The new era of Brooklyn Nets basketball didn’t begin in full on Saturday, as Kyrie Irving didn’t play. But James Harden’s first game with his new club was a success on both a personal and team level. He finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists to become the first player in league history to have a 30-point triple-double in a team debut, and the Nets beat the Orlando Magic, 122-115.
It might not have been a perfect performance, especially on the defensive end, but it was confirmation that the Nets are going to be able to score whenever and however they want. One area in particular that’s worth touching on is the 3-point arc. The Nets are already a strong 3-point shooting team, and Harden is only going to make them better.
They went 16 of 35 from downtown in the win over the Magic, and are now third in the league in 3-point percentage, knocking down 39.8 percent of their attempts. Joe Harris and Kevin Durant are each in the top 13 among 3-point shooters, and they have six rotation players shooting at least 35 percent — a group that doesn’t even include Harden, who is off to a cold start this season.
As those stats indicate, and the video from Saturday’s game shows, they just have so many ways to beat you from outside now that Harden is in the mix.
Harden drawing attention
Again, Irving didn’t play in this game, but it seems like Harden is going to be the de facto point guard for this team. And jokes aside, he’s an incredible passer, and the attention he draws from the defense is going to make life incredibly easy for the Nets’ spot-up shooters.
Just a few minutes into the game, he ran a simple pick-and-roll with DeAndre Jordan, and at one point all five Magic players were staring at him with the ball.
All five defenders locked in on Harden
With everyone’s attention turned toward Harden, he easily picks out Harris, who buries the clean look.
A few minutes later we see another example. This time, he drives out of an iso situation and kicks it out to Durant, who swings it to Harris for another easy catch-and-shoot 3.
Later on in the fourth quarter it’s the same story. Harden drives, draws multiple defenders and whips a pass out to Durant, who obliges and drains the 3.
Just think about that: James Harden playing drive-and-kick with Kevin Durant. What a ridiculous statement.
Durant is such an accomplished scorer that you don’t really think of him as a catch-and-shoot guy, but he’s making 52.6 percent of such attempts this season. The same is true of Irving, who is a solid 40 percent on catch-and-shoot looks. And it’s no surprise that Harris — 54 percent — is among the league leaders in that category.
We all know how dynamic the Rockets were when they put the ball in Harden’s hands and spaced out around him, and the truth is they actually didn’t have that many great individual shooters. It was much more of a volume approach. In fact, over the last five seasons, only four Rockets shot at least 40 percent on 3-pointers.
So just imagine what Harden is going to be able to do when he’s passing to truly elite shooters such as Harris, Durant and Irving. It was no wonder that he said after the game, “When you play with really, really good players it’s pretty easy.”
The Nets aren’t just a catch-and-shoot team, however. They’re such a problem in terms of outside shooting because they can beat you in other ways, including off-the-dribble attempts. Everyone is familiar with Harden’s infamous step-back 3, but Durant and Irving can beat you off the bounce as well.
Obviously shot attempts might vary once they’re all on the court together, but as it stands all three of them average at least three pull-up 3s per game. No other team has as many players who can create and make their own looks from distance. It’s a luxury that will serve them, especially in the playoffs
Harden had a bit of a rough night from 3-point territory in his Nets debut, going 3 of 10. That continued a trend of cold shooting to start the season, but it’s hard to put too much stock into his Rockets numbers considering everything that was going on down there. Still, even if he didn’t have his best shooting game, we still saw glimpses of that patented move.
The regularity with which he takes that shot moving forward will be interesting. It’s a pretty good look for him, but with all of the extra weapons around him now, it’s not as necessary as it was with the Rockets. You can bet he’ll still put a good number of them up, however, in large part because it keeps the defense honest and makes it easier for him to drive.
Then there’s Durant, who is so long and tall that he can shoot over anyone at any time. Good luck if he gets in rhythm.
When you have top-notch facilitators and elite 3-point threats all over the court, it’s an electric combination, as the Nets proved against the Magic. Harden told reporters after the trade, “this year is going to be a show, it’s going to be a movie, stay tuned.” He’s already being proven right, and Irving isn’t even out there with them yet.