Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal would like all the comparisons between the new Philadelphia 76ers duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden with him and Kobe Bryant to stop immediately. On “The Big Podcast with Shaq,” Anthony “Spice” Adams asked Shaq if he would support the narrative of Embiid and Harden being the next Shaq and Kobe.
“We won three out of four. No. No. Hell, no. Not after one year. Me and Kobe had eight years of damage together. No, not even close. Stop it. Listen, NO, H NO, and F NO.”
That’s the end of that. Or is it?
In the four games Harden has played since being traded to the 76ers they are 4-0. Granted two wins were against the lowly New York Knicks, but still. Embiid and Harden are an incredible big man-guard combo. The pressure they put on opposing defenses is intense and will be tough to stop in the playoffs.
Of course Shaq is right that he and Kobe accomplished a ton as a duo and the 76ers’ duo is nowhere close in that regard. But could they be, if they have enough time?
Winning three out of four titles in this era of the NBA is tough. The last team to do so was the Golden State Warriors from 2015-2019. Adding Kevin Durant to a nucleus of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will do that.
Embiid and Harden are All-NBA and perennial MVP-caliber players so that’s a good start. But you also need luck to win titles, and that can’t be easily predicted.
However, the Embiid-Harden duo in terms of production can be placed in the same category as Shaq and Kobe if they play together long enough. Not in total raw numbers, but if you took the peak season for each duo they’d likely be pretty close.
How do we know this? Let’s take a look at each player’s MVP season. Embiid hasn’t won an MVP yet, so we’ll count this season as his MVP year. He is the Las Vegas favorite at -160.
Embiid this season and Shaq in 1999-00 scored the same points per game, Shaq grabbed two more rebounds per game and had three more blocks per game. Embiid has a higher eFG and TS percentages.
The Harden and Kobe comparison is where it gets interesting. In their respective MVP seasons, Harden averaged two more points per game and three more assists per game. Harden is by far the more efficient scorer according to eFG% and TS%, and he’s a natural playmaker in a way Bryant wasn’t.
One of the tensions for the O’Neal-Bryant dynamic was who was going to score. Harden is just has happy to score himself as he is to set up Embiid or another teammate.
The other factor in this comparison is player primes. Shaq was beginning his physical prime when the duo came together in Los Angeles and Kobe was ascending. Embiid is entering his prime and Harden is on his second prime or extended first, depending on how you look at it.
If Harden wants to win a championship, and this is what he says he wants, the ego issues that ultimately ended the Shaq and Kobe era shouldn’t come into play with Harden and Embiid in Philadelphia.
More news from our partners: