One of the biggest questions facing the Brooklyn Nets when they acquired James Harden via trade earlier this season involved ball distribution. With three ball-dominant scorers in Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who would have the ball in their hands to initiate offense? Well, it seems as though the Nets have figured out an answer to that question. During a practice session earlier this week, Harden and Irving had a conversation to iron out their roles, and it was decided Harden would serve as the team’s de facto point guard, while Irving would play off the ball in a shooting guard-type role.
“We established that maybe four days ago now,” Irving said after Brooklyn bested the Golden State Warriors 134-117 on Saturday night, via ESPN. “I just looked at him, and I said, ‘You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard.’ That was as simple as that. It’s not a mystical conversation that we had.
“He’s been taking control of the responsibilities and doing an incredible job,” Irving added of Harden. “It just makes my job easier to just go out and play free and just make plays.”
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The decision was a wise one since Harden has more experience when it comes to making plays for others. Even though he’s known as one of the league’s elite scorers, Harden is also an excellent assist man. He led the league in assists per game as a member of the Houston Rockets during the 2016-17 season, and he’s leading the league again so far this season with 11.2 dimes per performance. In fact, his open acceptance of a facilitator role with the Nets has propelled Brooklyn’s offense to historic levels early in the season.
Harden may be a three-time scoring champion, but in Brooklyn he’s allowed his scoring to take a back seat for the overall good of the team. With the Nets, Harden is averaging 23.0 points per game — a sizeable dip from his past three seasons in Houston when he averaged 34.3, 36.1, and 30.4 points per performance. The 14.6 field-goal attempts per game he’s averaging with the Nets is his lowest output since his final season in Oklahoma City in 2011-12.
“I just want to come in and get a feel for what’s going on,” Harden said after a Nets victory over the Heat in late January. “Obviously, I could be more aggressive offensively, but we have more than enough scorers and guys that can put the ball in the basket. Just got to pick and choose my spots, which I feel like I’m doing OK. But facilitating, getting guys shots, getting our bigs finishing at the rim, and just trying to be solid defensively is what I’m trying to do.”
Harden said something similar on Saturday night, too.
“I came to this team knowing that they have two special scorers on this team,” Harden said after the win over the Warriors. “Obviously, I score when I need to, but as long as I’m getting everybody involved and Ky is getting the shots that he wants, K.D. is getting the shots that he wants, it’s pretty efficient. Offensively is not the problem for us; we can score in bunches. It’s defensively. It seems like we’re getting a rhythm as of late. We just got to keep it up.”
The Nets appear to have things figured out on the offensive end, but like Harden said, they need to do the same defensively, as their team defense has been pretty porous during the current campaign. On the season, they have the 25th-ranked defense in the NBA, and that just isn’t good enough for a team with legitimate championship aspirations. Just like they had a conversation to iron out things offensively, perhaps the same approach will work for them when it comes to the other side of the floor.