This summer, Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden expressed unmitigated confidence about his ability within the scope of a team he hailed as the most unstoppable group in the NBA. But doubt and confusion began to seep into The Beard’s mind.
Harden said over the weekend it proved difficult to decipher when to score and when to facilitate, which prompted criticism from Charles Barkley. However, another Hall of Famer had another message for Harden: Remember who you are. The Beard responded with one of his best games of the season.
Reggie Miller reminded James Harden that knowing when to score or pass has never been an issue for him
Reggie Miller is a ruthless competitor who knows how to motivate. He sought to give James Harden some added fire before the Nets took on the New York Knicks on Sunday night in Brooklyn.
Miller approached Harden before the tip and, as he revealed on the broadcast, reminded The Beard he is a former league MVP. The former Indiana Pacers great also essentially told the Nets star to cut the excuses, saying the issue of when to score or distribute the basketball never even existed.
Harden later admitted after the game (h/t New York Post) that he needed that kind of reinforcement.
“But yeah, it was just ultimate confidence, the best-player-in-the-league type of mindset. That was motivation before the game, something I needed.”–James Harden on his pregame discussion with Reggie Miller
Miller’s point held plenty of validity.
Harden won three consecutive scoring titles as a member of the Rockets, but he also led the NBA in assists during the 2016-17 campaign. The Beard averaged 29.6 points 7.7 dimes in eight-plus seasons for a Houston team that typically ranked among the best in the Western Conference.
Moreover, Harden easily toed the line between scorer and playmaker when he first joined the Nets last season. He averaged 24.6 points and 10.9 assists in 36 games during the regular season. He also oozed confidence before the season began.
The 32-year-old knows how to play a balanced game and make the right basketball play. Apparently, he just needed to hear it from another legendary guard with a killer instinct.
Harden scored 28 points in the first half against the Knicks before settling into a playmaker role in the second half
As Harden stated after Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, Reggie Miller “got me going” following their pregame interaction. The Beard sure came out aggressive.
Harden scored 15 points in the first quarter. The narrative surrounding his shrinking free-throw attempts remains prevalent, but he shot six free throws in the first period. He also went 4-of-5 from the field, including a perfect 2-of-2 from beyond the arc.
The Beard stayed on the offensive in the second quarter. He scored 13 more points, finishing the first half with 28 on 9-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line and a 3-of-5 mark from beyond the arc.
Having caught the Knicks’ attention, Harden altered the game plan in the second half. He scored just six points and did not get to the charity stripe, but also racked up six assists. The Beard understood when to defer to Kevin Durant, who scored 21 points in the final two quarters.
According to Basketball Reference, Harden’s 31.0 Game Score is his second-best of the season. But given he put on such a display against a crosstown rival on national television, this performance took on added performance, especially considering his recent struggles.
With plenty of uncertainty still surrounding Kyrie Irving’s playing status and Durant logging heavy minutes, the Nets need this version of Harden on a more regular basis.
The Beard could be the swing man in determining the Nets’ title hopes
The Nets might go as far as James Harden takes them. That statement might sound absurd given he plays on the same team as Kevin Durant, but context is necessary.
Yes, KD is playing at an MVP level. He is averaging an NBA-best 28.6 points to go with 7.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists. But Durant alone cannot carry the Nets.
Remember, KD had a historically-great series against the Milwaukee Bucks in last year’s playoffs. But it wasn’t enough to get Brooklyn to the Eastern Conference Finals, as the absence of Irving and a banged-up Harden ultimately doomed the Nets.
Given the Nets do not know when or if Kyrie will return, Harden’s ability to play at a superstar level figures to be a significant determinant in Brooklyn’s NBA title hopes. His dynamism as a shot-creator and playmaker who makes things easier on his teammates is vital for a team that now lacks even more depth following Joe Harris’ injury.
Can Harden maintain the confidence instilled in him by Reggie Miller? Doing so could better inform the Nets’ status as championship contenders and possibly solidify his preseason promise to re-sign with Brooklyn this upcoming summer.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.