While those questions have some legitimacy, you can’t ignore the fact that the Nets now have THREE MVP-caliber players on their roster. Many teams can’t even say they have one.
Yes, all three players love having the ball in their hands and putting up big numbers on a nightly basis, but all three players have also shown a willingness to get all of their teammates involved throughout the course of the season.
For instance, in two games with the Nets thus far, Harden has averaged 71 passes a game, which is good for fifth in the league in that span — and 32.4 percent of those passes have gone to none other than KD, but another 33.8 percent of his overall passes have gone to a combination of Jeff Green (19.7 percent) and Joe Harris (14.1 percent). Green sank all seven of his field-goal attempts and Harris went 6-for-11 from the field off assists from Harden, as they both made four three-pointers apiece.
Once Irving returns to the lineup, it’ll be a pretty safe bet that he’ll eat into a very large portion of the percentage of passes that are going to both Green and Harris, as one of those two will almost certainly be heading to the bench. Irving is also a much bigger threat than either player on offense, but that goes without saying.
Harden knows how to find his guys in the right spots. There’s no question about it. That’s why he’s consistently among the league leaders in assists per game. Having said that, head coach Steve Nash should look to Harden to serve as the primary playmaker for this offense.
“We have two elite scorers that the world knows already,” Harden said. “My job is to come out here, obviously score the basketball when needed, but my playmaking ability, whether it’s getting our shooters shots, getting our bigs finishes around the rim and making the entire team better. I think that’s one aspect of my game that will excel in this offense. As long as I’m making my teammates better, it doesn’t matter about the points. I think everybody knows that I can score the ball at a high clip.”
Harden is absolutely right. After all, he’s averaged as many as 36.1 points per game in a season in his career. However, now that he has two big-time scoring threats on his side, there will absolutely be no need for him to go that crazy scoring the ball every night; especially when he can use his playmaking skills to maximize the potential of his new offense.
Letting the offense run through Harden most of the time can really help open up the Nets offense in so many different ways. Harden will naturally attract defenders because of the threat of him pulling-up at any time, but then having Durant and Irving as options will keep defenders honest, which could then give Harden plenty of options on any given play.
Harden isn’t afraid to drive the ball, as evidenced by his 17.9 drives per game in 10 games this season. He could stick to his usual game plan and try to draw a foul to get to the free-throw line or simply convert the look that’s given to him, or recognize that Irving, Durant, and Harris are in spots where they can do some serious damage.
Opposing defenses have to account for several different possibilities when the ball is in Harden’s hands as it is, but having arguably the league’s best player, a superstar point guard and a lockdown three-point shooter as his primary weapons is going to make the Nets offense that much more dangerous.
Harden passes the ball 43 percent of the time on drives to the rim thus far this season, which indicates that he’s more than willing to give up the ball if he sees a better look.
Irving is a great playmaker as well, but there is something that the Duke product does much better than Harden, and that is his ability to create his own offense without the ball in his hands.
Irving gets 17.7 percent of his overall shot attempts off the catch-and-shoot from three-point land so far this season and converts them 40 percent of the time. Irving is also smart at cutting to the basket and finishing at the rim at a fairly high clip; especially for a guard. Harden will find Irving in his sweet spots if Irving consistently gets there, and the beauty of it is that Irving can get his shots up from anywhere no matter who’s guarding him.
Harden, on the other hand, doesn’t really get his looks off the catch-and-shoot, nor does he have the size or quickness to move around the court to beat off-ball defenders to create open looks without having a basketball in his hands, so it’ll be better to create more on-ball shot attempts for him than off.
That’s not to say that Irving should completely relegate himself to a catch-and-shoot guy. There will still be plenty of possessions for him to create his own offense with the ball in his hands. Especially in cases where Nash decides to give Harden a rest and keep Irving out there.
But in certain cases where Harden and Irving share the floor, it would be prudent to run more sets with the ball starting in Harden’s hands based on the eye test and numbers.
Without the ball in his hands, Uncle Drew could still identify what the defense is giving him and remain effective. When Irving gets the pass, he can either shoot right off the catch or drive and use his dribbling wizardry to squeeze through tight spaces to get that sweet look at or near the rim. He can still treat the court out there as his canvas and create mixtape worthy highlights.
Given Irving’s all-around versatility on the offensive end, sacrificing touches and time with the ball in his hands shouldn’t be as tough of an adjustment for him as widely speculated.
As for Durant, he proved that he can selflessly join a stacked team and elevate them while sacrificing personal accolades. He not only averaged fewer shot attempts and points as a member of the Warriors, but he also took less money on his contracts to keep integral pieces such as Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala in the fold.
Durant has also shown a strong ability to hit the catch-and-shoot jumper and cut to the rim for easy points. The Texas product has such a versatile offensive game and doesn’t always need to have the ball in his hands to put up big numbers. He can catch the ball in his spot and either rise up for the pull-up jumper or put the ball on the deck and either drive to the rim or create space from the defender.
Yes, all three of them have a tendency to take at least three dribbles before attempting a field goal and even more than seven in a given possession. That is something all three guys are going to have to live with at certain times, but having those three guys that can create their own shots in any given situation should be a good problem to have. Harden’s willingness to pass the ball should also mitigate a lot of those concerns and open up looks for the other two guys who can create offense off the ball at a high level.
There will likely be growing pains early on, and everyone will have to sacrifice their games at certain times. But if you ask Irving, he doesn’t seem too perturbed by it at this point in his career.
“As a young player, you think scoring a bunch of points, doing a bunch of things, getting individual accolades is great,” Irving said. “I definitely was going after those things. And now, I really don’t care for any of those individual accolades or goals. I just want a championship with a great team that I can look back on in history and say ‘we did it our way and we had fun doing it.’”
That comment came after the Nets’ dominant win over the Warriors on opening night, which was well before the Harden trade. If that same belief holds up, then the Nets’ new trio should have no problem eventually figuring out their new roles and sacrificing at times to bring home a championship.