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Likes and dislikes: Early takeaways from the start of the James Harden era (part 2)

With the Ben Simmons circus rolling into town, let's do something wild and talk about stuff on the basketball court, with some early takeaways from the start of the James Harden era in Philly.

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The Sixers and Nets will tip off later tonight, the first meeting between the two teams since last month's blockbuster deal that reunited James Harden with Daryl Morey in Philadelphia, and sent former franchise cornerstone Ben Simmons up to Brooklyn.

The buildup to tonight's game has been focused on just about everything except basketball, from whether Simmons will actually sit on the bench, to how he'll be received by fans, if and how he'll respond to the reception and even a report on the Sixers' speculation about how Simmons camp might eventually use that fan animosity to support their anticipated arbitration case, the latest entry in the two sides continued use of the media to further their public relations battles. It's all ... meh.

During the Sam Hinkie years, fans and analysts were lumped into two groups: pro-process and anti-process. Over time, the debate largely became about Hinkie himself rather than the merits of the strategy he was employing. But the need to tear down and build through the draft is a strategy that I have been supporting for the better part of a decade, back when I was just a blogger, and before I even really knew who Hinkie was.

Yet here we are, after all this time, and the Sixers finally have a team capable of threatening for an NBA Finals, and we're going to focus almost entirely on Ben Simmons? Nah. I didn't become an NBA columnist to focus on petty grudges. So with the Sixers vs Nets circus serving as a backdrop, let's get into part two of the Likes and Dislikes column, focusing on the initial impressions of the James Harden era.

If you haven't already, be sure to check out the first post in this series, which focused on the Embiid/Harden pick-and-roll, the return of the Sixers' transition game, Tobias Harris' struggles and James Harden's off-ball movement.

Today's column will focus on:

  • The success of Tyrese Maxey's shift to an off-ball role.
  • Trying to remain competitive defensively when Embiid's on the bench.
  • Harden being able to put role players in roles they can succeed in.

Without further ado...

Like: Maxey and Harden growing together

One of the bigger questions following the Sixers' acquisition of James Harden was how well second-year guard Tyrese Maxey would transition to an off-ball role. With six games worth of data now in the books, to say that the early returns have been encouraging would be a severe understatement, as Maxey is averaging 23.5 points and shooting 59.5% from the field in the six games since Harden joined the team after the All-Star break.

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