On Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers suffered their first loss of the James Harden era against the Miami Heat. The catch is, Harden did not suit up due to a hamstring injury. The Doc Rivers-led squad immediately felt the impact of the Beard's absence. So much so that several of his teammates hinted that he is the team's most valuable player.
Making the game easier
In the 76ers 99-82 loss to the Heat, the Philly squad shot just 34.1 percent from the field, 17.1 percent from deep, and just had 13 assists as a team. Guard Tyrese Maxey and center Joel Embiid shared what they missed without Harden in the fold. They all agree that the former league MVP makes things easier for them.
"That's just another ball-handler, another playmaker, another scorer, and another guy where we can put guys in the right spot when they're running zone. He makes the game easier for everybody including myself, Joel, and Tobias (Harris)," Maxey said.
"Just to control the offense," said Joel Embiid. "Obviously, if all that attention is on me, it would be different if he's out there because you gotta guard him a certain way and that opens up a lot for whether it's me, my teammates, that's just another guy that brings so much attention. It makes the game easy."
Stats confirm Maxey and Embiid's comments. In Harden's first four games donning the 76ers jersey (all of which were wins), the team shot under 50 percent from the field just once (48.7 percent against the New York Knicks). They also never shot below 30.3 percent from deep. In addition, the 76ers dished out at least 23 assists, with Harden orchestrating the offense.
Two MVP candidates?
Embiid and Maxey pointed out that they are not making excuses. They are used to playing without Harden around. Yet the glaring statistics prove that the team's offense is much more fluid with the Beard in command. If you watch the games themselves, you'll come to discover that his reads are almost always right, he can knock down the 3-pointer with ease, and his passes are always crisp.
This is an interesting development in terms of the MVP race. The Cameroonian has been one of the lead candidates for the coveted trophy. This was somehow expected as the 76ers trekked half of the season without their second All-Star in Ben Simmons. Given Embiid's will to win, analysts believed he would do everything he could to keep the 76ers' head above water.
But given the 76ers clear struggles without the Beard, can we say that Harden has been catapulted near the top of the MVP ladder? We may need more games to verify this. But whatever the case may be, Embiid probably doesn't mind. The 76ers have had so many heartbreaks over the last few seasons. Everything will be all and well with or without the MVP trophy in Embiid's hands. What's important is that Larry O'Brien trophy.