After months of delaying the inevitable, the Houston Rockets finally moved off of James Harden in a blockbuster trade, sending the former MVP to the Brooklyn Nets.
Harden’s debut came Saturday against the Orlando Magic, where the defending scoring champion put up a monster triple-double (32-12-14), including 4 steals and a block. Superstar teammate Kevin Durant scored 42 on an efficient 16-26 from the floor. Kyrie Irving is still nowhere to be found.
A team like this has never been built in the history of the NBA. Anyone that tells you they KNOW whether this will work or not is lying to you. This the grandest experiment in the history of basketball.
With that said, it will be incredibly fascinating to watch how this Brooklyn offense develops. It will take weeks, if not months, for Harden, Durant, and company to fully work together and learn each other’s tendencies. However, Saturday against Orlando showcased just how hard this offense will be to stop.
For starters, here’s a few plays of Durant and Harden doing what they do: being the top two scorers in the NBA. No matter the opponent, no matter the score, Brooklyn will always have the ability to get a good shot in the halfcourt by just letting these two go to work:
The idea of having to defend Kevin Durant is a headache. The idea of having to defend James Harden is a headache. Having to defend both could give someone Status Migrainosus. Mind you, I haven’t even mentioned Kyrie Irving. We see the impact of Harden and KD’s gravity even without the ball in this play below.
After Durant makes a post entry to Deandre Jordan, he goes to set a screen for James Harden. Cole Anthony sees this and gets caught watching that action. This brief mental lapse allows Joe Harris to cut to the rim, and by the time the rookie Anthony notices, it’s too late and Harris finishes with an and-1 layup:
However, Harris isn’t exactly known as a slasher. He’s one of the league’s top shooters, knocking down 49.4% of his threes so far this season, including almost 55% on catch-and-shoot jumpers. The following play shows how impactful Harris can be alongside Brooklyn’s two superstars.
Harden runs a pick-and-roll with Deandre Jordan. Kevin Durant is in the weakside corner, and we see James Ennis III hesitate in his defense, seeming more focused on Durant than fully committing to help on the roll. Understandable. Cole Anthony, meanwhile, gets caught ball watching for just enough time to allow Joe Harris an open three:
Another example of having to “pick your poison”. Nikola Vucevic is in help defending the James Harden drive. James Ennis III then shifts over to take Vucevic’s man, Deandre Jordan. This leaves Kevin Durant alone in the weakside corner. Harden makes a skip pass, and now the Magic are in scramble drill. Khem Birch closes out on Durant, with Cole Anthony rotating over to be one pass away. This leaves Joe Harris all alone, which is never a good thing for a defense:
Lastly, here’s a clip that I think will be similar to a lot of looks Brooklyn could see in the playoffs. Bruce Brown, as it stands, is one of the few positive defenders on this Nets team, which means he should get minutes at the end of games in crunch time. With that said, he’s only shooting 18% from three this year, and is a career 29.5% shooter from downtown. Cole Anthony knows it.
Usually helping off the “strong-side” corner is a cardinal sin in basketball. However, with Kevin Durant easily blowing by Nikola Vucevic, I’m sure most teams would rather have Bruce Brown shooting a three than a Kevin Durant layup. Cole Anthony agrees, and slides over to prevent KD from driving any further. This leaves Brown wide open, and he hits the shot:
You’re going to have to leave someone open against Brooklyn, but you can’t help off of Harden or Durant, of course. You can’t really help off of Joe Harris either. But then that gives more driving lanes for Durant and Harden with the ball in their hands. So then do you help when they drive? But then their other shooters like Landry Shamet or even Jeff Green (shooting 45.5% from three this year) are wide open.
You can see how tough this Brooklyn offense is to defend. And Kyrie Irving hasn’t even entered the fold yet. While it was only one game, we saw glimpses of how potent Steve Nash’s team can be. Durant and Harden both seemed content playing off the ball as well, and if that’s not just a honeymoon phase, the only thing that can stop Brooklyn is themselves.