Philadelphia 76ers: Whose team is it, James Harden or Joel Embiid?

Joel Embiid, James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers have shown flashes of two completely different teams so far this season. One team is reminiscent of the 2018 Houston Rockets and the other is the Sixers team fans have become accustomed to over the last few seasons. Which team is better for the success of the 76ers?

With the 76ers offseason additions of PJ Tucker and Danuel House to pair with James Harden and General Manager, Daryl Morey, the Sixers created a reunion of sorts for the 2018 Houston Rockets. That Rockets team had great regular season success and high hopes for a deep playoff run that was cut short due to unfortunate injuries and matchups. A key feature of that Rockets team was an offense wholly focused on amplifying Harden’s talents and the team went as Harden went.

After Harden struggled in the second half of last season with the Sixers, it seems as though Morey is trying to make Harden more comfortable by providing him an environment where he previously succeeded. So far this season it seems as though it is working, for Harden that is. He is averaging 22 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds and the offense is playing to his strengths. So you may be asking what is the issue? Well it is twofold. One, the 76ers are not winning many games and two, Embiid appears uncomfortable and unhappy at points with this style of play.

Now there are a number of reasons for the Sixers disappointing start from Doc Rivers’ poor coaching to a lack of contribution from the bench players. However, I would argue the Harden-Embiid dynamic could be the most concerning.

Is the Joel Embiid-James Harden partnership tenable for the Sixers?

This past week, the 76ers dominated the Phoenix Suns on Monday, a team that is a top contender in the Western Conference. Embiid had 33 points, and he was getting the ball much earlier in the shot clock. The offense ran through Embiid which allowed him to get to his spots on the floor and control the game by getting more post touches.

The Sixers followed that up with a win against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday and this was a balanced team win from start to finish. Again the offense ran through Embiid and he looked more like the player this team and city is used to.

Last, but certainly not least, the Sixers capped off the week with a big win over the current best team in the Western Conference, the young Utah Jazz. And Embiid scored a career-high 59(!!) points. He added 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 blocks. Complete and utter domination by EMVPIID! In his postgame, Embiid was quick to emphasize the offensive spacing, which notably has not been the case when Harden is on the court this year.

So which offense is better for this team: the one where Harden dribbles the ball for most of the shot clock and pads his stats or the one where Embiid is the focus of the offense and he plays more in rhythm? Time will tell, but if this past week has shown us anything it is that when Embiid is the focal point of the offense, this team meshes and has cohesion. There are some things that stats don’t show you and you see it watching this team compete together this week.

Embiid is one of the most dominant offensive players in the game today. And upsetting him could potentially cause a rift between Embiid and the franchise responsible for keeping him happy and more importantly, in Philadelphia, for many years to come.

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