A couple of weeks ago, Zach Lowe started off his podcast segment with Adrian Wojnarowski by saying, “Let’s talk about the Nets,” then paused and said something along the lines of “because everything in the NBA now is about the Nets.”
And that level of interest isn’t subsiding. After the last three games, a weird mix of games against the Thunder, Wizards and of course the Clippers, things have picked up. Pundits on line and on TV are marveling at the Nets offense and wondering if their defensive hardships will kill their chances for a championship, which is after all the goal.
Just Friday, ESPN+ had two stories on Brooklyn, Kevin Pelton’s “How the Brooklyn Nets are handling their good problems” and Zach Lowe’s “Ten NBA things I like and don’t like, including this Brooklyn Nets experience” while over on The Athletic, it was Sam Amick’s “Durant, Harden and Kyrie: What NBA scouts tell us about the fit so far.”
The bottom line on each is that worries about James Harden’s arrival in Brooklyn was not, not at all, a problem. His willingness to sacrifice has given everyone second thoughts about the four-team trade that less than a month ago saw the Nets mortgage their future to create a “Big Three.”
As one would expect from Pelton — and Lowe, their stories are analytics-heavy and full of discussions of the fit among the “Big Three” with Harden getting ample — and justified praise. Pelton notes near the end of his piece, this from sources inside the team.
Sources in Brooklyn say Harden’s desire both to defer and distribute has been a pleasant development. They perceive that he was legitimately stung by the suggestions he was a selfish teammate. Conditioning is another factor, with Harden still working himself into shape.
Above all else, Harden is resourceful. His eagerness to provide the team some organization offensively — and provide his teammates some opportunities he could probably justify keeping for himself — demonstrates that he knows that balance is the path of least resistance to a championship.
Lowe at one point seems to abandon the numbers and just go with the eye test, which indeed offers pleasant vistas.
And yet: Zoomed-out statistics do not win playoff series. It might not matter if the Harden/Irving/Durant trio produces the same offensive efficiency over thousands of minutes as the Irving/Durant/depth construction might have. In lusting after Harden, Brooklyn chased something that might never show up in aggregate statistics: the ability to create a good shot on the most important possessions, against the best defenses — to be drought-proof, so potent in so many places it becomes untenable for opponents to play offense-only players against you. A third star is also insurance against injury to one of the first two.
Amick, more the reporter than analyst, made a lot of phone calls to executives and scouts across the NBA landscape to see what their sense of the Nets possibilities are, noting their offensive success, defensive failings and the education of their rookie coach.
Amick came away mostly with surprising assessments of where Brooklyn’s at ... and quotes more than one insider as saying don’t be surprised if J.J. Redick and/or Andre Drummond are sporting Jean-Michel Basquiat before season’s end. Here’s probably his most encompassing quote. from a Western Conference scout.
They scare me. You go watch a lot of the teams that they’re going to be playing against, with the Bucks, the Celtics, the Sixers, they all have guys who can get a bucket for you. But can they get more than what’s going to happen on the other end (with Durant, Harden and Irving)? I don’t think so. I think they’re pretty damn good.
Scary indeed. Take a read of all three.