Game 1 of the Brooklyn Nets’ series against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks could not have started off worse, as James Harden left the game after just one possession with yet another hamstring injury. With players like Mike James and Landry Shamet now eating up big minutes, no one would blame the Nets if they folded and conceded to Milwaukee.
James and Blake Griffin were determined to make sure that didn’t happen, as Griffin put up a double-double while James recorded 12 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in 30 minutes following the injury. Not bad for a mid-season pickup.
While we are awaiting news on Harden’s injury and the severity of it, it’s almost assured that he will take Game 2 of the series off. This means that James and the rest of Brooklyn’s new-look rotation will have to hold down the fort until Harden gets cleared to return, which isn’t ideal for the Nets and their fans.
Luckily, James has proved that the moment isn’t too big for him, and he should be able to eat up a ton of minutes as a backup point guard. If Nash starts either Bruce Brown or Landry Shamet at the 2-guard spot, James could go to work on the second unit.
The Brooklyn Nets must lean on Mike James without James Harden.
The 30-year-old James figured to simply be a depth signing when the Nets plucked him from the European ranks, but Steve Nash has seen enough from him to give him some extra playing time. His shooting percentages aren’t great, but he has averaged 7.7 points and 4.2 assists per game in 18.2 minutes per contest, and those numbers are nothing to sneeze at.
James doesn’t play like a 6-1 guard, as his ability to snag rebounds and finish inside served the Nets well in the regular season, and the only way to keep the rotations somewhat intact will be letting James run point with the second unit, a responsibility Harden often undertakes early in the second quarter.
Doing so will allow Kyrie Irving to continue rocking out by himself on the offensive end. In a series that could come down to whichever defense makes the most stops, getting Brown more minutes with the starters could be an invaluable asset.
One of the most underrated aspects of Harden’s game is his perimeter defense, as his robust 6-5 frame will often be matched up against the opposing team’s best player. While the Nets would be foolish to require that from James, he has shown that he can be enough of a nuisance on defense to make Brooklyn confident in his ability to hold up on that end.
Shamet will get increased playing time, but he’s not an ideal ball-handler. Tyler Johnson could be of use, but do you really trust Tyler Johnson against Jrue Holiday over the course of a seven-game series? Riding the momentum from James could help Brooklyn get some clarity in their rotations.
James can put the ball in the basket, but he’s not going to score anywhere close to Harden’s level, so the Nets need to give Griffin, Joe Harris, and Jeff Green, if and when he returns, a greater share of the workload on offense.
If the Nets can avoid forcing James to take on a huge chunk of the offensive responsibility, thereby letting Irving and Kevin Durant continue to dominate while adding some stability on defense.
The Nets won’t topple Giannis based on this move by itself, but the Nets could be able to at least batten down the hatches and help accomplish this task without Harden if they continue to trust in James.