MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden has a reputation of being a bad teammate.
“Huh? Why?” Harden said following the 76ers’ 133-102 Friday night victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center.
“That’s for the media,” he added. “The media says that. I feel like I’m one of the best teammates that the NBA has seen, on the court and off the court.”
Harden’s new Sixers’ teammates will tell you the same thing. They’ve been raving about him since he and Paul Millsap were acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks on Feb. 10. And they had even better things to say following his 27-point, 12-assist, and eight-rebound Sixers debut on Friday.
But the trade was made to accommodate Harden and Simmons, both of whom wanted out of their former situations. This came after Harden had already forced a trade from the Houston Rockets to the Nets 14 months earlier.
“Just because the current situations happened, whatever happened happened,” Harden said. “That doesn’t mean I’m a bad teammate.
“Me, personally, I feel like I had to do what was best for my career, and help myself and be happy. That doesn’t harp on whether I’m a bad teammate right now.”
Harden does feel that he has a point to prove, but added, “We all do.”
He’s been a Sixers’ leader since the beginning even while rehabilitating a left hamstring strain. At his suggestion, Harden accompanied the Sixers here to Wisconsin for their 123-120 victory on Feb. 17 against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum, the final matchup before the All-Star break.
Harden sat to the right of assistant coach Sam Cassell on the bench and coached up teammates.
At one point early in the game, he stood up during a break in action, called over Tyrese Maxey and instructed the second-year guard on what to do. He even demonstrated what Maxey needed to do. And Harden kept coaching up and encouraging Maxey throughout the game. Not just him. Harden kept giving advice to all of his teammates.
In the first quarter, Georges Niang lost the ball a couple of times while driving in the paint. Harden pulled him aside to say “try to get up 10 threes. That’s what you do.” Niang ended up taking 10, making five of them.
“It’s funny, you see all of the stories that are out there,” Joel Embiid said. “Obviously, we all see it. He’s completely different that what you see out there. He’s a great person, great personality, always smiling, fun to be around, everything really. His presence on the team and on the floor has really changed a lot since he got here.
“So I’m just excited for that to continue on the court. I think he’s going to help us a lot.”
Who has the better step-back move? James Harden? Joel Embiid?
Joel Embiid corrected a media member who stated at Friday’s shootaround that Harden taught him the step-back jumper.
“I was already doing that step-back since last year,” Embiid said. “So I already had that, but I just wanted to use it since he got here. So I wanted to use it even more.”
Harden’s signature move is his step-back three-pointer, an effective version of the shot that allows him to score almost every time.
Some have tried to duplicate Harden’s move, only to be called for traveling.
Harden manages to evade travel calls because his step-back jumper includes a gather step that allows him to pull in the ball, then take two steps. He takes the gather step just in time to avoid traveling.
The point guard showed his go-to move during the Feb. 15 shootaround before that night’s game against the Boston Celtics. When Embiid attempted to duplicate it during that shootaround, the problem was that he kept taking four steps. He also attempted the move in the Celtics game and was called for traveling. However, he was successful using the step-back two nights later against the Milwaukee Bucks.
So on Friday, Embiid was asked if his step-back was better than Harden’s.
“Um, from the mid-range, yeah,” he said. “From the three, he got it. I have to keep working from the three-point line.”
The Sixers are now 36-23 after Friday night’s rout of the Timberwolves at the Target Center. They also own the Eastern Conference’s best road record at 20-10. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are now 32-29 after beating the Memphis Grizzlies at home Thursday night and losing to the Sixers on Friday. Minnesota fell to 18-12 at home.