The Brooklyn Nets have been without their leading scorer once, and that was on Nov. 19. Kevin Durant sat out against Orlando due to a right shoulder sprain, a minor injury that he had been playing though. What better time to rest up and let James Harden take over against the worst team in the Eastern Conference?
As expected, Harden led the Nets with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in a 115-113 win over the Magic. He scored 39 points against New Orleans on Nov. 12, so while the outing wasn’t the most points that he’s scored this year, it was Harden’s best all-around game.
That’s a good thing, right? Yes, but it’s also a cause for concern at the same time. Why? Because Harden did so well without Durant on the floor. And, uh, Brooklyn isn’t going to go too far without KD. Hence why the Nets only won by two over one of the worst teams in the league.
Durant was back in the starting lineup the following game against Cleveland. Brooklyn won 117-112, and were to no surprise led by KD’s 27 points. Harden finished with 14 points and a season-high 14 assists. The Nets do need someone to facilitate the offense in Kyrie Irving’s absence, but it’s a bit concerning that Harden’s scoring drastically dropped back down with Durant’s reemergence.
Should the Brooklyn Nets be concerned about James Harden’s play with KD?
It makes sense that Harden stepped up against Orlando with Durant out. After all, he’s the team’s second-highest scorer. But Harden’s been off to a rough start this season, and while he attributes that to spending the offseason rehabbing his hamstring injury, could it be because of something more?
Without KD, Harden went 7-of-25 from the field and 3-of-13 from the 3-point line. He made 19-of-20 free throw attempts, the most points that he’s had at the charity stripe this year. We know that Harden’s the most successful the more that he makes it to the foul line, which is another reason why his game hasn’t been the same.
How does that change whenever KD’s playing? Well, for starters, the offense runs through Durant. That was blatantly clear in Brooklyn’s 113-107 loss to Phoenix on Saturday. Harden shot 4-of-15 from the field, including 0-of-6 from the 3-point line, for 12 points. He’s clearly unable to find a rhythm when he’s not the focal point.
Meanwhile, Durant got 28 shots up and went 9-for-11 the foul line for 39 points. Can you spot the difference? Harden’s 12 points, although it was part of a triple-double, was a season-low for him. When you add in his seven turnovers, it becomes even more worrisome. He’s nearly canceling himself out.
Harden’s used to being the primary focus on offense, and while it’s a big change to share the court with a player of Durant’s caliber, he needs to find a way to be a consistent scorer for Brooklyn. The two have only played in 30 games together since reuniting, and it’s still early in the year, so there’s time for Harden to get into a groove at KD’s side.
With Irving out, the Nets need Harden to mirror the player that he was in Houston. Or else it’s unclear how this is going to work.