The NBA world has been waiting with bated breath to see James Harden team up with Joel Embiid on the new-look Philadelphia 76ers. It got its wish on Friday night when the Beard and Process teamed up for the first game in what might be a lengthy partnership.
Led by Harden and Embiid, the 76ers improved to 36-23 with a convincing road victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Based on Friday’s performance, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Philly finish the season on a high note before putting their superstar duo to the test in the playoffs.
That being said, their on-court debut also led to a harsh realization. The Sixers are about to become the most entertaining team to watch in the entire NBA. But only for basketball fans who love stoppages, whistles, and a whole lot of standing around.
James Harden and Joel Embiid had a memorable first game together
Good things require a bit of patience, or so say the 76ers.
Philadelphia landed its prized acquisition hours before the trade deadline on Feb. 10, trading its own disgruntled star Ben Simmons along with veterans Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. It then had to wait another 15 days for the 2017-18 MVP to make his debut due to the All-Star break and nagging hamstring tightness.
But Friday’s game in Minnesota was well worth the wait for the Sixers. Harden scored 27 points, dished out 12 assists, and pulled down eight rebounds in Philly’s 133-102 blowout of the T-Wolves.
Embiid, arguably the league’s MVP frontrunner, was brilliant as usual. The 7-footer scored a game-high 34 points with 10 rebounds, his 29th double-double of the season. He now remains one behind Harden, who netted his 30th double-double in the same game.
The 76ers as a whole also had a great night. Tyrese Maxey, a young player Philly was set on keeping during trade negotiations, finished with 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting. The team also hit a combined 19 three-pointers, a season-high.
Thanks to Harden and Embiid, get used to a lot of hard-to-watch 76ers games
In hindsight, we all should’ve seen this coming.
Yes, Harden and Embiid looked terrific. And yes, the 76ers were phenomenal. But each game moving forward will be a small punch to the gut of every basketball fan who values action everywhere besides the charity stripe.
Even before Friday, Embiid led the NBA in free-throw attempts per game. The center is now averaging 11.3 attempts after going 11-of-13 from the stripe in Minnesota. His new teammate Harden, a master of drawing contact, is averaging 8.0 free-throw attempts per game after going 8-of-9 in his Sixers debut.
Long story short, what happens when you take the NBA’s free-throw leader and add a seven-time attempt leader as his teammate? You get a 2021-22 76ers team that will be painfully hard to watch.
The Sixers drew nine fouls in the first quarter alone, reaching the bonus just 4:34 into the game. Embiid was responsible for the bulk of those, taking eight of his 13 freebies in the opening frame.
Free throws are easy points, so don’t expect Harden and Embiid to suddenly change their style. Just know the final scores of Philly’s contests will look a lot more interesting than the play that led to them.
Harden and Embiid’s free-throw-heavy style might backfire in the playoffs
Given the talent level of both Harden and Embiid, it stands to reason that the 76ers could make some serious noise come playoff time. However, neither superstar has managed to achieve team success once the regular season comes to a close.
Perhaps their dependency on free throws — one of their greatest assets — winds up costing them when games matter the most.
More often than not, referees have a tendency to swallow their whistles in the postseason. That means fewer calls for superstars like Harden and Embiid who in a regular-season situation would get the benefit of the doubt.
Take Harden’s 2019-20 season with the Houston Rockets, for example. After averaging a career-high 11.8 attempts during the season, the Beard put up just 9.7 attempts through 12 playoff games. The discrepancy was even greater in his 2017-18 MVP year, when he tossed up 10.1 free throws before settling for 7.8 during Houston’s playoff run.
Time will tell if Harden and Embiid are able to lead the 76ers through a difficult Eastern Conference and capture an elusive title. But we can’t say it’ll be interesting to watch.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.