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Can James Harden still be an elite scorer? Or is the Sixer now just a facilitator? Daryl Morey won't say

Keith Pompey, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Basketball

In the elimination game, Harden had 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting to go with nine assists in 43 minutes. He did not score a point after intermission while attempting only two shots.

One has to wonder if Harden has the capability to regain his explosiveness and shooting touch. On the outside looking in, he’s showing glimpses of how two Hall of Famers — Sixers great Allen Iverson and All-NBA point guard Gary Payton — looked at the end of their careers. Their skills seemed to diminish overnight after seasons of dominating foes.

Harden is still a solid facilitator when not over-dribbling or being careless with the ball. He was, after all, second in the NBA in assists this season.

The problem is the Sixers need him to be an elite scorer if they are expecting to go far in the postseason. They need someone to take the pressure off Embiid, and free up things for rising star Tyrese Maxey. Realizing Harden’s skills have diminished, the Raptors welcomed him to shoot while shutting down his passing lanes.

But Harden will tell you that this has been a long two years for him when it comes battling injuries.

The perennial All-NBA selection has been slowed by hamstring strains since forcing a trade from the Rockets to the Nets on Jan. 13, 2021.

He missed 21 of the Nets’ final 24 regular-season games with a right hamstring strain. He returned in the opening-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics and played in all five games.

 

However, he exited Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks after only 43 seconds. Harden returned for Game 5 in a limited role, but played 46, 40, and 53 minutes in Games 5, 6, and 7. After the Nets were eliminated, he revealed that he played through a Grade 2 hamstring strain during the final three games of the series.

Before he made his Sixers debut on Feb. 25, Harden had been sidelined since scoring four points as a member of the Nets on Feb. 2.

“I’m finally starting to feel OK again,” Harden said. “So it will be a great summer for me to kind of get my body right and get ready to go far next year.

“These last two years have been a whirlwind, though.”

The Sixers can only hope that his diminished skill set is a result of battling through injuries and not what it appears to be: Father Time.

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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