A Defense of James Harden

(or the allegedly overpaid has been who cost the 76ers the Eastern title:)

He needs none.

First of all, when I heard the talk on ESPN about the dismal ending of the 76ers/Heat Game 6, I was disappointed that I had missed it live and that I heard any commentary before I could watch it on replay. Hulu set me up for disappointment with its automatic volume elevation upon the viewer’s preferred live program at start-up. So initially, I tuned into a roast of the aging NBA star (32, aging really?) who had supposedly turned in such a bad performance that he had cost his team not only a clutch Game 6, but the Eastern conference semi-finals as well, and also greater aspirations to an NBA title heretofore all but expected by the team and its fans this season. Damn, Philly is a tough crowd I thought, I had to see this.

I had been watching Harden’s play loosely as he joined the Sixers following another dream team ego implosion, this one likely ignited by Kyrie Irving’s selfishness through COVID protocols. The pundits had clearly been verbally disappointed with Harden throughout the play-offs, as if their own contracts need be justified through nit picking critique of one of the better players ever to hoop. Not particularly in the Sixers or Harden camps even (always liked the defiant beard though), I felt that I might provide more equable interpretation of the play that night in order to determine for myself if the man deserved all this shade being cast upon him.

So I settled down for a viewing of the play even after I concluded a delayed viewing of the prime time Suns/Mavericks contest. And, much to my surprise even at the late hour, I found myself watching the entire game, and closely too. It was not the blowout I expected with all the trash talking I had heard. What I saw in the first 3 periods of James Harden was still very skilled assist and shot play. Only having a few touches in the 4th, he shot twice, so it was hard for me to form much of an opinion about his play. Though the critics might blame Harden himself for his lack of touches, I suggest that other factors might be equally at play.

Admittedly, his defense was poor, but defense has never been the man’s prerogative. Sure, he’ll get a hand in on a few balls here and there, but he offered no obstacle to the Heat’s baseline play at all. However, no teammate consistently slid to meet him in the paint on the cut very often either. The Sixers lost a lot of points in the paint to the Heat, and not just on Harden’s watch. This brings me to my critique of a few of the others on the team, maybe some coaches..because this was a team loss.

So, in the first 3 quarters of the 76ers/Heat game, a number of players bricked open, uncontested shots. However, in the earlier minutes, Harden nailed 3’s, finessed timely feeds to his teammates at the basket, and facilitated some long, up court transition points as well. If he missed a shot, so did Maxey, White and Embiid. Harden (4 of 9) had as solid a floor presence as Tobias (6 of 11)White @ in the game, while Joel Embiid (7-24) and Tyrese Maxey (9-22) missed many more open shots than they made. And they were given the ball (instead of Harden) to make shots too. And they did, just not enough of them.

On the one hand, Miami played excellent (in your shirt) defense, bullied the Sixers in the paint, and Jimmy Buckets was on fire with the reveal of his own 3 point shot game! And though none of the 76ers played particularly well, except perhaps Shake Milton, none of them screwed the pooch with their play. Nor did James Harden. He did not get the ball enough to screw up the game that badly.So given his lack of production in the 4th period, and the disproportionate amount of blame he has received, I have to speculate that more of the onus for the loss may well rest with the coaching strategy.

And please take this with a grain of salt, I am no NBA insider. In a candid moment, I did see Doc implore his players to fight for it. Sometimes it’s not in the cards, or the other team wants it more. But how can you really expect a late season veteran trade to lead a team into the playoffs when there is already an outspoken leader present in Joel? Whatever their chemistry might or might not be, there has hardly been enough time for them to know one another’s play well enough for the synchronicity likely needed to win championships. Some such as the Pelicans and Grizzlies showed glimpses of disruptive flare, but their respective make-ups are far different than that of the Philly 76ers. And neither are still at the big dance.

So, go easy on James, he ain’t so bad even though he ain’t so young anymore. He’s got an undeniable finesse that can still find a home. If he can stay healthy with the hams, he might have a few more fantastic seasons as a facilitator and even leader with the right team chemistry. And if you’re pissed about the money you gave him, you didn’t have to make the deal, nor should you every have gotten so greedy with the ROI.

Published by Theron W. Wells III

Voiceover Artist and Actor. Southern Drawl and Infectious Grin. Portland, Oregon.

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