Brooklyn Nets

Stat Just Happened: The sky's the limit for Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant

"Stat Just Happened" is our series where we pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

119.6

According to NBA.com, that was Brooklyn's offensive rating when Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant were on the court together in the 2020-21 season, meaning the Nets scored at a rate of 119.6 points per 100 possessions with the three of them in the lineup.

Why is that notable? It's ridiculously good.

There are other trios who posted a higher offensive rating - you'll never guess in a million years who tops the list - but to put it into perspective, the Nets had the league's No. 1 offence in the league last season. Their offensive rating? 117.3.

Not only that, but 117.3 was the highest offensive rating a team has posted since the 1996-97 season, which is when the NBA first started tracking the stat.

In other words, lineups built around Irving, Harden and Durant were more or less impossible to contain. They weren't exactly locking teams up on the other end (112.5), but they were so good offensively that they still outscored opponents by an average margin of 7.2 points per 100 possessions.

Now, here's the caveat: Irving, Harden and Durant played a grand total of 202 minutes over eight games together in the regular season, which isn't much.

When Harden was first traded to the Nets, Irving was out due to personal reasons. The Big Three made their debut soon after, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a double-overtime thriller, and then appeared in seven of the team's next 12 games together before Durant missed a chunk of time with a hamstring injury. The game before Durant returned, Harden suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 18 straight games.

The only other time Irving, Harden and Durant played alongside each other prior to the playoffs was Brooklyn's second-to-last game of the season, at which point the Nets were gearing up for the postseason.

There's only so much you can take away from such a small sample size, but those games were littered with sequences like this...

...this...

...this...

...and this...

...in which the defenders were left throwing their hands up in the air following an easy basket from Irving, Harden, Durant or whoever else had the luxury of sharing the court with the three of them.

MORE: Nets hit a home run in adding Patty Mills

What was particularly interesting was seeing the sacrifices Irving, Harden and Durant made to make it work.

Easy as it was to imagine the potential of three of the league's best scorers joining forces, there were legitimate questions on whether or not they could coexist because they were all used to being the No. 1 option. As I wrote during the season, Harden changed his game the most out of the three. Whereas Irving and Durant's roles remained mostly the same - that is, get buckets - Harden became a more opportunistic scorer to focus more on getting everyone involved.

The result? Harden did his best Steve Nash impression, averaging 18.5 points and 11.9 assists in the eight games he shared the court with Irving and Durant.

Harden has long been one of the league's best passers, but he hasn't averaged fewer than 20 points per game since his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2011-12).

Stats in the eight regular season games Irving, Harden, Durant played together (2020-21)
Player PPG FGM-FGA RPG APG
Kyrie Irving 25.8 10.3-18.4 4.6 4.0
James Harden 18.5 5.4-11.4 7.6 11.9
Kevin Durant 28.3 9.9-20.9 8.8 5.3

Harden touched on that dynamic in a recent interview with Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated.

"There really wasn't any adjustment," Harden said of going from the Rockets to the Nets. "I still play how I play, but now I don't have to shoot the ball so much.

"It's really the best style for me, to be honest. Kevin and Kyrie can always go get a bucket, and, with me as a playmaker, I can think about how to get shooters involved, how to get bigs touches, how to create open shots. My main focus is trying to get everybody involved and have each guy make an impact on the game."

Harden then made some headlines by saying "at full strength, nobody can beat us."

The "at full strength" part is key - the Nets learned that the hard way in their second-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs, as both Irving and Harden missed time with injuries in a series that went the distance - but it's no wonder why they enter the 2021-22 season with the best odds to win it all.

Small of a sample size as it is, it all starts with that one eye-popping number...

119.6

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