When the Brooklyn Nets decided to trade for James Harden, it seemed weird to bring on another ball-dominate guard alongside Kyrie Irving. The questions of how this backcourt might function have been answered quickly. The combination of the two has worked amazingly, with each of them bring out the best in each other.
Harden has brought out the best in Irving by being the primary ball-handler and running the offense. This allows Irving to lean into playing the shooting guard role, helping him become this efficient offensive juggernaut exploiting miss-matches and playing with opposing defenses like a cat with a mouse. Similarly, this allows Harden to run the offense, elevating his own game to new heights.
Harden has averaged over 30 points in the last three seasons, winning him three consecutive scoring titles, and in the two seasons before that, he averaged over 29 points. He did all of this, scoring extremely efficiently, having a true shooting percentage over 60% in each of those seasons.
However, when it came to the playoffs, all of these stats would drop. Harden averaged less than 30 points in all five of those season’s playoff runs, and only in the 2019-2020 playoffs was his true shooting percentage over 60%. What seemed to wear Harden down was taking over 19 shots a game, even taking 24.5 shots a game in the 2018-2019 season, along with playing more than 35 minutes a game for those five seasons.
Now that Harden has players like Irving and Kevin Durant, who are just as good at scoring as Harden. Harden no longer needs to overwork himself to carry an offense but let others share the load with him. Harden is attempting 14.6 shots since being traded to the Nets, the lowest since Hardens’ third season in the league. However, Harden is having an extremely efficient season with a true shooting percentage of 65%, his career’s highest.
A lot of this is because Irving can take a lot of the scoring weight off of Harden from the guard position. In turn, let Harden run the offense, taking that weight off of Irving to do so. Over the last few seasons, Harden has quickly become one of the best passers in the game, and that was most evident in the 2016-2017 season in when Harden led the league in assists, averaging 11.2. Since the 2014-2015 season, Harden has averaged over 7 assists a game, creating chances for other players at a high level for seven straight seasons.
Now that Harden no longer has to look to score as often, he looks to pass, finding cutters and open shooters consistently. These shooters can get open so quickly because of the attention that Hardens shooting gets from opposing defenses, making it even easier for Harden to find the open man. Harden is again leading the league in assists at an average of 11.2 a game. Harden is leaning into his newfound and growing strength and using it to bring the Nets’ offense to new heights.
In the game against the Golden State Warriors, Harden only attempted 11 shots and scored 19 points, but he had 16 assists and put on a fantastic passing performance.
? Highlight's from @JHarden13's Nets-record-setting 16-assist night ?
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 14, 2021
Irving and Harden have leaned into their strengths and together have made possibly the best offensive backcourt in NBA history.
Photo: Athletic/ Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today