The NBA’s newest Big 3 had both fans and sports analysts convinced the Nets’ offense would be historic.
No defense would be able to stop the juggernaut formed by three all-time great offensive talents.
Kevin Durant x James Harden x Kyrie Irving tonight:
– Durant: 32 PTS – 5 REB – 50 FG%
– Harden: 31 PTS – 15 AST – 45 FG%
– Kyrie: 26 PTS – 7 AST – 64 FG%
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 28, 2021
Double any one of them, and you risk leaving another wide open.
However, there were legitimate concerns with the defense.
Yes, the offense would be able to score against even the stingiest of NBA defenses.
But would the Nets be able to prevent other teams from scoring with them?
On top of that, they had to sacrifice their best role-player in Caris Levert.
All told, the Nets walked away from the trade with arguably the most talented Big 3 in NBA history.
But they also came away with a flimsy defense and depleted bench.
Stars tend to win in the NBA, but they cannot do so alone.
All great teams need to have players who know their role and do it well.
And with the Nets having a nearly identical record with James Harden than without him (8-6 vs 7-6), it is fair to ask if Brooklyn was overrated following the trade.
Nets Have Historically Great Offense
The immediate reaction to the Harden trade was that Brooklyn’s offense would be unstoppable.
Harden, Durant, and Irving are three of the greatest individual offensive talents of all-time.
NBA's iso scoring leaders: Harden twice (lol), Kyrie Irving and Durant pic.twitter.com/h8M3KAzWVH
— Seerat Sohi (@seeratsohi) February 4, 2021
On top of that, all three are above-average shooters from beyond the arc; a key part of today’s game.
And then on top of that, they were able to retain the services of sharp-shooter Joe Harris.
Harden, KD, and Kyrie would be the world-class engine driving the offense, but Harris’s elite shooting ability would ensure it drove smoothly.
Entering this year, Harris was a career 43% 3PT shooter on 4.4 attempts-per-game.
He was rewarded with a 4-year, $75-million contract in the offseason, and has provided immediate returns on that investment to the tune of 49% 3PT shooting on nearly 7 attempts-per-game.
Harris’s shooting creates a 4th gravitational-pull on opposing defenses.
If they help off Harris to slow down one of the big 3, Harris will almost certainly drain an open 3.
So far, the offense has been firing on all cylinders.
The Nets are second in the league in scoring at 120.4 PPG and 4th in offensive rating at 117.
They have also picked up wins over the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Clippers – scoring more than 124 points in 3 of those 4 wins.
All three members of the Big 3 average more than 23 PPG while Harden leads the league with 11.0 APG.
Harden has clearly adjusted to his new role, which was a huge question after the trade, and the Nets are proving they can outscore anybody.
James Harden openly accepting facilitator role with Nets has propelled Brooklyn's offense to a historic start
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) February 5, 2021
All three are also shooting greater than 36% from 3 on at least 6 attempts-per-game, and Durant and Irving are both clearing 40%.
If the Nets are clicking on offense, opposing defenses can only hope to slow them down.
Potential Weaknesses Proving to be Real Problems
As mentioned at the start, flimsy defense and a weak bench were noted as potential problems for the Nets after the Harden trade.
And the first 14 games with Harden have done nothing to quell those fears.
Brooklyn allows the 3rd most PPG (117.5) and has the 4th worst defensive rating (114.2).
This factors in the Nets’ league-worst defensive rating since acquiring Harden – 118.1.
The Brooklyn Nets' defense has gotten progressively worse this season, as evidenced by one key stat. https://t.co/5CUmEjt8Tn
— NESN (@NESN) February 10, 2021
James isn’t as bad on defense as his reputation would imply, but he is still a below-average defender.
And while a fully engaged Durant provides solid defense, he very rarely chooses to commit on the less glamorous end.
DeAndre Jordan is the staunchest defender in the starting 5, but he is now 5 years removed from his last All-Defensive selection and has lost the bounce and athleticism that made him a menacing rim protector.
The Nets signed Norvel Pelle to hopefully protect the paint as he is a known shot blocker.
But he has also only played 27 career games and commits 3 personal fouls per game while only averaging 9.3 minutes of action.
The bench has also contributed very little.
Outside of the starting 5 of Irving, Harden, Harris, Durant, and Jordan, the next highest scorer is Jeff Green at 9.1 PPG.
Very rarely can a team make a deep playoff push off the strength of the starting lineup alone.
Teams need at least 2 or 3 solid players to come off the bench and play valuable minutes.
The Nets aren't done making trades, says GM Sean Marks.
"We've got to do our due diligence, look around the league, look at who's available and so forth. The roster is not complete. We are going to have to tinker… We'll continue to try and add pieces." https://t.co/oepl6b0CN1
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) January 14, 2021
Green, TLC, and Brown are not going to get it done.
The Big 3 will be enough to get them into the playoffs, but the Nets will need a stronger bench come playoff time.
Are the Nets Overrated?
It’s hard not to consider Brooklyn overrated with all things considered.
Yes, the offense has a chance to be historically great.
Yes, Irving and Durant both bring NBA Finals experience.
But the defense is truly bad, and the bench is a glaring weakness.
The saying “defense wins championships” may sound trite and overused, but there is a reason for that.
Over the past 5 years, the team to win the NBA title hasn’t finished worse than 11th in defensive rating.
And that was the ’17-’18 Golden State Warriors – one of the greatest dynasties of all time.
- Lakers – 3rd
- Raptors – 5th
- Warriors – 11th
- Warriors – 2nd
- Cavaliers – 10th
As things currently stand, it is hard to think of the Nets as a true title contender.
The 27th ranked defense in terms of Defensive Rating on top of a paper-thin bench won’t cut it in May and June.
For a team who currently sits with the 2nd best odds at winning the title at most sportsbooks, they must be considered overrated.