Grading the Brooklyn Nets heading into the All-Star Break

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 1: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 1: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

After a concerning start to the 2020-21 season, the Brooklyn Nets have announced themselves as legitimate championship contenders, losing just once over their final 11 games of the first half schedule to jump up to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets are currently just a half-game behind the 76ers for the top seed, and you better believe their top objective in the second half of the campaign will be to leapfrog them and achieve home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

While the rest of the conference’s top teams (like Milwaukee, Miami, Toronto and Boston) are starting to round into form after similarly sluggish starts to the season, fans in Brooklyn have zero reason to think that the Nets shouldn’t be considered the favorites to come out of the East.

That’s seriously impressive when you consider how many distractions the Nets have dealt with thus far. From Kyrie Irving’s self-approved sabbatical, to the James Harden blockbuster, and Kevin Durant’s mysterious hamstring injury, there’s been no shortage of diversions.

So it would be extremely harsh to give the Nets anything less than an A grade heading into the All-Star Break. With that out of the way, let’s now delve into a player-by-player breakdown to see who graded the highest for their first half performance.

James Harden: A+

There was an outpouring of concerns when the Nets decided to trade for Harden, but considering the sheer uncertainty regarding Irving’s rest-of-season outlook (the deal came to fruition while he was randomly away from the team), you really can’t blame GM Sean Marks for pulling the trigger.

During a stretch in which both Irving and Durant have missed time due to injury, Harden has been the one constant among the superstar trio and has amazingly forced his way into the MVP conversation, averaging 25.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 11.4 assists while shooting 49.7% from the floor and 42.2% from beyond the arc.

It’s scary to think where Brooklyn would be in the standings without Harden, but thats a hypothetical nobody has to worry about. If Durant’s hamstring continues to linger, there’s no reason to think Harden couldn’t become an MVP favorite in the second half.

Kevin Durant: A

It might seem draconian not to give Durant an A+ given how he picked up right where he left off before his Achilles injury, but we we simply cannot ignore the fact that he’s only appeared in 19 of a possible 37 games thus far due to injury and COVID-19 protocols.

Before his season went off the rails, however, Durant was clearly on a mission to prove that he should be in the discussion for the best player in the world. In those 19 games, he was posting 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists to go with .524/.434/.869 shooting splits.

Durant was probably one of the leading MVP candidates for a long stretch in the first half of the season and we would’ve undoubtedly given him the highest grade possible had he not been forced to self-isolate and subsequently suffer a hamstring injury.

Kyrie Irving: A-

By now, the narrative surrounding Irving is well-documented — you tolerate his outlandish press conferences and sporadic leaves of absences because of what he’s capable of doing on the basketball court.

However, it would be irresponsible on our part to give him anything higher than an A given that he abandoned his team, all the while not contacting head coach Steve Nash or any of his teammates, for a two-week stretch to violate health protocols by attending a couple of family gatherings.

While we still don’t know whether Irving is fully invested, his 27.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game while falling just short of a 50/40/90 shooting split cannot be understated and was enough for him to earn an A-.

Joe Harris: A

Nothing more needs to be said about Harris other than the fact that he’s currently leading the league in 3-point percentage (50.6%). With each game that passes, the former second-round pick is proving he fully deserves of the four-year, $72 million extension he signed in the offseason.

Bruce Brown, DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Claxton: B+

Enough cannot be said about the impact Brown has had on the Nets. Whether he’s thrust in as a starter or the first man off the bench, the offseason trade acquisition has been everything Brooklyn could’ve asked for and then some.

Jordan, meanwhile, often found himself in the crosshairs of fans for his vulnerability on defense and the offensive glass, but he quietly turned the corner over the last 10 games, averaging 8.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.

Nets fans were hyping up Claxton from the start of the offseason, but just recently reentered the fold following a prolonged recovery from right knee tendinopathy. Though the Nets still need to add depth in the frontcourt, the 21-year-old will play a huge role for the remainder of the year.

That about wraps it up, folks. We have exactly seven days until Nets basketball returns, so feel free to indulge yourselves in a week’s worth of highlight clips from the first half of the season. After all, that’s probably the only way to cope with going this long without a game to watch.