Nets Face Grim Reality With Star: ‘This Is Who He Is Now’

James Harden Nets-Rockets

Getty Brooklyn Nets star James Harden looks on during a game against the Houston Rockets.

The Brooklyn Nets may be right where pundits expected them to before the season began — specifically, at the top of the Eastern Conference standings — but they sure took an unconventional path to get there.

Steve Nash’s club has gone 17-8 as of this writing despite the fact that Kyrie Irving has yet to play a game while refusing to adhere to New York City’s ever-expanding vaccine mandate. Also, Blake Griffin has morphed from being resurgent to being unplayable, Joe Harris was forced to undergo ankle surgery and James Harden has looked like a shell of his former MVP self.

Some of that stuff has (or will) work itself out, though.

Griffin may have fallen apart, but LaMarcus Aldridge is back and looks to have turned the clock back a few years. Harris is out for the moment, but it’s expected that he’ll return before the trade deadline. And it may not happen this season, but Kyrie will either give in and come back or he’ll get moved for a hefty return.

Harden’s situation is different, though. As underwhelming as he has been, there’s a chance that what fans are seeing now is what they’ll continue to see from him going forward.

NY Post: Diminished Harden May be the New Reality

Richard Jefferson needs James Harden to score more for the Nets | NBA TodayRichard Jefferson and Ramona Shelburne join NBA Today to discuss which teams and players need to step up. ✔️Subscribe to ESPN+ ✔️ Get the ESPN App: ✔️Subscribe to ESPN on YouTube: ✔️ Subscribe to NBA on ESPN on YouTube: ✔️ Watch ESPN on YouTube TV:

On Thursday, the New York Post’s Zach Braziller penned a sobering assessment of the Harden situation and the nine-time All-Star’s season to date. In the piece, Braziller accurately noted that this isn’t just a fluke or a slow start at this juncture.

It’s sustained underperformance by Harden on a level that may necessitate a reexamination of his superstar status. He writes:

It’s been 25 games, nearly an entire third of the season, in which James Harden hasn’t played quite like James Harden. Maybe, for this year at least, this is who he is. A good, but not great, player. A clear No. 2 to Kevin Durant, instead of a Nets co-star.

That’s a damning statement, and also a bold one regarding a player who had reached heights never before seen where leading an offensive attack was concerned. The numbers back the notion, though.

Through 25 games, Harden is averaging just 20.9 points per contest — his lowest mark since the 2011-12 season. Meanwhile, his shooting percentages of 40.1% overall and 34.6% from three-point range are on pace to be the worst numbers of his 13-year career.

Added Braziller: “Whatever the reason for his struggles, as the new year nears, Harden has not resembled the player who ignited the Nets a season ago.”

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Old Excuses Don’t Explain the Shortfall

In the early going, Harden was outspoken in his criticism of the way that NBA referees are now calling fouls. In an effort to eliminate “non-basketball moves” getting rewarded with trips to the charity stripe, officials are giving less leeway to offensive players.

As Harden sees it, this new interpretation of foul rules is targeting him directly

“It’s still basketball at the end of the day,” Harden said in October, via Sports Illustrated. “No matter how much of a big deal we try to make it a foul is a foul. It’s pretty simple. I feel like [they’re] putting too much emphasis on rules — or not even rules, just certain people — to where you look at it and it’s clear fouls.”

Harden further noted that he was “for sure” the poster boy for the rule change.

For the record, though, Harden’s free throw rate of .516 is actually significantly higher than the .439 he logged over 36 games with the Nets last season. That equates to 7.5 FT attempts per 36 minutes compared to 7.2/per 36 in 2020-21. So the new rules haven’t actually affected his ability to get to the line and rack up points.

In truth, injuries and Father Time may be to blame for the shortfall.


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