Much has already been said about the Nets acquisition of Harden, and although many now expect them to make it out of the East, some are still skeptical about the chemistry between the big 3. The Heat last season proved that chemistry in most cases trumps talent where the difference in talent is not too far apart, beating the Bucks 4-1 in the Semi-Finals, and losing to the Lakers 4-2 in what many considered would be a sweep. A similar story could be found in the Western Conference, where the Nuggets came back from a 3-1 deficit to win their series against the Clippers. The Clippers clearly had the better roster talent-wise, but their problems in team chemistry became evident. This has repeated itself throughout history, with a prime example in 2011, a super-team Heat falling to a Mavericks team with insane chemistry and teamwork.
However, I don’t think this newly formed trio is destined to follow the past failings of some similar efforts. The major concern is whether some of the Nets stars can play an off-ball role, as all of Kyrie, Durant, and Harden are elite offensive players. I think that this concern has been massively exaggerated by the media. Durant has proven throughout his career that he can play off-ball. His most successful seasons have come when he has played second fiddle to the likes of Westbrook and Curry. In his last season at OKC where he made the conference finals, he averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. In his three seasons with Golden State, he hovered around an average of 26 points, with Curry and Klay taking more than their fair share of shots.
Having said that, Harden and Kyrie have been much more ball-dominant players in their careers compared to Curry and Klay. That does not mean that Harden can’t play off-ball. Much to the contrary, Harden has averaged 41.3% shooting off of catch and shoot opportunities in his past two seasons, making him one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the league when you take into account his step-back. This ranked Harden the 31st best Guard (that played more than 20 games and started in the 19-20 season) in catch and shoot percentage. Kyrie ranked 6th in the same category. Both will have their opportunities to play on-ball, but when their time comes to stand and wait for an open opportunity, they will be licking their lips at the space created by their counterparts after being the focal point of their team in past seasons.
The Nets will also need to find their groove on the defensive end after losing Allen, currently ranked 13th in defensive rating. Harden has been blasted throughout his career for his poor defensive efforts, but to his credit, he has turned the tide in recent seasons becoming a solid and active defender. Combine that continuous improvement with Kyrie who has similarly trended upwards in defensive output, the length of Durant, and the defensive capabilities of Jordan and Luwawu-Cabarrot, Brooklyn should rank in the top 10 on defense come season end.
There will be a feeling out process where they get used to playing with each other, and there will be some bad games that will make the trade look like a failure, but they have 58 more games left in the regular season to work it out, and I expect Harden to see his first-ever NBA Finals this season, giving himself every opportunity to win his first championship and putting him in the conversation for one of the best shooting guards of all-time.