Everyone expected the Brooklyn Nets to flourish immediately after the James Harden trade. How could a team with three of the top fifteen players in the league struggle? In truth, it’s a lot harder to win games than it seems for the Nets. There are three main culprits for this struggle: lack of defense, lack of chemistry, and mediocre coaching.
The idea of a superteam is one that has been in the NBA since the late 2000’s with the Boston Celtics’ Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, and later the Miami Heat’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Today, it seems like superteams are a staple in today’s league, with at least one superteam being in the league every season. The definition of a superteam is a team with three or more Hall of Fame caliber players in their prime, and all of these teams fit the mold. With being a superteam, dominance is expected, and anything short of a victory in the Finals is met with harsh criticism. However, there are a lot of supporting factors which affect the dominance of these teams.
The first is that while these players are stars on the offensive end, they often are average or below-average on the defensive end. There are some exceptions to this, such as the Golden State Warriors’ super team having arguably three elite defenders in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, along with role players who were solid defenders such as Andre Iguodala. However, many of these teams fell short of the mark on the defensive end, and the Nets have been a large example of this.
Coming back from his injury, Durant has been reliable defensively but nowhere near as good as his Golden State days. The other two stars, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are known around the league as below-average defenders Harden has improved his defense slightly in recent years, but it is still a weak point of his game. Irving, meanwhile, has consistently gotten beaten on defense, and often has to resort to guarding players who aren’t involved in the opponent’s offense on.
Big man is another weak point for the Nets, as with trading away young stud Jarrett Allen. 32-year-old DeAndre Jordan is the team’s starting center, and his age has shown in his play, as he usually gets dominated by the opposing team’s center. Off the bench, the Nets only decent defender is Bruce Brown, but even his solid perimeter defense is dragged down due to the sluggishness of the Nets other role players on the defensive end. Joe Harris is below average, as are Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Reggie Perry, and Landry Shamet. A quick solution could be to investigate free agency and the buyout market, where the Nets have been rumored to be interested in JaVale McGee and Andre Drummond potentially, or explore a trade for an under-utilized player, such as Torrey Craig from the Bucks.
Another key component to the underwhelming start for the Nets’ Big 3 is the lack of chemistry. This affects all new teams when they first start playing, as they have to get adjusted to playing with each other and get used to each other’s play-styles. It’s been clear through the Nets first few games as a superteam that the players are not used to playing with each other yet. There’s been a lot of iso-ball and not a lot of successful plays executed. This is apparent with Harden who takes less shots than usual and is more of the playmaker for the Nets. The team has looked amazing with two of the superstars in at the same time, but some adjustments need to be made to see the team succeed with all three in, and this falls on the coaching, which leads into the third issue with the Nets.
Steve Nash was the surprise hire of the offseason, and a hire as shocking as this one always leads to speculation and drama. Durant and Irving immediately backed their coach, showing overwhelming support. The overall plans became more clear when it was announced former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni would be brought in as an assistant coach. The Nets would be running the 7 seconds or less offense, which D’Antoni ran in Phoenix with Nash. The scheme emphasizes quick pacing and spacing over defense, and the Nets have clearly used it so far. In the 4 games where the three superstars have played together, the Nets have surrendered over 120 points three times. Throughout these games, it has often appeared that Nash struggles with in-game adjustments as it appears he is relying too heavily on his three superstars. Nash continues to give a large role to Landry Shamet, who’s been a terrible shooter this season, shooting 32% from the field and 29% from three.
While the Nets seem to struggle, they are second in the Eastern Conference. The Nets showed signs of improved basketball, holding the Heat to only 85 points and having only seven turnovers. However, it’s obvious that some adjustments need to be made, and there’s plenty of season left for the Nets to improve on these weaknesses.
Photo: Sarah Stier