The Philadelphia 76ers have had no trouble at all in their first-round matchup with the Toronto Raptors. Which isn't a surprise. The Raptors overachieved this season and the Sixers have title aspirations, led by MVP candidate Joel Embiid and former MVP James Harden. The first two games have been non-competitive and that is unlikely to change as injuries mount for Toronto.
One aspect of note that may end up rather concerning down the stretch for Philly has been a lack of scoring punch from Harden. He's only averaged 18 points per game to open the series with some poor shooting splits, hitting a smidge over 30 percent of his shots from the floor. He's made up for it by tallying 20 assists, and this matchup is more made for Embiid considering the wide variety of rangy, long defenders Nick Nurse can throw at Harden.
Nevertheless, more is and will be expected of Harden as the postseason groes along. The lack of burst he's shown on his drives has been apparent all season and it's possible the elite scoring version of Harden we came to know may never be seen again. Skip Bayless, addressing the issue on Undisputed today, chalked it up to a simple factor: age.
Here's Bayless explaining how Harden is turning into an old man right in front of our eyes.
Harden is only 32 years-old, so even by professional athlete standards he isn't exactly standing on the precipice of the retirement home. But he has a lot of mileage on his legs. His last two seasons have been hampered by injury, and before that he played eight straight seasons while appearing in at least 68 games, not including playoffs. On top of it all, no one team was more reliant on its star than the Rockets were on Harden during that stretch. The wear-and-tear effect is very real, and we're watching it unfold before our very eyes.
The Sixers don't really need the Houston version of Harden, admittedly. He's still an otherworldly passer and his mere presence helps guys like Tyrese Maxey get wide-open shots during games. At a certain point, however, Philly will need firepower. The Sixers didn't trade a haul for Harden to just set the table. They'll need him to step up when Embiid is having an off night or can't get a shot up over the mass of bodies sent at him in the post.
Past versions of Harden could do that. We don't know if this version can. And that may be a very big problem sooner rather than later for the 76ers.