James Harden will have to adjust his game with the Brooklyn Nets, but there is no need to completely abandon his iso-ball tendencies.
After seven games in Brooklyn, it’s clear that Harden is going to work just fine with Durant and Irving. There is too much talent in that trio to fail. Through those seven games — and especially since Irving’s return — Harden has stepped into his role as the main facilitator in the trio. He’s allowing Durant and Irving to do what they do best — score buckets.
It’s refreshing to see Harden settle in comfortably into his role alongside two superstars, but that doesn’t mean the mega-usage-monster that Harden was in Houston should be gone forever. In fact, the iso-ball version of Harden that led Houston to the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons still has a place on this star-studded roster.
But it’s with the second unit, not the starters.
Harden’s patented one-man show is tailor-made to slice up the bench units of opposing teams. Nets fans have caught glimpses of vintage Harden over the last two weeks, but the starkest example of it came against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
Reggie Perry, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Joe Harris, and Jeff Green flanked The Beard to start the second quarter. With three competent shooters and one big man to set screens, Harden was unleashed. He erupted for 11 points in the first three minutes and a total of 16 in the 10 minutes he spent on the floor that period. It truly was vintage Harden.
James Harden's 11-point eruption in the first three minutes of the second quarter against the Hawks. Vintage Harden pic.twitter.com/0avj5g7rC3
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) January 29, 2021
Essentially, anytime Harden finds himself on the court as the lone superstar, he should feel comfortable taking over. Head coach Steve Nash tends to favor a rotation that puts Harden out there with a bench unit to begin the second quarter.
And the beautiful thing about this whole arrangement is that Harden doesn’t need to do this for 40+ minutes each night. The Nets only have to rely on this style of play for short bursts. When he’s flaming hot with stepback three after stepback three, Durant and Irving can let him cook, but he won’t have to be that guy all the time.
That should help keep Harden fresh for fourth quarters at the microscopic level and for a deep playoff run when looking at the bigger picture. This allows the Nets to take advantage of Harden’s unbelievable, unique offensive skillset without burning him out too early.
As much as the Houston organization refused to admit it, the way the Rockets played wore down Harden over time. Even someone as durable as him could not sustain that workload night in and night out.
Harden’s Big Night vs. OKC
This whole conversation is centered around the trio of Harden-Durant-Irving, but the “Big Three” won’t be on the court together for every game this year. Obviously, once the playoffs arrive, all three will play in every game barring injuries.
But in the meantime, Durant, and to a lesser extent Irving, will miss games for rest and recovery. Harden is a throwback player who rarely sits games out. When it’s Harden+1, he’ll have more freedom to play iso-ball. Brooklyn will need Harden to step up in those games.
If Friday’s drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder is any indication, Harden will be fine in those situations. He notched a triple-double with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Ho-hum.
James Harden is still James Harden and the Nets are dangerous.