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James Harden’s leadership on the court has played out as well as his performance

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

James Harden has only played 26 games for the Brooklyn Nets and his impact is being felt across all avenues, from Flatbush and Atlantic to the farthest reaches of Coney Island and DUMBO. Outside of his MVP caliber play, which has seen him shatter multiple franchise records along the way, Harden’s leadership has had its fingerprints all over Brooklyn’s success.

“He’s been great. He’s been a great leader,” said Steve Nash on Monday. “His motives are pure and he wants the team to win. He’s always trying to improve the group offensively and defensively. He has no problem calling things out and discussing them. He does it in a way that can be demanding but that the same time, he brings guys back in and isn’t one of those guys that turn his back on someone for making a mistake. He is going to demand more but then he is going to encourage and build that bond with them.”

Bottom line?

“He’s been incredible. I knew the player on the court but I didn’t know the player as a personality or a leader. I couldn’t be more impressed with the impact he has had on our team in that respect.”

The Nets have won 13 of their last 14 games and are riding a five-game winning streak. During Brooklyn’s dominant span, Harden has brought the best out of his teammates. Prior to Monday’s win against the New York Knicks, the Nets ranked first in the league in points per game (121.5), field goal percentage (51 percent), three-point field goal percentage (41 percent), effective field goal percentage (60 percent) and third in assists per game (27.3) - all boosts prior to joining Brooklyn.

While Harden is bringing out the best of his teammates, he has held his teammates accountable on several occasions during games, in timeouts, and even after the final buzzer sounds. And nowhere have we seen that accountability more than in the relationship between Harden and his center, DeAndre Jordan.

Following Brooklyn’s hard-fought revenge win over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, Harden not only finished with his ninth triple-double as a Net but as the final buzzer sounded, the Nets point guard took no time to go over a previous defensive play with DeAndre Jordan. The 31-year-old superstar held Jordan accountable for a switching mistake, which left Mason Plumlee open for a lightly-contested layup with 15.8 seconds remaining.

While Michael Grady was waiting to talk with him, Harden had other priorities.

Although Jordan was not asked about the teaching moment, the veteran big spoke about Harden’s ability to learn a new team's personnel in little time. Jordan explained how Harden, along with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, make the game easier for the role players - if they are in the right spots.

“You expect that from James Harden. We got two-three guys that are playing MVP basketball on our team right now and all of those guys have high basketball IQs. It’s easy for them to be able to adjust,” said DJ.

“When James came in, we knew it was going to be a slight adjustment period but it’s not like he’s a young player, who doesn’t understand concepts of the game, angles, scenarios, and situations. He understands that. Same with Kai and same with Kevin. Those guys make it so much easier for all of us other role players on the floor and if we are in the right spots and doing our job, we’ll be successful.”

Like all other teams across the league, the Nets do not have the luxury of practice time to learn schemes and different scenarios behind the scenes. Jordan spoke about how he and Harden have “great conversations” on the hardwood, noting how the Nets 31-year-old superstar does a great job getting his teammates to their spots to make the right plays.

During Monday’s win against the Knicks, Harden and Jordan had an animated discussion on the Nets bench in the third quarter with the Nets up 11 points with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.

“James is such a good passer and we have great conversations on the floor,” said Jordan on Monday. “A lot of the time, we are using the games to feel each other out. We can watch film but we don’t really have a lot of practice time to drill it into those different scenarios. We kind of learn on the fly and also we got to take what the defense gives us at times too but he does such a great job at getting guys where they are supposed to be and making the right basketball play.”

When asked if and how his relationship with Harden has changed and grown over the last month, Jordan explained how it has got a lot better over time as the two continue to get familiar with each other on the court. Indeed, at some points, it’s been more confrontational ... or at least it appeared that way in a good way, like a month ago when the Nets lost to the lowly Pistons and Harden wanted more from his center.

Jordan said that all those conversations have led to better performances all around ... and a better relationship between the two.

“It’s definitely got a lot better. Throughout the season, it’s got a lot better. Just playing with different guys throughout my career and on this team, different guys have different tendencies. Just being able to be in the right spot for myself and for him for us all to be successful. It was going to take some time,” Jordan said on his growing relationship with Harden. “We knew it was going to take time but once we got it down, we were going to be fine.”

“James is doing so much for our team. Scoring when we need him to score, playmaking, rebounding the basketball, being in the right spot defensively, and taking charge at that point guard spot for us,” Jordan added. “Whenever Kai is out, he’s a little more aggressive and when Kai is in, he is more of a playmaker. For us being able to have him do multiple things and be multiple threats out there, it’s great.”

Leadership has more aspects than just accountability of course. It’s about sheer performance.

Harden has recorded 10 triple-doubles (all included 20+ points) in 26 games. He’s leading the NBA in assists per game (11.2) and minutes per game (37.9) to go along with 25.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest. In addition, the 31-year-old has 26 double-doubles on the season, which ranks fourth in the NBA. He has tallied 20+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists in 12 straight games - which is not only a franchise record and career-best but, it’s also the longest streak in the league in that category.

While Harden’s game-by-game stats pop, he’s also on track to set new career-highs in effective field goal percentage, three-point shooting, assists per game, rebounds per game, and offensive rating.

Granted, Harden’s leadership has been in the spotlight since joining Brooklyn but he doesn’t think anything has changed in that aspect. He believes he is simply just getting the credit now.

“The same. It’s just, I get credit now. Previously, I wasn’t getting credit,” Harden said after the Nets victory against the Houston Rockets with a smile. “Same leadership. I’ve been the same person. Haven’t changed, not one bit.”