Shaquille O’Neal Puts James Harden on Notice Amid Poor Shooting Slump

The NBA playoffs are around the corner, and the Philadelphia 76ers are in trouble.

Sure, Philly has an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid, but they know his skills alone aren’t enough to get them to the promised land. He needs help, and the Sixers thought they were giving him that when they acquired James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets.

However, Harden has been a shell of himself and is currently amid a poor shooting slump. So, ahead of the postseason, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal had a firm message for Harden: It’s time to step up.

James Harden is shooting poorly for the 76ers

James Harden has a reputation for being one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and an isolation king. But his declining athleticism is making it harder for him to use his iso moves to score, and his outside shots aren’t falling.

On the season, Harden’s numbers are some of the worst of his career. He’s averaging his fewest points (22.0) since his Oklahoma City Thunder days. His field-goal percentage (41.0%) is also the lowest since his rookie season, and his three-point shooting (33.3%) is at a career-worst.

The 10-time All-Star’s stats have been even more embarrassing over the last five games. Harden is averaging 15.0 points on 31.7% shooting and 27.3% from three-point range.

So, is this the new norm for Harden, or is he just choking when things matter most like he notoriously has throughout his career? It might be a little bit of both, and Shaquille O’Neal is now challenging him.

Shaquille O’Neal firmly challenged James Harden

NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal and Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden.
(L-R) Shaquille O’Neal and James Harden. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images; Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Shaquille O’Neal was in Joel Embiid’s shoes years ago. He was a dominant big man who needed a talented guard to win a championship. And everything worked out for him. Shaq won three titles with Kobe Bryant and one with Dwyane Wade.

Now, he wants James Harden to take a page from one of their books.

“They have a guy that’s shown he can do that, but he hasn’t done that yet,” O’Neal said on the April 7 episode of Inside the NBA. “First five games when they were on their honeymoon, he did that, but then he kind of faded. The solution is him; he gotta step up. Embiid is playing like an MVP. What you gonna do, Robin? … He needs to play at that superstar-type level that we know he’s capable of playing.”

O’Neal and Jamal Crawford noted that Harden had 15 assists in his most recent game, but the 76ers don’t need that from him. They need someone who can score alongside Embiid.

“If you give me an aggressive James, an aggressive Joel Embiid, I’ll put everything I got on them two,” he added.

The 76ers need the former NBA MVP to step up

James Harden has done a great job setting his teammates up in recent games. He’s averaging 11.8 assists in his last five contests. However, the 76ers showed last year that they don’t need a facilitator. Ben Simmons averaged 8.8 assists in the playoffs, but his decreased scoring output kept them from getting past the conference semifinals.

The Beard is capable of scoring at an elite level. He’s a three-time scoring champ. He just needs to figure out ways to do so more efficiently. Maybe he can work on getting open off the ball? Perhaps he can stop trying to take people off the dribble and play within the flow of an offense?

The 76ers are currently in fourth place in the East with two games left. They are a half-game back from the Boston Celtics for the third seed and would likely rather play the banged-up Chicago Bulls in the first round rather than the surging Toronto Raptors.

The playoffs start next week, but Harden needs to act as if they start now. If he wants to win a championship, he must start playing at a higher level for the 76ers.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

RELATED: James Harden’s Downward Trajectory Exposed by Jalen Rose