James Harden had to know his comments following Friday night’s 111-101 victory over the Dallas Mavericks would be a head-scratcher.
The 76ers point guard was a three-time scoring champion and the 2018 league MVP. Harden is also third on the NBA all-time three-point list at 2,571. And the perennial All-NBA selection will go down as one of the all-time great isolation players.
Yet, there he was in the press conference sounding indecisive about looking for his own shot.
“I’m just trying to find a balance like I talked about before,” he said.
Harden is averaging 13.7 field-goal attempts since being acquired by the Sixers via a trade with the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 10. It’s the lowest number of attempts since averaging 10.1 as a third-year player with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2011-12 season.
Sixers standout Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers want him to be more aggressive and look more for his shot. But Harden has been kind of reluctant to take over, preferring to make plays for teammates.
“Oh yeah, he has to be,” Embiid said of Harden being aggressive. “He’s been, at times, way too passive. In the playoffs, he’s going to be, he has to be aggressive. Whether it’s scoring the ball or finding guys. Same thing with me. It starts with us. Whether it’s scoring or playmaking.”
But one would think looking for his shot wouldn’t be hard for Harden, who averaged 19.6 attempts during eight-plus seasons with the Houston Rockets. Shouldn’t that be as easy flipping on a scoring switch?
“It’s definitely a switch,” Harden said. “But then you have another guy [Embiid] right now who’s leading the league in scoring [29.98 points per game] on my team. Night-in and night-out, he’s used to, he’s confident of getting buckets. That’s what my job is. Then score the basketball.”
That’s what he did on Friday.
Embiid scored 21 of his game-high 32 points in the first half. Then Harden took over in the fourth quarter.
He scored 11 points while making all three of his baskets, including two three-pointers. Harden also had four assists while playing 11 minutes. He finished the game with 24 points while making 6 of 14 shots to go with a game-high 12 assists, seven rebounds, two steals, and one block.
“I’m just trying to find a balance like I talked about before; when to be a playmaker,” Harden said. “I think tonight especially in that fourth quarter, me attacking, attacking, attacking, the playmaking ability is going to come because we got lobs, we got threes. So that’s going to come with my aggressiveness.
“You just got to read the game. And tonight, I felt I read the game well.”
He’s actually done a solid job of being the Sixers floor general, averaging 22.9 points and 10.7 assists in 10 games played. Harden’s having fun, and the Sixers are 8-2 when he plays.
“How many games have we had?” he said. “I don’t even know. Ten games. It’s been going good. I have to keep finding that balance. Ultimately, my aggressiveness is going to help our team out a lot.”
A good thing for the Sixers is Harden, once again, said he can see himself with the team long term. He can opt-in to his $47.4 million contract for next season and sign a four-year, $223 million extension with Brooklyn at the start of free agency.
“We’re bringing something special,” Harden said. “We got a great group of guys that want to win and that are all focusing, looking to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win. Right now, we got one goal ahead of us. That’s preparing for a great playoff run.
“Um, you know, let’s get it.”