Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Nets newcomer James Harden are all used to leading their teams, scoring points and setting records. How are they going to share, to step back from being heads of hierarchies to playing good soldiers?
“Chemistry. Sacrifice,” Harden said Friday. “We’re all elite, so depending on the game and what’s going on throughout the course of the game, that’s going to determine who gets the ball and who makes the plays.
“We’re all unselfish, we’re all willing passers and we play basketball the right way.”
Harden is questionable to debut Saturday versus the Magic at Barclays Center. He and coach Steve Nash kept using the word “sacrifice” Friday, as general manager Sean Marks had the day before. Harden knows he can’t play the same way he has in the past and expect to lift the ultimate prize.
“We have two elite scorers that the world knows already,” Harden said. “My job is to come out and, obviously, score the ball when needed, but my playmaking ability — as far as getting our shooters shots and our bigs finishes around the rim and making the entire team better — that’s one aspect of my game that will excel in this offense.
“As long as I’m making my teammates better, it doesn’t matter about the points. Everybody knows I can score the ball at a high clip, and that’s where the sacrifice comes in at.”
Harden won the last three scoring titles playing in Houston, taking isolation basketball to extremes never before seen. The Nets are clearly going to be iso-heavy with this Big 3, but Harden is going to have to dribble less and pass more.
“Yeah, it’s going to be an adjustment for him,” Nash said. “He’s played the same role for many years now, the same way, the same style. So, he’ll be able to emulate that in some ways, but in other ways he’s going to have to adapt to playing with other guys, namely Kevin and Ky.”
Why would anybody think Harden will change his game?
Harden’s isolations have dropped from 14.1 possessions to just six, and his assist ratio (30 per 100 possessions) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.44) are career-highs.
But most telling was rejecting a two-year, $100 million extension to leave Houston for Brooklyn. After chasing the money earlier in his career, now Harden says he’s chasing his first ring.
“[When I was] younger, giving myself a chance but wanting to get paid and wanting to take care of my family was very, very important to me,” Harden said. “Now at this stage of my career, it’s giving myself a chance to do something that I haven’t accomplished yet in this league. That’s very important to me now and that’s the situation that I’m in, and that’s why I’m here in Brooklyn.”
Harden isn’t the only one who will have to adapt.
Over the past 10 seasons, Irving’s 42.5 usage rate in clutch time was tops in the NBA. Durant and Harden were tied for third at 39.7.
“They’re not going to be having the same volume they’re used to,” Nash said. “But they’re all excited by the opportunity to play with other great players.”
Durant is a two-time Finals MVP, while Irving hit the most iconic Finals Game 7 winner of the last decade. If Harden wants his own ring, he’ll have to make other changes. Over the years, his defense has been questioned, and this season he came into camp out of shape.
When asked how his conditioning was, Harden replied, “Great!” with a half-smile, half-smirk. But he said external doubt can’t motivate him any more than he is.
“I’m as motivated as they come. I don’t pay attention to the defense and the conditioning [talk] because everyone is starting the same as far as training camp, so it doesn’t matter to me,” Harden said. “I don’t really pay attention to it. I know I’m one of the best basketball players we have in this league. My job is to go out and focus on what we’re supposed to be doing every single night.”