James Harden has been the star in Nets’ new trio deferring and shooting less as team starts to jell


With just about four minutes left in the Brooklyn Nets‘ 128-124 win over the Miami Heat on Saturday night, James Harden used a screen from Jeff Green and weaved his way into the lane, where he suddenly found himself all alone. But instead of rising up for an easy mid-range jumper, Harden hesitated, then whipped a bounce pass between Kevin Durant’s legs and out of bounds for a turnover. 

It didn’t end up being a pivotal play, but it did highlight an interesting trend developing in the last three games. Since Kyrie Irving’s return to the lineup, and the official start of the Harden-Irving-Durant era, Harden has been much less aggressive than usual in terms of looking to score the ball. 

Against the Heat, he finished with 12 points — just the fifth time he’s scored fewer than 15 points in the last five seasons — on 2 of 8 from the field. And in these past three games, Harden is averaging 17.3 points, and has only taken a combined 36 shots. Just for the sake of comparison, there were three different games last season with the Rockets where he took more than 36 shots. 

Someone was going to have to sacrifice when this trio came together, and Harden appears to be the one taking the back seat to start. That’s not all that surprising given that Harden is the new guy and by far the best playmaker of the bunch. For all the jokes about his one-on-one play throughout his career, Harden really is a brilliant passer, and he’s using that ability to get his teammates open looks. 

He dished out 11 assists in the win over the Heat, and has had double-digit assists in every game since arriving in Brooklyn. Here is splitting two defenders with a perfectly placed bounce pass to get Jeff Green an open shot.

And he seems to be building chemistry with DeAndre Jordan in the pick-and-roll. 

But for as nice as some of those looks were, the Nets didn’t bring Harden in to be a pass-first point guard, and you would think at some point he’s going to look to score more often — especially when he’s leading lineups without either of the other two stars. 

It’s still super early in this process, so you don’t want to draw any grand conclusions right now, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on. Is it just a little blip as Harden tries to get a feel for his new situation? Or will he continue deferring to Durant and Irving throughout the season?





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