Brooklyn Nets First Half Recap: Standing Strong at the All-Star Break
Running down eight elements that have defined the Nets so far
The Brooklyn Nets have closed the first half of the NBA season in a rush, winning 10 of 11 games going into the All-Star break, and somehow they are still very much a work in progress. They’ll add one of the league’s elite offensive machines when Kevin Durant returns from his hamstring strain, and Nic Claxton has just four impressive games since returning from injury, so he’s just getting started.
It’s been an eventful three months since the Nets began training camp for this late-starting, shortened season. They’ve arrived at the midpoint with the NBA’s third-best record, a half-game out of first place in the Eastern Conference.
“Just nice to get, we’re halfway before tonight’s game,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash before Wednesday’s win in Houston. “Tonight would end the theoretical first half, and to have that little break, a little space, maybe a step back and see where we truly are, where we’re going and all those things, I think it’s been a very challenging first half. We’ve handled it. Put ourselves in condition to compete for the East down the stretch here. There’s lot of positives to build on, but tons of work to do and I’m just grateful the first half is over and we’re in a pretty good spot.”
Let’s take a look at some of the defining elements of the first half of the season.
Sean Marks went all in when he said yes on the long-rumored trade for James Harden. The cost was steep — Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, the two best players the Nets had developed out of the draft in Marks’ tenure — and complete control of all the upcoming first-round draft assets Brooklyn was eligible to trade, unprotected picks or pick swaps for the next seven years.
Harden has made it all look worth it, and the way he has delivered has alleviated doubts about how three high-scoring superstars would coexist. The league’s leading scorer each of the last three seasons, Harden’s field goal attempts — 16.6 per game with the Nets — are at their lowest level since 2013-14, while he’s averaging 11.4 assists, with double-digit assists in all but five of his games for the Nets. Harden has taken to quarterbacking the second unit, and his facilitating has elevated that group, from his quick connection with the recently returned Nic Claxton, or the opportunities for Joe Harris, who regularly plays with Harden and a group of reserves, with his 3-point attempts taking a leap since Harden’s arrival.
BIG 3, SMALL SAMPLE
The full unleashing of the Brooklyn big three is yet to come. Harden has played just seven games with both Durant and Kyrie Irving, and one of those games had Durant in and out and limited to 19 minutes due to health and safety protocols. In the other six, the Nets are 5-1.
Durant has been sidelined for a stretch twice due to the health and safety protocols and missed the last nine games with a hamstring strain. When he’s on the court, his return from an Achilles’ injury has been a huge success: 29.0 points per game on 52.4 percent shooting, including 43.4 percent from 3-point range, plus 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.
In his 10th NBA season, returning as well from an injury that limited him to 20 games last season, Kyrie Irving is taking his offensive game to new heights. Irving’s 27.2 points per game and 51.0 percent field goal shooting are career-high rates, and his 41.1 percent from 3-point range is a tick below his career-high 41.5 from the 2014-15 season. He’s headed back to the All-Star Game, which he’s been selected for in each of the last seven seasons that haven’t been impacted or shortened by injury.
@SteveNash: "You could tell it meant something to [James]."— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 4, 2021
@JHarden13: "When it’s time to lock in and time to focus, we do that."
Joe Harris: "Break will be huge just to get guys healthy and then hopefully we can continue this momentum."
Postgame Quotes by @GEICO:
BEST AGAINST THE BEST
The Nets are 13-4 against teams currently in playoff position, and that includes a 5-0 mark against the top four teams in the West and a 3-1 mark against the top four teams in the East.
The Nets have had the NBA’s premier offensive group over the first half of the season, leading the league in points per game (121.), offensive rating (118.2), field goal percentage (50.0), and effective field goal percentage (58.8). Brooklyn scores 38.0 percent of its points on 3-pointers, the fourth-highest rate in the NBA, ranking second in 3-point percentage (40.7), third in 3-pointers made per game (15.3) and seventh in 3-pointers attempted per game (37.7). With Harden leading the league in assists, the Nets are second in assists per game (27.2). They closed the first half with 30 or more assists in four of their final five games.
JOE HARRIS, OFF THE CHARTS
Two years after he led the NBA in 3-point shooting, Joe Harris is even better, shooting at historic levels. He’s making 50.6 percent of his attempts, which would be the 10th highest single season percentage in NBA history. Of the eight players who have finished a season shooting 50 percent from 3-point range — Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis is shooting 50.7 percent this season, putting him ninth on the list for now — none took more than 3.2 3-pointers per game. Harris is taking 6.7 threes per game, a career high and a jump over the 5.1 he attempted two years ago.
Harris is also shooting 53.0 percent overall and ranks third in the NBA in effective field goal percentage (69.7) and fourth in offensive rating (119.9).
UNCLE JEFF, LOOKING YOUNG
If you wanted to rate dunk highlight reels for the Nets this season, 34-year-old Jeff Green might come out No. 1. The veteran forward’s throwdowns have been select but ferocious. Overall, it’s been a throwback kind of season for the fifth overall pick from the 2007 draft, who was out of the league briefly last season but has made an immense impact for Brooklyn. After the trade for James Harden took Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince out of the rotation, Green stepped into a bigger role and continued his efficient start. He’s shooting 50.7 percent overall and 42.2 percent from 3-point range in 26.4 minutes per game, while starting 16 of the Nets’ 37 games. Green has been Brooklyn’s backup center and part of Steve Nash’s preferred finishing lineup.
THE DEPTH, IT’S GROWING
Brooklyn’s supporting cast looks a lot different than it did at the beginning of the season.
Between the trade that shape-shifted the roster, injuries and other absences, there’s some gray area between who you want to define as reserves and starters. For example, Jeff Green has played 33 games and started 16. Bruce Brown has played 33 and started 20. When Kevin Durant returns, both will likely be coming off the bench. But they’ve been integral no matter their status, with Brown’s impact growing week-by-week. Landry Shamet has emphatically broken out of an early season shooting slump, Tyler Johnson has stepped in to contribute during Durant’s absence, and Nic Claxton’s return from injury has seen him average 10.0 points on 69.0 percent shooting in 15.2 minutes per game over four games going into the All-Star break.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season