he will presumably take over Harden’s spot in the starting five), but with Harden on the pine, Philadelphia has a real need for Milton’s on-ball creation. Melton is a great shooter, but Milton can create more prolifically off the dribble. His ability to break down the defense and create points from scratch when the offense stalls will become more valuable without Harden to salvage stagnant possessions.

Typically the Sixers can stagger Harden and Tyrese Maxey to keep one All-Star guard on the floor at all times (let’s just call Maxey what he is). That’s no longer possible, so Milton will need to be charged with leading the non-Maxey units. Again, Melton is great in other ways but he shouldn’t be the primary ball-handler at any point.

Milton is obviously a rather significant downgrade from Harden, so spare yourself the disappointment that comes with high expectations. We know what Milton does and doesn’t provide at this point. He won’t take enough 3s or play world-beating defense, but he will make some nifty bail-out jumpers and give the Sixers extra ball-handling on the perimeter.