Latest NBA Leads

Nets Big 3 Will Have to Learn How to Play Together on the Fly in the Playoffs

Liam McKeone
Apr 7, 2021, 4:39 PM EDT
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden | Sarah Stier/Getty Images
facebooktwitter

It was only three short months ago that the Brooklyn Nets traded every draft pick they possibly could, along with Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, to assemble arguably the most offensively talented Big 3 of all-time. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are all capable of averaging 30 points per game individually and require double-teams when they're feeling it. Now they're on the same team, and it's difficult to imagine any defensive scheme capable of stopping them.

You wouldn't know any of that if you watched the last few months of Nets games, though. That's because the trio has only played seven games together to this point. Irving was on sabbatical for still-unknown reasons when the Harden trade went down and the former Houston Rockets superstar played his first game in black and white on January 16. Starting January 20, the team had two weeks where all were more or less available (Durant didn't dress for two games due to injury management and Harden was inactive for one in that stretch). Then Durant hurt his hamstring and missed every game from February 15 on.

Brooklyn was, of course, being cautious with the best of their three superstars by keeping him out this long. Hamstrings are finicky injuries and there's no reason to rush him back, especially in his first year post-Achilles tear. Durant is finally set to return to the court tonight, April 7 -- right after Harden hurt his own hamstring on April 5. Harden is set to miss at least 10 days and the team stressed they were going to be cautious. Assuming his hamstring injury isn't as severe as Durant's was, Harden will miss at least five games and could very well miss the next eight if he stays out a full two weeks.

That would put a Harden return on April 20. The Nets only have 14 games left in the season. The track record to this point of all three being healthy hasn't been great. Durant will likely continue to sit out the second night of back-to-backs (Brooklyn has two in the last month's worth of games) and Irving has already missed eight games this season outside of his unexplained absence around the Harden trade.

All in all, it is probable and perhaps even likely the Nets' Big 3 enters the playoffs with less than 20 games played together. That is less than ideal. The three are so overwhelmingly talented that it won't be a big issue, and Harden at least has shown a willingness to adjust his game in order to cater to his new teammates. His assist numbers are and will remain ridiculous.

That will work for the first round and the Nets will roll over whatever poor seven or eight-seed is in their way. But they're inevitably going to play the Bucks or Sixers at some point. Both boast MVP candidates and superstar teammates that will have played together for at least twice as many games as the Nets' trio by the time the Easter Conference Finals roll around. That's when continuity and chemistry will matter. Three of the greatest shot-makers to play the game will take the court together. But a turnover at the wrong time because they aren't familiar enough with one another could sink them.

This might be the only legitimate hole in the Nets' championship hopes. There's the defensive problems that will not go away, of course. But Brooklyn is so good offensively that it might not matter. Familiarity with one another on the court, though-- that will matter. If Brooklyn can't stay healthy during those final 14 games of the year leading into the playoffs, it very well could become an insurmountable issue.

facebooktwitter