How Harden Is Helping Elevate Thybulle, Niang Offensively

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By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

James Harden has been great both on and off the court since debuting with the Philadelphia 76ers. He has quickly proven to be a leader in the locker room in addition to his on-court exploits. He is averaging 24.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in five games with the Sixers, but let's focus in on his passing and how he has helped to elevate a pair of the team's role players.

Harden is averaging 12.4 assists per game with the Sixers, and he has made an active effort to help keep everyone involved in the offense. Matisse Thybulle, the Sixers' defensive standout, has yet to make any consistent development to his offensive game. However, he has shown some promise offensively playing alongside Harden. In five games with Harden (24.2 minutes per game), Thybulle is averaging 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting 61.5 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range.

Thybulle has a ton of athleticism and has gotten better this season at reading the defense and knowing when to cut to the basket. Playing with someone like Harden, who has fantastic court vision and passing abilities, has helped Thybulle be a somewhat productive offensive player.

Harden's vision has helped everyone on the roster in multiple ways. He has connected on full-court passes multiple times with Tyrese Maxey or Thybulle. It has helped improve the team's transition offense, which currently is 23rd in the league at 17.3 transition points per game. Both Maxey and Thybulle have the speed to be able to leak out in transition, and Harden has taken advantage of that for easy points.

One of the most impressive things about Harden is his ability to be two steps ahead in terms of his court vision and decision-making out on the court. Thybulle spoke after the win on Monday over the Chicago Bulls about adapting to playing next to a player with immense court vision and basketball IQ.

"Just continuing to learn how to play with him, off of him," Thybulle said. "He’s teaching me a lot on the fly. Some of the things I pick up, some of them I miss, and it’s just really about me trying to complement him as well as possible because it creates a lot of opportunities, not only for him and myself, but just for the whole team. He sees a lot before it happens, and I’m just trying to keep up. We just have to see the situations and let them play out. The better feel I get for him, the more I can anticipate what he’s gonna look for and do that. You could say sit down and watch film, but things get really different when you’re in the heat of battle and things are flying a million miles an hour."

Harden is an excellent pick-and-roll player, and it did not take long for him to develop a successful pick-and-roll game with Joel Embiid. Recently, the Sixers have began running the pick-and-roll game with Harden and a variety of other players on the roster.

The pick-and-roll game between Harden and anyone else is proving to be lethal and one of the most efficient actions in this new-look Sixers offense. Thybulle has been one of the beneficiaries early on, and it has been one of the things helping him elevate his offensive production.

The Sixers are 8-0 this season when Thybulle scores 10 or more points, so keeping him involved offensively has an incredible impact on their overall chances of winning.

Another player Harden is helping elevate offensively is Georges Niang. While Niang was already productive offensively before the Harden acquisition, playing next to Harden has shown early on huge potential to further elevate his scoring abilities.

Niang played a huge role in the win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday, scoring 17 points and shooting 5-of-8 from three-point range. His quick trigger makes him a perfect fit playing next to Harden, and the two have already began to develop an effective pick-and-pop game.

Niang should continue to thrive in the pick-and-pop game with Harden throughout the rest of the season. Harden provides such immense gravity from the threat of him driving to the basket that it opens up a ton of space for Niang along the three-point line. The play below in the win over the Cavaliers serves as a prime example of the extra space Niang has when playing next to Harden.

Niang, over his last two games playing with Harden, is averaging 15.5 points and shooting 60.0 percent from beyond the arc. He took 15 threes over those two games. He is shooting 40.1 percent on 5.0 three-point attempts per game this season in only 23.0 minutes per game, perfectly showing why he is a great fit with Harden.

Things have never come easier for Niang than they are now. He spoke after the win over the Chicago Bulls, in which Harden finished with 14 assists, about how easy it is to play next to a player of Harden's caliber.

"I can’t say that it’s like anyone I have ever played with. I mean, I’m sure if I really sat back and thought about it guys that I’ve watched, but when I’m out there on the court the fact that he draws so much attention as a scorer and then he just has an ability to make quick passes or no-look passes and hit me right on the hands. I mean, it’s like a dream come true," Niang said. "My job is pretty simple after that and he just does such a good job of reading the game and letting the game come to him and not forcing anything. I am excited that he is on our side."

The Sixers have the makings of a "big three" between Embiid, Harden and Maxey. Harden continuing to elevate the role players throughout the roster will go a long way towards helping the team maximize its chances at winning a championship this season.

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