Rumors had been swirling since the offseason about Harden’s future with the Rockets. Their unconventional strategy, although fun to watch, clearly did not work come playoff time. With a new coach and GM, Harden expressed his uncertainty with the team and his desire to be traded. Now, he gets to start fresh in Brooklyn.
The New-look Nets
This team is unprecedented. Trying to figure out what they’ll look like is quite tough, so I tried thinking of other times that three players of this caliber (superstars), all in their primes, have been together on one team. So, let’s explore three of those teams and see how they fared.
2007-2008 Celtics: They brought together Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. These Celtics differ from the Nets in the sense that these guys aren’t all ball dominant players. Ray’s main role in the offense was to come off screens and hit threes; he almost never got the ball in ISO situations. Although he did a lot more creating for himself and others in Seattle, he seamlessly filled into his new role with the Celtics as an elite three and D guy (and one of the first!). Garnett’s defense and rebounding were the most important skills he brought to the team. Like Ray, he wasn’t really an isolation guy, rather he was a screener who could roll to the hoop or pop for a Lamarcus Aldridge style mid range. Occasionally of course he would get it in the post and go to work, using his size and elite athletic ability to score over defenders. Paul Pierce was a pure isolation guy, and he had the ball more than both Garnett and Ray. What made this team work was their commitment to the defensive end on the floor, and an understanding of each other’s roles in the offense. The sacrifice paid off as this team had 2 finals appearances and came away with a chip. However, this team differs from the Nets in the sense that Ray Allen and KG are both able to be more effective without the ball in their hands as opposed to Kyrie and Harden.
The KD Warriors: This 73 win team added KD and became virtually unstoppable. Steph, KD, and Klay. It was truly fun to watch, but again, it was a lot different than these Nets will be. Neither Steph nor Klay really need the ball to be effective. Klay runs off screens and had a similar role to Ray Allen on the Celtics. He was mainly a catch and shoot guy - of course he also could work in the post and in certain isolation situations, but most of his offense was created by running off screens. Steph had the ball a little bit more than Klay but is also able to be extremely effective without the ball in his hands. He’s one of the best cutters and off ball movers I’ve ever seen; he never stops moving and it makes him so tough to guard throughout the course of a game. The defense is bound to let up for a split second here and there, which is all Steph needs to unleash from three. KD had the ball a lot, and took on an increased facilitator role as he had Steph and Klay running off screens the whole game. This team definitely made it work, sacrificing their numbers and winning two championships along the way. This team, though, also differs greatly from the Nets in the ability of Klay and Steph to be effective WITHOUT the ball.
The Miami big 3: This team of superstars is by far the most similar to these Brooklyn Nets. The year before Bosh and Lebron joined Wade in Miami (2009-2010 season) all three players ranked in the top 10 of the league in Usage rating. They were all very much the go to players for their franchises (Lebron in Cleveland and Bosh in Toronto) and were ball dominant. Bosh would operate from the post as well as facilitating the offense at times from the top of the key - he was a foreshadowing of the modern big in that sense. Lebron was Lebron. Not much more needs to be said about what his role was with the Cavs, whose second leading scorer was Mo Williams (Not hating on Mo, he was a good player, but I mean C’mon). When these guys got to Miami, Bosh took a firm backseat to Wade and Bron. Most of his points were scored off of catch and shoot mid range or from three, and he sacrificed his star role in Toronto to let Lebron and Wade be themselves. It’s not shocking to see that Bosh’s usage rating dipped the most of the three, but it clearly paid off as this team won 2 championships during their span. Will the Nets situation result in one of the big three taking a backseat to the other 2?
My expectation for the Nets: Kyrie, Harden, and Durant are the three leading isolation scorers in the NBA this season, and they are all on the same team. Yes, you read that correctly. This is completely unprecedented, and I don’t think it can be sustained at all. One of these guys is going to have to significantly change their game in order to fit in with the other two; you simply cannot have three guys on the same team that lead the NBA in isolation points scored. I think it makes you too easy to defend against (especially in the playoffs) and it’s a precursor to problems within the organization and team. So, I think there’s two possible options for what the Nets can do.
Before I go into the options, I need to make one thing clear, because it applies to both of the directions in which the Nets can go: Kevin Durant is the most gifted offensive player this league has ever seen, and his role cannot and should not be compromised. Kyrie and Harden are both special in what they do, but Durant is a level above even the other handful of players who are “unguardable” in terms of what he does offensively. People that are 6’10/6’11 (google it) are not supposed to be able to move like that, handle the ball like that, or have that kind of touch. He has no offensive weakness and it’s virtually impossible for a defender to make any difference on the outcome of his shot. I’m almost tearing up as I write this article at the thought of his pullup game, both from midrange and from three. So silky smooth and beautiful to watch. I distinctly remember the 2017 playoffs when Jrue Holiday could not have possibly done a better job on him defensively, but it simply didn’t matter. Hand in the face… Splash. That being said, Durant needs to still be the go-to option for the Nets when it matters most, barring an unbelievable matchup for Harden or Kyrie.
Kyrie becomes 6th man:
Let me start by saying that there’s no chance that Kyrie ever accepts this role, or that Steve Nash makes such a power move in his first season as head coach. That being said, Kyrie becoming the 6th man, and the best 6th man in the league at that, would seemingly solve the problem that I anticipate occurring with this superteam. Kyrie could be the leader in points per minute, and he could have the ball in his hands, leading the second unit. This would allow both Harden and Durant to operate in the starting lineup. One of them is going to have the weaker perimeter defender on them and will attack that. When one of them comes out, Kyrie can come in and take over the primary scoring role. For example, Harden comes out at the 6 minute mark, and Kyrie becomes the primary playmaker with Durant taking a backseat while Kyrie is in. This would allow Kyrie to do what he does best - attack the defense with the ball in his hands. Kyrie is the most skilled offensive player that this league has ever seen (that’s a story for a different article), and having him sit in the corner while Harden and Durant make plays is not using him to the best of his abilities. I also don’t envision Kyrie being okay with that role, which he would have to be in order for the team to be cohesive. In a perfect world, Kyrie would come off the bench and lead the league in points per minute; he would be like Lou Williams on steroids.
Harden leads the NBA in assists (Hot take alert):
Harden has done the scoring thing. He’s made his case that he is one of the most gifted scorers to play this game. What he has done in Houston these past few years has been utterly ridiculous. 2 years ago, the Jazz literally started playing behind him and letting him go to the hoop because he is so dominant from three. If you haven’t seen the film, you should take a gander. Forget about the “Jordan Rules”, the Jazz did something that has never been done, because Harden is simply DIFFERENT. Never has there ever been such a dominant isolation scorer; Harden’s stepback will go down as one of the most deadly signature moves of all time, and it’s all set up by his shooting ability and his incredible handle. But, I think Harden is tired of the scoring thing. He’s been the scoring champion, he’s been the MVP, now I think he wants to win a chip. That’s why this year, I predict Harden leads the league in assists per game with more than 11. I think he’s out to prove that he can be a facilitator as well as a scorer, and there’s no question that the ability is there. He’s one of the best pocket passers in the league and has some WILD vision. With KD and Kyrie around him coming off down screens, Harden will be able to set up Kyrie and KD extremely well. Don’t get me wrong, there will be possessions where he still dives into his bag and takes 23 dribbles before taking a step back three. But, I believe he will look to be a true point guard this year, which should be exciting to watch.