By: Sam Peterson, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
James Harden, a shooting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, has been one of the most prolific players in the NBA for over the past decade. However, since he left the Houston Rockets in January 2021, he has not been quite the player he’s known to be.
Now, over the past two seasons, he has averaged over 20 points per game and 10 assists per game but the stats do not tell the whole story.
Since being traded to the Brooklyn Nets and 76ers, his stats have begun to decline along with his style of play. When Harden was with the Rockets, he was the number one scoring option for the team, and the Rockets were one of the best teams in the western conference.
Harden led the Rockets to the playoffs every season he played for them and brought them to the Western Conference Finals twice during his time with them. He was known for hitting step-back three pointers and dropping 30-plus points on any team on any night.
Harden averaged 29.6 points during his tenure with the Rockets while shooting 44.3% from the field and 36.2% from three. He was one of if not the best scorer in the NBA while also being one of the most efficient scorers at the same time.
Harden and the Rockets had a falling out after failing to make the finals during his time there, and they traded him to the Nets, where superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were playing. After that trade, people thought the Brooklyn Nets were the new team to beat, and they could become the next dynasty with the amount of talent on their team.
This was not the case. Harden suffered a hamstring injury while Durant and Irving were also battling injuries, and the three could never stay on the court for long enough together. One or two of them were injured or out for one reason or another, and the team could never seem to mesh and get a rhythm going.
The Nets only won one playoff series with Harden on the roster during the 2021 season where they lost in game seven the next round to the Milwaukee Bucks after. Harden became frustrated with the Nets and wanted to be traded yet again after only one full season with the team.
In his two seasons with the Nets, his scoring average dropped by over six points, to 23.4 points per game, with his shooting percentages also taking a slight dip.
In February 2022, the Nets pulled off a blockbuster trade, sending Harden to the 76ers for Ben Simmons, among other pieces. Since joining the 76ers, Harden has been good but not great. He is still averaging over 20 points and 10 assists per game, but he doesn’t look like the same player.
He doesn’t make great decisions during clutch times like the fourth quarter, and he cannot do the same moves he used to. Harden could almost never be stopped when he played for the Rockets because of his ability to drive to the basket or shoot the ball from anywhere.
But with a combination of multiple major injuries, specifically his hamstring injury in 2021, and his age, he cannot do the same things his former self could.
Harden and the 76ers are currently down 3-2 in the Conference Semifinals series against the Miami Heat. Harden’s decline may have started right before our eyes, and people may not notice because of the image of the great Harden that a lot of us have in our heads.
I hope he can return to his MVP-caliber form, but I don’t think it’s in his future. This series against the Miami Heat will be an important indicator as to whether his decline has begun.