James Harden attended his first practice as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. The Beard is still nursing a hamstring injury and won't play anytime soon. However, this did not stop the former league MVP from doing light work and learning the 76ers' playbook.
Harden's superior basketball IQ
Leaning a new set of plays can prove difficult to some. But Harden impressed Doc Rivers and his new teammates with how quickly he could absorb everything so quickly. According to Rivers, Harden is already familiar with some of the sets the 76ers run. This made things a lot smoother. But for the new plays, Harden wasn't familiar with, he also had no problem understanding it as well.
“We didn’t do anything live, but we did all the skeleton work. All the defensive walkthrough stuff, all the shooting, did everything everybody else did. Obviously, he’s a high IQ basketball player so a lot of the things we do is stuff he does anyway and some of the other things we just throw out there and had him do it, and he kind of figured it out. It was good,” Doc Rivers said
Perhaps Rivers is not too surprised by Harden's knowledge of the game. As a head coach, part of your task is to create a scouting report. It is easy to imagine Rivers analyzing Rockets or Nets' game film featuring Harden. In those long nights of studying film, there is no doubt Rivers was overwhelmed by Harden's capacity to make the perfect reads amid double or triple teams. He did face a lot of them during his stint in Houston.
It wasn't just Rivers who was dazzled by the Beard's IQ. Forward Georges Niang, too, called Harden's intelligence as the most underrated part of his game. Niang was impressed by how Harden caught on quickly to the 76ers' playbook, absorbing it at face value as well as spotting out the nuances.
“I don’t see it taking too long. I think the most underrated thing about James’s game is how smart he is. He’s constantly asking questions, picking up on things, you can see him looking at different things where he’s picking his spots, and I don’t see that taking too long. I’m just happy that I’m not on the other side of a James Harden team because in Utah it seemed like every year he was knocking us out of the playoffs,” Niang said.
When Harden is cleared to play, could we say the 76ers are finally in full power? Their current 34-22 record which ranks fifth in the East, is not the team's actual record given the challenges brought about by the Ben Simmons saga. Now that that episode has finally come to an end, can Philly expect their team to climb up the Eastern Conference standings? Will Joel Embiid's MVP season not go to waste?
As always, it's still a matter of wait-and-see. But given Rivers and Niang's optimism, it seems that the 76ers are on the way up.