Nets Star James Harden Offers Troubling Explanation for Recent Struggles

James Harden, Nets

Getty James Harden, Nets

For Nets star James Harden, it was among the least-convincing triple-doubles in his NBA career. Sure, he racked up 14 assists and 13 rebounds, but he also shot the ball terribly, making only four of his 15 field-goal attempts for 12 points. Harden was 0-for-6 from the 3-point line and committed seven turnovers, his inability to be a factor on offense one of the keys to Brooklyn’s Saturday night loss to Phoenix.

Yes, just when it appeared that Harden was breaking out of his early-season funk, he has slipped right back into it again. In his last three games, while he has managed 13.0 assists per game, he has also committed an average of 5.0 turnovers, scored 15.3 points, shot 34.2% from the field and 23.5% from the 3-point line.

After the loss, Harden seemed plain confused about how he is playing lately. He seemed to reference the absence of point guard Kyrie Irving—who played a lot at the 2 last season—as one of his issues, though he stopped himself before actually saying it.

“Honestly, I’m trying to figure all that out right now,” Harden said when asked about when he should be distributing and when he should be scoring. “I’m trying to figure it out. I’m trying to figure out when to score, when to be a playmaker, when to run offense, when to do a little bit of everything. Just trying to figure it out has been a little difficult, especially since—well, whatever. But I’m just trying to figure it out.”

A quarter of the way into the season, if Harden is still trying to figure things out, the Nets have a big worry on their hands.

Turnover Problems Were Rough vs. Suns

The struggles with the ball have been especially damaging to the Nets lately. As a team, the Nets have been committing 14.4 turnovers per game, which is just 17th in the NBA. That’s up from 13.5 per game last year. The 20 turnovers against the Suns came after a stretch in which Brooklyn appeared to be getting its ballhandling issue under control—they’d averaged only 11.0 turnovers in the previous seven games.

One of the issues the team has had is that there is still a relative unfamiliarity with a lot of the players, which has led to a lack of precision with cuts and passes. It has also allowed defenses to pack the paint against the Nets, making it difficult for Harden to drive to the rim.

“It’s tough for anybody to drive into a packed lane,” fellow Nets star Kevin Durant said. “I think once we move off it and get good shots, it will start to loosen up. How many assists did we have—we had more assists than them. They’re a team that plays fast, they play with the pass a lot. We had more assists, but we had 20 turns and they only had 12, most of those came in the second half. So they kept the ball in their hands, but for us, handing them the ball off in the first half the way we did, we’re not going to beat good teams like that.”

Harden Was Booed by the Home Crowd

Especially discouraging for Harden was that, after his seventh turnover, he was booed by a normally supportive home crowd.

The turnovers are likely to be a problem that fixes itself over time, though. The bigger concern is Harden’s struggles as a shooter. He is making only 40.6% of his shots this season, though he is a career 44.4% shooter.

Durant was asked about whether Harden is better off as a shooter or passer.

“I just think we can do both,” Durant said. “We can play around both variations of James, scoring and facilitating. So, 14 assists, 13 rebounds, we are gonna need that. Definitely, he is going to want to shoot the ball better, but I like his aggressiveness.”

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