The Brooklyn Nets are 2-3 to start the season and look clunky and out of sync on offense. After mustering only 93 points in Wednesday’s loss to the Miami Heat, the team’s superstar Kevin Durant addressed the elephant in the room.
“Yeah, we do miss Kyrie,” Durant said. “We do, he’s a part of our team.”
After being asked about the difference between the teams offense last season as compared this season, Kevin Durant jokingly says "Yeah, we do miss Kyrie"
He adds "It's just a matter of us knocking them down, I think it'll come" pic.twitter.com/UhLFbBSlCG
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) October 28, 2021
Irving is currently not with the team due to his refusal to comply with the New York City COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Durant is right, generally speaking.
Of course the Nets miss a 27 points per game scorer who was 50-40-90 last season, with an eFG% of 56 and a TS% of 61. He was also third team All-NBA. Any team would miss that type of production.
The Nets’ roster is constructed with players who fit around their three force multipliers of Durant, Irving, and James Harden. Even with one of those three sidelined, the offense is still supposed to shine, as it did all of last season with those three barely sharing the floor because of injuries.
Last year’s squad scored a blistering, league-leading, and historic 117.3 points per 100 possessions. According to NBA.com, through five games with Durant and Harden on the floor, the Nets are only scoring 93 points per 100 possessions.
That is horrendous.
How does a team with two of the most prolific and gifted scorers the game has ever seen only muster 93 points per 100 possessions?
Because Harden is not playing up to his MVP level.
The former MVP suffered three grade 2 hamstring injuries last season, which sidelined him for the end of the regular season and most of the Nets’ Eastern Conference Semifinals playoff series against the Bucks.
Is James Harden's hamstring injury from the playoffs last season affecting his drives to the rim?
Steve Nash: "100 percent. That's the part that's out of his hands…he's played very little basketball [for the last 6-8 months]" pic.twitter.com/4SixeqW3Yn
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) October 25, 2021
Harden talked about what his offseason was like after suffering the first major injury of his career.
“I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer,” Harden said. “Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season. So this is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else. And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, [have to] take your time.”
Some have posited that Harden’s slow start is due in large part to the rule changes.
Referees are no longer rewarding non-basketball moves designed to induce fouls. Harden has long lived at the free throw line, averaging well over 10 free throw attempts per game for the majority of his career.
Long seen as the poster child for “cheating the game” with his foul drawing tactics, the rule change is really overstated in Harden’s case. Yes, he’s drawing less fouls, but no more than any other high-volume scorer.
with few exceptions, most of the high volume guys have seen a drop in the percentage of their shots that result in a shooting foul pic.twitter.com/wYAPpjgvLj
— Owen Phillips (@owenlhjphillips) October 28, 2021
The reality is Harden’s confidence is shaken from suffering a major injury and he lacks the explosiveness and confidence to do what he does best: Absolutely cook the defender in front of him with his array of ball handling and the best deceleration in the league.
“Just getting more confident, being aggressive,” Harden said after shooting 4-for-12. “And it’s getting better every single game. As much as I want to get back to just, you know, [scoring] 30’s and 40 points, I can’t do that [right now]. As much as I want to, obviously I would love to.”
The Nets are going to have to figure some things out until Harden is back to himself.
Durant has been putting up his usual MVP-like numbers, but he can’t be a one-man band. Teams will load up on him like the Miami Heat did on Wednesday night and force the Nets’ other players to do more than they are comfortable doing.
For the Nets to achieve their ultimate goal, they’ll need to solve their James Harden problem.