James Harden Deserves To Be Selected For The 2023 NBA All-Star Game
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 28: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against the Denver… [+] Nuggets at Wells Fargo Center on January 28, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, user accepts the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
After announcing the starters for the 2023 NBA All-Star Game last week, the league is expected to reveal the 14 reserves during Thursday’s edition of Inside the NBA. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid should be a lock to pick after his snub from the starting lineup, but he’s not the only Sixers player who deserves to be on the team.
Despite missing about a month of action early this season with a foot injury, Sixers guard James Harden is expected to join Embiid in the All-Star Game in mid-February.
In 34 games this season, Harden is averaging 21.4 points on 44.9 percent shooting, 11.0 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 three-pointers in 36.7 minutes per game. He also hit a career-high 39.4 percent from deep after knocking down a season-high six three-pointers in the Sixers’ 105-94 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
Harden no longer scores like he did in his prime with the Houston Rockets, but the Sixers don’t need him. They need him to be their primary point guard and secondary scorer behind Embiid, who leads the league with a career-high 33.5 points per game on a career-high 53.4 percent shooting.
“He is a generational goalscorer who took [to] and decided to be a point guard,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters in December while praising Harden. “And it’s hard to do. … Most people can’t do that – or won’t, that’s a better way to put it. And the fact that he does it voluntarily, leads the team, organizes us, it’s huge for us.
Harden is one of only three players this season to average at least 20 points and 10 assists per game, joining Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (an All-Star starter in the West) and Indiana Pacers Tyrese Haliburton (another expected to be All-Star). No other Sixers player averages even five assists per game.
Because Harden hasn’t played in 70% of the Sixers’ games — he’s one game short of Wednesday’s Magic victory — he’s not yet qualified for the NBA’s statistical rankings. Once he becomes eligible, however, he will overtake Haliburton for the league lead in assists.
While Embiid is still the Sixers’ primary offensive focal point, Harden is the best table passer he’s played with. Harden has assisted on 141 of Embiid’s 426 shots this season, while the rest of Embiid’s teammates combined have assisted on 135 of his shots.
With Harden and Embiid on the floor, the Sixers are averaging 122.2 points per 100 possessions and outscoring their opponents by 8.0 points per 100 possessions. When Harden is playing without Embiid, the Sixers are averaging just 115.9 points per 100 possessions and outscoring opponents by 1.5 points per 100.
The Sixers are averaging 118.5 points per 100 possessions with Harden on the ground this season, which is better than the Denver Nuggets’ league-leading 117.4 offensive rating. They’re scoring just 110.7 points per 100 possessions with Harden on the floor, which would rank 27th in the league, ahead of only the San Antonio Spurs (110.4), Houston Rockets (109.1) and Charlotte. Hornets (109.0).
In case Harden’s impact on the Sixers’ offense wasn’t enough to land his All-Star nod, advanced metrics also help make his point.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell were selected as starters in the Eastern Conference backcourt. This means Harden will compete with Haliburton, Boston Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown, Cavaliers point guard Darius Garland, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young and Chicago Bulls swingman DeMar DeRozan for one of two reserve spots in backcourt or one of two wild-nods (which can go to a guard or frontcourt player).
Of that sextet, Harden ranks second in PER, box over/under and value to replacement player, behind only Haliburton in each. He’s third among that group in total win shares, largely because he’s played fewer minutes than any of them, but he leads them all with 0.200 win shares every 48. minutes. He also leads them all with a 61.9 true shooting percentage.
Harden is becoming a relatively neutral defender this season, but he stands out in all-out offensive metrics. The 33-year-old ranks 11th in Dunks and Threes’ plus/minus estimated offense, right between Mitchell and Phoenix Suns goaltender Devin Booker. (Irving is 13th.) Haliburton is the only other Eastern Conference guard ahead of him.
Harden is also 16th league-wide in offensive plus/minus box and is tied for 18th in offensive win share. No one else in the top 20 by this last metric has played less than 36 games.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I should be an All-Star, make a deal, none of that,” Harden told reporters after the win over the Magic on Wednesday. “The numbers show it, our seed shows it. It would be my 11th in a row, so obviously it’s always an honor. You never want to take that for granted. It means you’re doing something right. You’re doing an impact on your team and on the game. If my name is called, great. If not, there are bigger and better goals for the season.”
The Sixers are currently at +1200 to win this year’s Finals, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, behind only six other teams. That’s probably what Harden meant when he referred to his “bigger and better goals.”
Still, he’s done enough to earn an All-Star spot in the meantime.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.