“There’s only one basketball.”
That was the knee-jerk reaction of many to the trade that brought James Harden to Brooklyn, joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Would the three dangerous isolation scorers be willing to make the sacrifices — in touches and stats — needed to make this new Big Three work? Would one player be willing to dramatically change their role to make this all work?
Harden did, becoming more of a facilitator and averaging a league-best 11.6 assists a game while scoring 11 fewer points a game than he did last season in Houston. Irving noticed it’s working and told the media after Brooklyn’s win over Golden State he said to Harden, “you’re the point guard.” Here’s the full quote, via Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.
“I feel like he’s been doing a great job of just managing the point guard role,” Irving said… “We established that maybe four days ago. I just looked at him and I said, ‘You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard.’ That was as simple as that. He’s been taking control of the responsibilities and doing an incredible job. It just makes my job easier to just go out and play free and just make plays. It’s a luxury. I just want to continue it…
“It’s easy to play off somebody that’s willing to compliment your game and ready to sacrifice, and it’s easier to do so for me,” Irving said. “I think I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that playing with other great players, not just a (Team) USA or All-Star games, but capable of fitting in into a high-level group not just with scoring or passing, just continuing to do the little things and the details to win. That’s all I’m focused on.”
First, “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that playing with other great players?” He does remember he was teammates with LeBron James and peak Kevin Love, winning a title with them, right? He’s already proven he could fit in, the question is, did he want to — he forced his way out of Cleveland to get out of LeBron’s shadow.
In Brooklyn, with Harden’s sacrifice, it is working — Brooklyn has a ridiculous 126.4 offensive rating when the big three share the court, outscoring opponents by 13.1 per 100 possessions. That offense is 12 points per 100 better than the league average right now and would be best in the NBA by almost +6. When all three are on the court together, the defense has been close to league average; however, start getting deeper into the bench and that end of the court starts to fall apart for the Nets (24th in the league over the last seven games).
Draymond Green called the Nets “definitely the team to beat” in the East. While the Nets have defensive questions to answer deep in the playoffs, Green may well be right. If so, it’s because Harden is such a good point guard.