Even with only 36 games from James Harden last season, the Brooklyn Nets moved from 15th in the NBA in free throws made per game to fifth. Harden shot 85.6% and averaged 7.3 attempts per game after moving to Brooklyn last Jan. 13. Along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Harden forms a frighteningly good Big Three for the Nets.
That trio has combined for two MVP awards, 19 All-NBA selections, and 27 All-Star appearances. Yeah, they’re pretty good. Even though they managed to play together just eight times last season, they were plus-7.2 points per 100 possessions in 202 minutes. In the playoffs, the trio was a ridiculous plus-22.1 per 100 possessions in 130 minutes. That 135.4 points per 100 is scary, as well.
In Harden, the Nets may have a hidden advantage that comes to the forefront early and often in 2021–22.
James Harden is already predicting danger for the rest of the NBA
When asked about this season, James Harden is calling for big things from the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets were the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference last season despite Irving missing 18 games, Harden out for 23, and Durant sidelined for 37. The prospect of a healthy Big Three must be a concern for the rest of the East.
After all, Brooklyn pushed the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks to overtime of Game 7 in the conference semifinals without Irving for the final three games of the service and with Harden hobbled for those three contests after missing Games 2–4 with a hamstring injury.
A healthy Harden will mean a great deal to Brooklyn, and he acknowledged that. He told a Houston TV station in August what the rest of the NBA is facing.
“Healthy James Harden … it’s scary, scary hours.”James Harden on … James Harden
Harden averaged 24.6 points per game in 36.6 minutes per game after the trade as his shot attempts (understandably) dropped from 22.3 per game in his last full season with the Houston Rockets to 16.6 in Brooklyn.
The Nets have an enormous built-in advantage with Harden, Irving, and Durant, as all three are outstanding free-throw shooters. The Beard, at 85.8% for his career, is the worst shooter of the trio; Kyrie hits 88.1%, and KD checks in at 88.3%. Foul them at your own peril. And Harden has an added advantage he brings to the table.
No team has drawn as many fouls on 3-point tries as Harden has during his career
James Harden came into the NBA in 2009 as the fourth overall pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder. In his 12 seasons, opponents fouled him 521 times while attempting 3-point shots. Because he spent most of that time with the Rockets, they were the No. 1 team in that category over that span.
But the next highest team on the list, the Los Angeles Lakers, drew 439 fouls on 3s from 2009–21. That’s 82 fewer than Harden. The Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers were the only other teams with 400 such calls.
And from a team strategy standpoint, the only thing better than a guy shooting nearly 86% getting two free throws is that player attempting three of them.
Since 2009, no player in the NBA is within 1,400 free throw attempts of Harden’s total of 7,659. Second on the list is his former teammate in Oklahoma City and Houston, Russell Westbrook, with 6,211. LeBron James is the only other player with more than 6,000 foul shots (6,193).
There is a potential fly in the ointment for the Brooklyn Nets, however.
New rules emphasis may lessen James Harden’s impact on the Brooklyn Nets offense
The NBA is cracking down on players ruled to make ‘non-basketball’ moves
Officials are learning to identify what the NBA’s competition committee called “non-basketball moves.”
Among those moves are such tactics as:
- Players throwing themselves into defenders to draw contact.
- Ball-handlers changing directions or stopping designed to get into a defender’s path.
- Shooters kicking their legs out at odd angles; a furthering of the so-called “Reggie Miller rule” enacted in 2012.
- Dribblers hooking defenders with their off-ball arm, a James Harden trademark.
Marginal instances of such contact will be no-calls. But offensive players found to create contact egregiously will be subject to foul calls. Harden (or Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young) might foul out in three minutes if they don’t change their ways.
That’s not a likely scenario. James Harden built a reputation as an elite — if often infuriating — offensive force. If the referees call the game differently, a player with Harden’s very particular set of skills will adapt. The Brooklyn Nets might lose a few opportunities at the line, but they’re still going to be very hard to stop.