The Brooklyn Nets are the preseason favorites to win the 2022 NBA championship. Kevin Durant is perhaps the most lethal offensive player in league history. James Harden proved he can be unstoppable in one-on-one situations when he carried the Houston Rockets. Kyrie Irving is an enigma, to be sure, but his offensive skill level is unquestionable when he’s on the court.
The Nets’ Big Three has been together for less than a season, and injuries hampered the group for most of that anyway. But the flashes of a title contender were there.
However, if Brooklyn does win the 2022 championship, it won’t be because of its prolific offense.
Brooklyn is favored to win because of its offense
It goes without saying that Durant, Harden, and Irving run the show in Brooklyn. Their offensive capabilities are unmatched in the current NBA. Each can score in any number of ways from any spot on the floor in any situation.
When the Nets acquired Harden at the beginning of last season, the biggest question mark was whether there was enough ball to go around with a group of such talented isolation scorers. The trio played limited minutes together because of injuries, but it appeared sharing the ball was not an issue.
The team’s three superstars — as well as head coach Steve Nash — have incredibly high basketball IQs. That allows them to adjust on the fly.
The Nets were second in the league in points during the 2020-21 regular season. They were first in field-goal percentage, second in 3-point percentage, and seventh in plus-minus.
Offensively, Brooklyn is relentless when healthy. The old adage is that defense wins championships; perhaps that’s not as true as it once was, but good enough defense can win championships.
The Nets proved last year they can flip the switch and play defense when it matters
Irving and Harden are not known for their defensive acumen. Durant’s skills on that end of the floor are often overlooked because of how good an offensive player he is. Regardless, the Nets were not great defensively during the regular season.
Brooklyn was 22nd in defensive rating, was tied for the most second-chance points allowed, and was 21st in total points allowed last year. But the team flipped the switch, so to say, when the postseason started.
In last year’s playoffs — per 100 possessions — the Nets were fourth in points allowed, second in opponent 3-point percentage, and fourth in turnovers forced, and they led the 20 postseason teams in opponent field-goal percentage. Brooklyn showed it can turn up the defense when it needs to.
Durant is (somehow) quietly one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA. Harden can bump with bigger post players on switches. Irving can gamble at times when jumping passing lanes, but it’s goodnight if he picks someone’s pocket.
The Nets don’t need to be the best defense in the league. They don’t even have to be average during the regular season. They just need to be good enough come playoff time, and they proved that’s possible last year.
Barring injury, Brooklyn is headed for an NBA title
The Nets obviously have talent. Health may be the team’s biggest issue — that’s what caused its early postseason exit. Still, Durant almost beat the eventual champion Bucks on his own, and Brooklyn is deeper this year.
When that core was together in the opening round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn averaged 123.4 points per game and put up 128.0 points per 100 possessions. The Big Three played 130 minutes together against Boston and scored 136.9 points per 100 possessions.
Offensively, the Nets are near-impossible to stop, and they proved they can flip the switch defensively when it’s needed. As long as Durant, Harden, and Irving are on the floor, Brooklyn is the front-runner for this year’s title.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com