The Brooklyn Nets made it clear that they're all-in when they traded for James Harden ... but did they make the right decision?
While it's still too soon to tell, our NBA.com Staff takes stock of what they've seen from the new-look Nets through six games with the help of four stats.
114.7: Brooklyn's defensive rating since the trade
The Nets have given up an average of 114.7 points per 100 possessions since acquiring Harden, ranking them 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): It means something.
Like many, I have concerns about this Nets team defensively. I don't see them becoming a top-10 defence, but they have the potential to be better than they have been on that end of the court through eight games.
The good news for Brooklyn is that there are players currently unsigned who would give it a boost defensively (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are two names that come to mind). And that list could grow in the coming months depending on who gets bought out.
So yes, I think this Nets team is flawed defensively, but I'm guessing they'll address that issue sooner rather than later.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): It means everything.
Having a competent defence is the one thing holding Brooklyn back from being undeniable favourites in the Eastern Conference. Prior to holding the Miami Heat to just 85 points - the Nets' best defensive performance of the season - they were allowing 126.8 points per game since the trade. That is... not great.
I'm with Scott in that I still believe there are moves to be made to help this team improve defensively, whether it's in free agency, the buyout market or the trade market. Until then, their defence will put a ceiling on what this incredibly talented team is capable of.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): It means something.
All their stars have played more than nine years in the league, so they could be called veterans. Two of the three know what it takes to win an NBA championship, so I believe the buy-in on the defensive end will come. And most importantly, they have 2-3 roster spots still to fill and there are unsigned wings or big men available.
Surely, the Nets will be looking at those as we go deeper into the season to boost their defence just enough to make them a serious contender.
114.8: Brooklyn's offensive rating since the trade
The Nets have been scoring at a rate of 114.8 points per 100 possessions since acquiring Harden, ranking 4th in the league.
Rafferty: It means everything.
The Nets are still figuring things out and they're already proving to be a handful. Whether or not they can reach their full offensive potential hinges on Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant getting on the same page, but the early returns are encouraging.
Sequences like this come to mind:
It's only one possession, but it goes to show how the types of decisions defences are going to have to make against this Big Three. They're already tough to stop and they're only going to get better.
One person in particular who has benefited from this three-headed monster: Joe Harris. It's probably not a coincidence that his 3-point attempts have skyrocketed since the Nets traded for Harden, from 5.8 per game to 8.3. He and the rest of Brooklyn's shooters are going to continue getting wide-open looks because of the amount of attention Harden, Irving and Durant draw.
Irving: It means everything.
Especially because of how poor they've been defensively, that puts even more importance on the Nets maximizing their offensive potential. Sure, they might give up 120 points on any given night, but there's nothing stopping them from scoring over 120 points on any given night.
The offensive trio of Durant, Harden and Irving is arguably the greatest we've ever seen but there were hesitations on how three high-usage, ball-dominant players were going to work together and so far, it has clicked. We've only seen three games with all three superstars on the floor together but with KD still appearing as the go-to guy with Harden being more of a distributor and Irving filling in the gaps, it seems like this offence will be a well-oiled machine.
Matange: It means something.
Like Scott mentioned, the early returns are encouraging but I believe they can get even better. Like I mentioned earlier, all three of their superstars are veterans, so the championship buy-in will be expected as we go deeper into the season.
Also, when a team has three players of the calibre of Durant, Irving, and Harden, they just need one of them to go off each night to post such offensive numbers and win games.
11.3: James Harden's assist average with the Nets
Harden is averaging a league-leading 11.3 assists per game in a Nets uniform. His scoring is down to 23.0 points per game, his lowest average since 2011-12.
Rafferty: It means something.
It's going to be very interesting to see how the dynamic between Harden, Irving and Durant plays out. Durant is one of the most - if not the most - malleable superstars in NBA history, so I'm not worried about him. This has more to do with the dynamic between Harden and Irving.
Right now, Harden is essentially playing the role of a point guard while Irving functions more as a shooting guard. It's working for the most part, but it feels like it's only a matter of time until the Harden who has led the league in scoring for three straight seasons shows up again.
James Harden (10 PTS in 4th) sparks the @BrooklynNets 20-7 run late in their home W! pic.twitter.com/jptyYeNqxt- NBA (@NBA) January 26, 2021
Irving: It means something.
As I just mentioned, there were plenty of questions about how all three of these players could play together with only one basketball. So far, with all three players in the lineup, the answer has been Harden taking on a distributing role with Durant and Irving taking the majority of the shots. While there's no debate that Harden is a great playmaker, and there's no doubt that this version of Brooklyn's offence would work, I do wonder how long it will be before the reigning three-time scoring champ wants to get more shots up.
Averaging just 11.0 field goal attempts over the three games all three stars have played together, Harden is attempting the same ballpark number of shots as his time as a Sixth Man in OKC to start his career. I can't imagine Harden will remain okay with his scoring role repressed that much.
Matange: It means everything.
I believe that the assists average clearly shows the team's intent on wanting Harden to bring the ball up and be the team's primary playmaker or initiator. Given that he's arguably the best playmaker among the three superstars, that isn't such a bad call and I know it's early but so far win or loss, there seems to be no major on-court disagreement between the trio.
So for a team that will have to find its chemistry and define roles through the season - one that is already impacted by postponed games and lack of practices - it does help to have one role assigned and agreed to so early on.
5: How many clutch games the Nets have played since the trade
Five of the six games the Nets have played since acquiring Harden have gone down to the wire. The Nets are 4-1 in those games.
Rafferty: It means nothing.
I chalk this up to growing pains more than anything, although giving up as many points as they did to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been the worst offensive team in the league this season, and having to grind out two games against a short-handed Miami Heat team isn't exactly a great look.
Still, this team has a lot to work out. Also, the fact that they lost only one of those games is what matters. I feel like a broken record at this point, but between Harden, Irving and Durant, one of them will almost certainly always have a favourable matchup.
I wonder how many teams will play zone against the Nets given how easily each one of them can create their own shot. I'm guessing it's something we could see a lot at the end of games.
Irving: It means something.
Sure, they'd probably rather be blowing teams out (especially teams like the Magic, Cavaliers and short-handed Heat, like Scott mentioned) but playing in close games is only going to benefit this team in the long run.
They have three dynamic scorers that are all more than capable of taking and making the big shot. Maybe that shot will go to whoever has the hot hand in that game, maybe it will go to whoever has the most favourable matchup. At the end of the day, all three of these players are used to having the ball in their hands when the game matters most.
It means something because it's good practice to figure out what scenarios are best-fitted for each superstar.
Matange: It means something.
I agree with Kyle here. They should have won both games in Cleveland and beat the Heat both times more convincingly but right now, the team will just take the W and consider the close games as good game-reps that will come in handy to look back on and build from.
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