James Harden, Joel Embiid won’t be enough to propel 76ers in playoffs

When Philadelphia 76ers team president Daryl Morey pulled off the successful Ben Simmons-James Harden trade with the Nets, the basketball world and sportsbooks were forced to take note.

The 76ers’ odds of winning the NBA championship were immediately reduced from 12/1 to +750 and their odds of winning the East dropped to 3/1 as of February 10.

Harden didn’t make his debut until after the All-Star break, and the 76ers have gone 16-8 since then. Despite having the seventh-best net rating during this span, the 76ers have seen their championship odds drop beyond where they were before the trade at 16/1 on BetMGM with their odds of winning the Eastern Conference currently at 8/1.

The market seems to believe that the 76ers have not improved as much as expected with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat as favorites to win the East.

Are the 76ers headed for another disappointing early postseason exit? Or can we trust the process to make a deep postseason?

James Harden and Joel Embiid speak on the sidelines.
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NBA titles are won with superstars and the 76ers may have found their own Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with Joel Embiid and Harden.

In their first 20 games with Embiid and Harden together in the lineup, the 76ers went 13-7 with a +6.9 net rating, which is a substantial improvement over the +4.1 net rating the 76ers had in the games with Embiid and Seth Curry. . Although the 76ers went 24-12 in games with Embiid and Curry, they’ve seen their offensive rating jump from 115.2 to 123.6 with Harden taking his place on the team.

Embiid has been a dominant force this season, averaging 30.6 points per game on 49.9 percent shooting while also grabbing 11.7 rebounds and dishing out 4.2 assists, a number that would earn him Most Player of the Year award. Valuable in the league in most seasons. Those numbers have gotten even better since Harden’s addition.

Much of that success is the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll, which has been deadly, generating 1.10 points per possession on straight plays in which Harden, Embiid or another player passes to end possession. This number puts the 76ers in the top 10 by second spectrum and we’ve seen the rest of the starting lineup benefit from Harden’s playmaking ability.

— There are some concerns about the shots on this list and whether they translate to the postseason. Tobias Harris is earning $36 million to be a featured shooter, a role for which he’s not particularly suited.

Although Simmons received most of the blame for last year’s postseason collapse, Harris was the 76ers’ second scoring option as they downplayed Simmons’ offensive contributions. Needless to say, Harris didn’t deliver, he shot 2-for-11 in a critical Game 5 loss to the Hawks and 8-for-24 in Game 7.

Since being traded to the 76ers, Harden is shooting just 40.2 percent from the field and has shot less than 40 percent from the field in eight of his 21 games with the team.

He’s also shooting 47.6 percent on 2-point shooting and 32.6 percent from behind the arc, marks that put him in the bottom half of all NBA players.

With Harden taking half of his field goal attempts from behind the arc, consistently taking down all 3 is key to his success. He shot below the league average (36.8 percent) in 13 of his 21 games with the 76ers and also shot below 30 percent from deep in 11 games.

And according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Harden’s “escape percentage” has dropped from the 89th to the 58th percentile. Harden is still scoring 1.06 points per possession in isolation, but it’s not uncommon to see more plays than usual where he can’t beat the big guys at change.

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Doc Rivers is one of the most decorated coaches of all time and is 98-53 in his tenure with the 76ers.

Despite coaching some of the best talent in NBA history, Rivers’ teams have been on the wrong end of the NBA’s most historic meltdowns. They’ve blown three separate 3-1 leads, three 3-2 leads and one 2-0 lead. He has lost a Game 7 at home four times.

conclusion: The 76ers should beat the bottom teams in the conference and while they won’t be easy wins for the Bucks, Celtics or (gasp) Nets, unfortunately there isn’t enough around Embiid and Harden to make this team a legitimate contender.

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