The Brooklyn Nets’ acquisition of superstar guard James Harden from the Houston Rockets in a multi-team trade had some fans already writing the team in as the title favorites, but a closer look at the team’s defense, roster and chemistry reveals the Nets could be a gigantic bust.
Already equipped with two perennial All-Stars, forward Kevin Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving, the Nets gave up three picks, three draft swaps and three players of their own for Harden. With a combined two MVPs and 24 All-Star selections between them, Durant, Harden and Irving are the NBA’s most potent “Big Three” since the Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
This blockbuster trade has clearly paid dividends for the Nets, as they have generated an offensive rating of 121.0 (an NBA all-time record). Additionally, their “Big Three” has combined for an average of 80.9 points per game since Harden’s arrival, en route to a current standing of third in the Eastern Conference.
Not many are doubting the team’s offensive efficiency, and the purpose of this column is not to do that either. The Nets are a certifiable three-headed scoring monster, capable of knocking down shots from anywhere on the court and cooking shell-shocked opposing defenders in isolation matchups.
But on the other side of the ball, the Nets are, simply put, terrible. Since Harden’s arrival to the Barclays Center, the Nets are on pace to have the worst defensive rating in NBA history.
The phrase “defense wins championships” may be trite, but it is true. Each of the past five NBA champions ranked in the top 11 in the League in defensive rating, and three of the past five — the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers, 2019 Toronto Raptors and 2017 Golden State Warriors — ranked in the top five.
With their trifecta of tremendous talent, the Nets will have no problem putting points on the board. But it won’t matter if they bleed even more scores on the other end, which they have, including giving up 122 points to the Pistons, 147 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers and 149 points to the Washington Wizards — teams whose records rank in the bottom six in the entire league.
Come playoff time, the Nets’ defensive unit, which only includes one viable center — 32-year-old DeAndre Jordan, who is averaging a career low in defensive win shares — will be frighteningly outsized and outmatched, especially by the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, two of the East’s top challengers.
Even in the unlikely circumstance that the Nets do advance to the finals, their defense will be gobbled up and spit back out by LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Lakers — the bookmakers’ favorite to win the West.
Besides their defensive deficiencies, the Nets lack the depth necessary to make a deep postseason run. Outside of the Brooklyn triumvirate, DeAndre Jordan is the only Nets player with a player efficiency rating — a metric used to evaluate overall statistical production — above league average, and he only plays about 20 minutes per game. Plus, besides the trio and three-point marksman Joe Harris, no Nets player averages more than 9.2 points per game.
Some may think that the Nets’ lack of an adequate secondary unit won’t matter, because the team will always have, arguably, one of the league’s top 15 players on the court at any given time. However, in a season amid a pandemic, having just one — or two — stars on the court may not be enough, as was evident when the Nets lost three straight games after Durant was forced to isolate because of possible exposure to COVID-19.
If another star is sidelined because of quarantine protocols later in the regular season — or in the playoffs especially — rookie Head Coach Steve Nash will be scrambling to find any offensive production from his bench.
When it comes to team chemistry, Brooklyn leaves everything to be desired. Great NBA teams are founded upon mutual trust among players. With the Nets, one star’s aspirations can only be achieved by impeding upon those of another.
In 2017, Irving left the Cavaliers to step out of LeBron James’ shadow. Two years later, Durant left the Warriors to join the Nets for a similar reason; while the Warriors would always be Stephen Curry’s team, Durant envisioned the Nets as his team.
Harden, the latest addition to the Brooklyn three, forced his way out of Houston in unceremonious fashion in the hopes of competing for a championship.
Harden owns the second-highest usage rate ever, at 40.47%, and Durant and Irving have never averaged lower than 27.8% usage in a season. Their conflicting ambitions to each be the go-to guy, coupled with their ball-dominant styles of play, make this Nets team a dormant volcano of sizzling personalities.
If Harden, Irving or Durant are reluctant to share the ball with each other in crunch time, it’s only a matter of time before Mount Brooklyn erupts.
Christian Baldari is a sophomore in the College. Bringing the Heat appears online every other week.