Forty games into the NBA regular season and what has become apparent regarding the Brooklyn Nets is that James Harden has settled into his role while putting the entire league on notice.
Even though the scoring triumvirate of Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have yet to play more than seven games as a collective unit, Harden has yet to miss a single appearance for Brooklyn. He’s done it while reasserting himself into the league MVP discussions by way of masterful veteran play.
He has evolved into a point guard type leadership role while still being considered a viable scoring threat, albeit from a tertiary position. At 16.6 field goal attempts per game, Harden takes the least amount of shots of the three Nets superstars as well as six less attempts that he is accustomed to.
In fact, quite a few stats have changed for the one time league MVP from his Houston Rockets’ playing days, but not all for the worse. While his shot attempts are down, his field goal percentage has gone up. The same can be said for his three point shooting as well as his free throw attempts. That would make him more efficient for all my mathematical analysts out there.
His most impressive jump in numbers, however, has to be in rebounds and assists per game. Harden is leading Brooklyn in rebounding at 9.1 per game as well as assists with 11.3 per, which puts him at the top of the league in that particular category. No other statistical category can speak to wanting to lead and win more so than rebounds and assists. It becomes even more impressive with the fact that he has had to sacrifice some of his scoring in order to do so.
The off-and-on availability of Irving and Durant this season has allowed Harden to on occasion harken back to his Houston way of playing in order to balance out his new identity on the court.
In the aforementioned seven games as a unit, Harden was often given the substitution rotation of being on the court alone or with only one other star, creating less of a scoring vacuum for him to contend with. His ball dominant style of play has matured for the greater good of the team while also keeping him engaged in the game, as often we have caught him stalled on the perimeter of the weak side of the floor.
Much too often, society has placed a negative stigma on the concept of playing a specific role on a team, preferring the well lauded part of the scorer. This is a great misconception as even as a scorer, you are still playing a specific role on a team. All those considered great have always had a hand in playing several different roles in one game.
The great Bill Russell, the Doctor Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are just a few examples. To see James Harden find that balance this season will make the Brooklyn Nets a more than viable contender for the NBA crown. Although he may be considered by some as the third option on his team, for him it could become the role of lifetime.