The James Harden saga has finally come to an end and the newest super team has been assembled in Brooklyn.
Both Harden and his teammates’ frustration boiled over following a second straight one-sided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. The bearded star walked out of his postgame news conference after telling the media: “I literally have done everything that I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”
The disgruntled eight-time All-Star made no secret of his desire to depart and his postgame comments sparked criticism from teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. It became clear that the team had no choice but to move on from Harden.
On Wednesday, he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a multi-player, multi-team blockbuster sending Jarrett Allen to Cleveland and Caris LeVert to Houston before Victor Oladipo ended up in Houston and LeVert was rerouted to the Indiana Pacers in a separate, but tangentially related move.
Harden averaged 34.3 points last season to win his third straight scoring title for a Houston team that lost in the conference semifinals at Walt Disney World Resort.
But this season, he’s averaged just 24.8 points over his first eight games while trade rumors continued to swirl. Harden finished that second Lakers game with just 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting as the Rockets slumped to 3-6. It was their worst start through nine games since 2011-12, the last time the franchise missed the playoffs.
Though it was a small sample size, it’s safe to say the Wall-Harden pairing did not work out as planned. We’ve noted Harden’s struggles, and the five-time All-Star Wall averaged just 12.7 points on 38.9% shooting over his last three games before sitting out Wednesday’s short-handed win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Additionally, the Rockets posted a minus-0.9 net rating when Wall was on the court without Harden and a minus-1.8 net rating when Harden was on the floor without Wall. When they were both on the court, that number plummeted to minus-10.0.
|Season||Lineup||Off Team Rating||Def Team Rating||Net Rating|
|2020-21||Harden & Wall||107.5||117.5||-10.0|
|2020-21||Harden without Wall||125.3||127.1||-1.8|
|2020-21||Wall without Harden||107.9||108.8||-0.9|
“I don’t think it’s been the best it could be, to be honest,” Wall said. “That’s all I really could say.”
The mega trade creates a new super team in Brooklyn, as Harden is reunited with former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and paired with Kyrie Irving in the backcourt. And the question now becomes how first-year coach Steve Nash and assistant Mike D’Antoni, who coached Harden in Houston, can get the most out of the three ball-dominant stars when Irving returns from his personal absence.
Looking at the highest usage percentages – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor – since 2014-15 to get an idea of how the Nets could make it work with the trio, and Harden (second, 35.3%), Durant (eighth, 29.6%) and Irving (ninth, 29.4%) all rank in the top 10.
Even though they’ve had Durant and Irving, the 31-year-old Harden gives the Nets a scorer like they’ve never had before in the history of their franchise. Harden boasts three seasons in which he’s averaged more than 30.0 points, while Durant has two. The Nets? 0. John Williamson’s high of 29.5 points per game in 1977-78 (in just 33 games) is the closest.
Harden’s also won three straight scoring titles, while Durant has won four total and the Nets have never had a player finish first in the league in scoring.
Even though it was nine years ago, we can look at the lineup data from Harden’s time with Russell Westbrook and Durant on the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2009-12 to get a better idea of how a teaming with Irving and Durant might look.
Oklahoma City Thunder, 2009-10 to 2011-12
|Lineup||Off Team Rating||Def Team Rating||Net|
|Durant, Harden & Westbrook||120.8||112.6||8.2|
|Durant & Harden, no Westbrook||118.5||106.3||12.2|
|Durant & Westbrook, no Harden||112||108.3||3.6|
From the 2009-10 season to 2011-12, the Thunder had a plus-8.2 net rating with Durant, Harden and Westbrook on the court together and a plus-12.2 with Durant and Harden on the floor and Westbrook on the bench. However, that number dropped to plus-3.6 when Durant and Westbrook played without Harden on the court.
The Nets won’t control any of their own first-round picks through 2027 because of the price paid to assemble the league’s newest fearsome Big 3, but they could come to regret parting ways with Allen in the deal. The promising young center is averaging a double-double with 11.2 points and 10.4 rebounds and has been outplaying Deandre Jordan all season.
After moving into the starting lineup in place of Jordan on Jan. 5, Allen averaged 13.4 points on 71.4% shooting and 10.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals in five games. Jordan has averaged just 4.5 points and 6.9 boards in 12 games.
Now the Nets could be forced to move Jordan into a larger role with Allen gone with 6-foot-8 Jeff Green possibly backing him up in the middle. If the lineup data is any indication, that certainly doesn’t seem to be a good thing.
While it hasn’t been a huge sample size, the Brooklyn lineups featuring Allen over DJ have been more effective.
|Season(s)||Lineup||Off Team Rating||Def Team Rating||Net Rating|
|2019-20||Irving with Allen||122.2||115||7.3|
|2019-20||Irving with Jordan||117.1||115.1||1.9|
|2020-21||KD with Allen||126.4||109.4||17|
|2020-21||KD with Jordan||122.4||107||15.5|
|2020-21||KD, Irving & Allen||129.7||98.9||30.8|
|2020-21||KD, Irving & Jordan||117||105.5||11.5|
Considering the players and draft picks spent, the Nets are no doubt taking a big gamble by investing in the Irving-Harden-Durant trio. The last time they mortgaged the future in such a fashion (the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Jason Terry trade in 2013) it didn’t work out so well.
Whether this bold blockbuster results in a dynasty or a disaster remains to be seen.
Lineup data modeling provided by Matt Scott.
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