James Harden arrives at the Nets: can he adapt to another system than his?

There comes a time when you have to be honest with yourself and ask yourself, ‘What do I have to do to get to the next level?’ A lot of guys say they are going to make these adjustments, but it’s a tough process because you have to sacrifice yourself. “Between the 2007 season in Seattle and the following one in Boston, the points average of Ray Allen, new teammate of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, fell by nine units. A sense of sacrifice and an adaptation to a new system which him have made it possible to glean a title. Allen did not yet know that his distant counterpart would find himself in a similar situation when he had these very right words but at the same time very incomplete. James Harden is not him, he is besides unique and that’s what makes it so complex.

Is Harden ready to join a new group of guys and trust them to wear him as much as he thinks he can wear them?Allen wondered in an interview with Sports Illustrated. Sometimes in life you have to let go of things. I think he can, able to play further off the ball. “It is on this very precise point that most of the debates crystallize, and there are many, around the player that is James Harden. An unbearable soloist unable to make the slightest concession for some, brilliant attacker having his place in the NBA Hall of Fame for others. He has a golden opportunity to make the firsts lie alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the Nets. Is he capable, technically and mentally?

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A historical glutton for four years

Let’s start with the obvious: Harden hasn’t always been the huge glutton of recent seasons. In fact, two ruptures can be highlighted in his career. The first of course, his transfer from Oklahoma City, where he was sixth man alongside a superstar Kevin Durant, to Houston in 2012, the second in 2017. The Rockets’ main ball carrier before that year, Harden became one. alpha and omega. Its usage rate (the percentage of possessions that end with a shot, successful or not, or an assist from a player) goes above 35 and even crosses 40% in 2018/2019. An exceptional figure in the history of the NBA.

James Harden (Houston Rockets) during defeat to Portland Trail Blazers (2020)

Credit: Getty Images

Another evocative statistic, the evolution of the number of baskets of James Harden following an assist. Clearly, its evolution towards more individual play. When more than 60% of his three-point baskets came from an assist until 2016, they are down to 22% of them since. We can always say that Russell Westbrook is not the ideal leader alongside James Harden, Chris Paul had the profile. This did not prevent the Bearded from doing as he pleases. If Houston went far (in Game 7 of the 2017 Conference Finals), it wasn’t because Paul and Harden had a two-man score. Rather because their two talents have each carried the team.

The whole question for the Nets is there and already the first opinions are emerging: how can a Durant-Irving-Harden trio share the ball? Who will have it most often? All have arguments. Kevin Durant can score from anywhere, above anyone. Kyrie Irving handles the ball like no other and shows formidable efficiency in the great evenings. James Harden? He is perhaps the most complete of the three in attack. At the same time a creator for himself (most often) and for others (the rest of the time). Between the two ? Nothing then. And it is this puzzle that Steve Nash will have to solve.

The examples Anthony Davis and … Kevin Durant

In the NBA, analysts sometimes speak of the “scalability” or “portability” of a player. It is difficult to find satisfactory translations but overall, these two terms evoke the ability of a player (a star most often) to evolve in several systems. James Harden, for nine years, has been playing in one system. To put it simply, his. And many observers believe it might not be as good in another. Precisely because he excels in his own and he shows few qualities without the ball in hand now.

Putting him alongside another star would have the double perverse effect of reducing his performance and that of his new partner. Conversely, the integration of Anthony Davis was made most easily in the world at the Lakers last season. The inside statistics have remained much the same (26 points, 12 rebounds at the Pelicans in 2018 against 26 points and 9 rebounds at the Lakers in 2019). That was also true for Kevin Durant at the Warriors. His rate of use has remained more or less the same but his number of baskets on assist has greatly increased (from 64 to 80% on his three-point shots) for three points of overall percentages in the shoot.

The Harden 2020/2021 is different

James Harden is indisputably one of the five best players in the world, undoubtedly the top 3 offensive (with Kevin Durant in particular) but integrating him into his team is not easy. He could do whatever he wanted in Houston, the franchise rested on his shoulders until last season, and she’s given him tremendous liberties, perhaps too much, for years. Will he be able to play the same way at the Nets? Irving and especially Durant will not accept to see him totally absent from the possessions of which he is not the initiator.

A reason for hope for Brooklyn, Harden’s 2020/2021 vintage seems different from the previous ones. Criticized for his ridiculous state of form, the Bearded Man responded with 44 points and 17 assists against Portland. But beyond the boxes, he let the game come to him a little more. Its usage rate has fallen (29.5%) and its number of assisted baskets is up slightly. What to twist the necks to the truths about his case? He looked delighted with the work of new manager, Stephen Silas, until the game against the Lakers. Nonchalant to the point of absurdity, Harden affirmed his initial desires. And won the case. It remains for him to prove that he can succeed elsewhere. This is the biggest challenge of a career that is bound to be at a turning point.

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