Sixers: Player Grades for every player at the All-Star break

Tobias Harris, James Harden, Joel Embiid, P.J. Tucker, Tyrese Maxey, Sixers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Tobias Harris, James Harden, Joel Embiid, P.J. Tucker, Tyrese Maxey, Sixers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /
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Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

A. . PG. 76ers. JAMES HARDEN

Written by: Matt Cahill

When the Philadelphia 76ers acquired James Harden last season from the Brooklyn Nets there was the expectation among fans that we would get “Houston Harden”, a scoring machine who also happened to be a great passer. Both Harden and the team seemed to struggle to find the ideal role for him here and the fit felt a little bit wonky for a team that needed a point guard.

As it turns out, all that was needed was a little bit of time to heal his hampered hamstrings and for everyone to adjust to their roles together on the team because one year later “The Beard” has become exactly the player that the Sixers need. At this stage of his career, with a plethora of rule changes that impair his ability to draw fouls, there will not be a return to the days of leading the league in scoring, but the new maturity and leadership of Harden as a pure point guard have been nothing less than remarkable.

He has had a reputation as a guy who was more interested in himself and his numbers than winning but he is proving all of his haters wrong. He has improved in every aspect of his game, particularly those areas where the team most needed him to grow, like keeping the ball moving, dribbling less, pushing the pace, taking (and making) catch and shoot 3’s instead of just off the dribble, being a leader on a team with younger players, deferring to Joel Embiid as the top dog on the floor, and even (gasp!) showing some effort on the defensive end.

He can still be a great scorer, at 21.3 points per game, but this group is at its best when he keeps everyone else active and involved, as evidenced by his 10.9 assists per game, which will be leading the league once he has played enough games to qualify.

It’s no secret that the Sixers are one of the most disliked teams in the NBA, as evidenced by the lack of respect for Embiid and Harden by All-Star voters. According to Harden currently ranks 6th on their Kia NBA MVP ranking but somehow wasn’t chosen to be one of the top 12 players in just the Eastern Conference. So far this season James Harden has done everything that’s been asked of him and silenced all of his doubters. His last hurdle to overcome is his reputation for fading in the playoffs. If he can continue playing like this in May and June, this Sixers team is going to be very hard for anyone to beat in a seven-game series.