In current years, when it got here to the NBA, I held agency to those two articles of religion:
1. I cherished watching professional basketball.
2. I hated watching James Harden play professional basketball.
He was a devastating offensive power with the Rockets, no query. His ballhandling, his means to create area in a heartbeat on that step-back 3, his means to attract fouls — the man was absurdly good, and but so maddening on the similar time. For these of us who way back recognized ball motion because the core great thing about the sport, and who fell arduous for the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird-Jason Kidd strategy to the quick break, man, it was arduous to savor the sight of Harden in half-court isolation, dribbling his teammates to dying.
I might give myself pep talks earlier than Rockets video games, attempting to get to a spot to understand this generational nice. It by no means labored. And when the Nets traded for him, yeah, I ignored the very fact Harden led the league in assists in 2016-17 and anticipated the bearded surprise to interact Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in nightly Greco-Roman wrestling matches for possession of the ball.
Instead, Harden has emerged in Brooklyn as a mannequin teammate, and ultra-willing passer, and — two gulps — somebody who is enjoyable to look at play basketball.
This transition and transformation began in February when, out of left discipline, in typical Irving style, the purpose guard introduced on a Zoom name with reporters that he had lately given himself a brand new job whereas handing away his previous job.
“You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard,” Irving had advised Harden.
Irving didn’t care that giving Harden possession of the ball could be tantamount to naming a fox as president and CEO of the native hen home. Irving noticed one thing in observe that advised him this might be the Nets’ finest Big 3 wager, and the remaining is potential historical past. The Nets open up their second-series with the Bucks on Saturday evening because the favorites to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, after which to win the entire thing.
Harden’s team-first dedication is a major purpose why.
“He’s a willing passer, he’s looking to pass, he’s looking to get guys shots,” Durant mentioned of Harden after the Nets eradicated the Celtics in Round 1. “His energy. He comes into the gym every day, and it’s just his excitement to play basketball. Somebody that loves to play so much that their energy is infectious. You can tell everybody was drawn to James since the day he got here.”
To date, this three-man partnership has gone extra easily than most anticipated. Harden, Durant and Irving are among the many NBA’s prime 15 all-time in profession utilization charge, throughout 30 %. Harden arrived as one in every of solely two gamers in league historical past to complete a season (2018-19) at 40 % or larger. And but his utilization charge for his 36 regular-season video games for the Nets was 28.4 %, his lowest quantity since 2013-14. His utilization charge within the Celtics collection of 25.7 % was decrease than his charge in any of his eight postseason runs in Houston.
Harden has been simply as keen to throw a no-look move on the break to Landry Shamet as he is to throw one to Durant. He has been just as willing to set up a Joe Harris explosion as he is to arrange an Irving explosion.
“His level of communication with guys, it’s almost like having another set of coach’s eyes on the court, the way that he sees the game and has a pulse on how everybody is playing,” Harris mentioned. “And he knows that especially for somebody like me, maybe if I hadn’t gotten a look or an easy offensive touch in a little bit, he’ll come down and talk about where he wants you to be, what kind of action he might want you to run in order for you to get a good look. But he does that with everybody.”
That’s why Harden’s help averages with the Nets — 10.9 within the common season, and a career-best (by so much) 10.6 within the playoffs — fly off the stat sheet and make his absence within the two losses to Milwaukee a trigger for nice optimism in Brooklyn.
“You guys see how big of a role he plays in our offense,” Blake Griffin advised reporters, “even if he’s not scoring the basketball. The way he facilitates the game, not just passing the basketball, but the way he sees a game and gets everybody in their positions is huge for us.”
Griffin known as Harden “one of the best playmakers and facilitators in the world.”
Harden himself had mentioned of his arrival: “I just came here to make an impact on the game, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s rebounding, whether it’s my ability to pass the basketball, whatever the case may be. … I just try to play basketball the right way, each possession.”
He has walked that talk, and walked that tweet from May 27, when he posted images of himself with teammates (non-Big 3 division) underneath the phrases “the big 15!”
Out of nowhere, James Harden hasn’t simply grow to be the bearded face of crew basketball. For these of us who couldn’t stand his Iso-Man act in Houston, he has grow to be a pleasure to look at.