Analyzing How James Harden Will Fit on the Nets

Last offseason James Harden requested a trade indicating his time in Houston was near done. He gave several reasons and made it clear by his actions he was no longer committed to the Houston Rockets. Among the teams he listed as preferred destinations Brooklyn was at the top. This week it finally happened. In a trade that took four teams to complete, Harden is now on the Nets. 

This was big move for the Nets on the court, here’s how they could look and what would need to happen for them to be the best version of themselves. 

Defense

Brooklyn had a problem with defense before the trade. In fact they have a decent rating but seem to always lose unless they score 120 points. They were relying on scoring to win out, something that was noticeably aggravating to head coach Steve Nash. Adding Harden doesn’t help things. Harden is notorious for being a turnstile perimeter defensive player. He’s practically a non factor. Surprisingly though, Harden is a very decent post defender. Which is fortunate because the Nets lost Jarrett Allen, one of the best rim protectors in the league, in this trade. 

Coach Nash has his work cut out for him. Kyrie Irving, the Nets other guard, is only an average defender when he wants to be. The Nets best player, Kevin Durant, is a great defender but he is still coming off an achilles injury, and a big defensive load could be too much for him to bare. The Nets will have a lot to fix if they don’t want to get into shootouts every night. 

Offensive Chemistry

On the other side of the court the Nets have a few things to figure out. Both Harden and Kyrie are ball dominant guards. Kevin Durant is also a ball dominant player but has proven to be very versatile in the past. Harden and Durant also have a history from when they played together in Oklahoma City, but that was very different. Harden was an off the bench scorer and now he is used to dribbling the leather off the ball as much as he pleases. 

In order for these three to work together they will need to take turns with the playmaking, In addition they will need to learn to move off the ball, especially Harden. When Harden doesn’t have the ball he usually camps out close to half court. That is actually not awful as it turns the half court offense into a four on four. This will give more space for the other two superstars to operate and run two man options. This an already proficient offense, especially with one of the league’s best spot up shooters, Joe Harris, in the wings.

The problem is that this totally eliminates Harden from the action. Harden won’t be able to just pick and choose the plays he’s involved in. If he wants to play isolation basketball that’s fine, but he can’t affect the pace of play for everyone else. The team can operate with or without him but that doesn’t mean they will abruptly change their offense whenever he’s on the floor. James was very accustomed to everyone playing around his style in Houston. In Brooklyn he will need to learn to cut off the ball and even be a catch and shoot guy at least occasionally. 

The Team

Chemistry is always an issue when we’re talking basketball. For Brooklyn its actually already an issue. Kyrie Irving has been noticably absent the last few games, and it’s been reported that he is not happy with head coach Steve Nash. 

At a first glance this has nothing to do with Harden, but it might. This could be the Nets hedging for the future as Kyrie’s unhappiness grows. It could also change Kyrie’s attitude and bring him back to the team with a championship in his sights. It’s unpredictable. Either way this protects the Nets from injury luck as well as if another unhappy superstar requests a trade. Overall it was an expensive move for the Nets but a calculated one. 

Brooklyn was already a favorite to win the East before this trade. While James Harden is undoubtedly a top 5 player it will be interesting to see how the Nets adapt. The East is no longer a slouch of a conference and the playoffs will be quite interesting again this year. 

(Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

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