The Brooklyn Nets might have already had Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster before James Harden, but Steve Nash has not inexorably tied the fate of this team to Harden given the important roles he has filled on both ends of the court.
Harden, who has taken over the role of both primary ball-handler and the main offensive creator from Irving upon his arrival, has helped the Nets fix two of their biggest issues. A terrific defender and clutch shooter, Harden has Brooklyn as the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Harden has been sidelined for the last few weeks due to a hamstring injury, though, and Brooklyn has hit a rough patch despite some heroic efforts from role players like Landry Shamet. The Beard has proven during his time off that even with all of the juice in that starting lineup, he is what will push this team over the top.
Even without Durant in the lineup, the Nets have been playing well. Kyrie’s absence has hurt, but it hasn’t been destabilizing. In games the Nets have played without Harden, though, they have become a sub-.500 club.
Harden is more than just a complementary piece in Durant’s orbit. He is quickly becoming as important to Brooklyn’s success as Durant.
The Brooklyn Nets need James Harden back. He’s their most important player.
Harden is averaging 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 10.9 assists per game. Those numbers are jaw-dropping, but they also include a game in which he left early after four minutes, failing to record any statistics due to his hamstring problem.
In his brief stint with the Nets, Harden has already recorded 12 triple-doubles, which is second in franchise history behind the great Jason Kidd. Throw in the fact that Harden’s perimeter defense has been one of the main catalysts in Brooklyn’s defensive turnaround, and it’s easy to see where the Nets are lacking without him in the lineup.
Harden’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. While Irving is still playing, Spencer Dinwiddie and Tyler Johnson remain sidelined with injuries, and Chris Chiozza has been ruled out for a good chunk of the remainder of the regular season. With guards dropping like flies, Brooklyn’s impenetrable armor has finally been pierced, and only No.13 can cover the wound.
Harden went from a question mark given his ball-dominant style to someone that Brooklyn can’t function without. Getting all the members of the Big Three rested and ready to go in the postseason should be priority No. 1. If Harden misses some time in the playoffs, the Nets might need to prepare for an early exit.