Nets Notes: James Harden Leans In To Playmaking Role for Brooklyn

Three-time scoring champ moves to top of NBA assist rankings

Brooklyn’s 128-124 win over the Miami Heat on Saturday night featured James Harden’s fifth points/assists double-double in as many games as a Net, with two of those games turning into triple-doubles with double-digit rebounds.

While Harden didn’t have a big scoring night — 12 points on eight field goal attempts — his presence and passing were felt in Brooklyn shooting 53.7 percent as a team and 51.4 percent from 3-point range, while Harden registered 11 assists.

“It’s invaluable his, you know, playmaking skills for us,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “So often, he found guys for layups or wide-open threes and created and distorted the defense. So he wasn't himself shooting the ball, and I think he's still trying to get himself into shape. That was a tough little week for him; three games in four nights, including a double-overtime. So I think, you know, hats off to him that he found a way to contribute when shot wasn't going and his legs weren't there. He still made a lot of plays for his team.”

Saturday’s win marked a week since Harden made his Brooklyn debut. The Nets played five games in eight nights, winning three, with Harden averaging 23.6 points and 12.0 assists.

It was also just the second game of the five featuring Harden in combination with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Harden’s first two games paired Harden with just Durant, and on Friday night in Cleveland it was Harden and Irving.

“The trust is already there,” said Durant, whose history with Harden goes back to three seasons together in Oklahoma City. “The familiarity with each other is there already. We know each other’s games from the last decade. It’s just a matter of what plays we’re going to run at certain times, what lineups we’re going to have out there. I think both the coaches and the players are fine-tuning everything. We’re going to have spurts where we play inconsistent just because we try things, but for the most part, our minds and our hearts are in the right place when we’re out there. We try to take care of business every possession.”

Against Miami, Harden had seven assists but two field goal attempts at halftime, and he took just eight shots for the game. Joe Harris put up 20 points in the first half while making 6-of-9 3-pointers.

“I just want to come in and get a feel for what’s going on,” said Harden. “Obviously, I could be more aggressive offensively, but we have more than enough scorers and guys that can put the ball in the basket. Just got to pick and choose my spots, which I feel like I’m doing OK. But facilitating, getting guys shots, getting our bigs finishes at the rim, and just trying to be solid defensively is what I’m trying to do.”

Harden’s playing extensive minutes with the second unit, as did Harris on Saturday night after moving back to the starting lineup, with the Nets bringing veteran forward Jeff Green off the bench to pair with rookie Reggie Perry up front.

Through five games in Brooklyn, Harden’s averaging 15.8 shot attempts per game, compared to at least 20 for the Rockets in each of the last three seasons. The season before that streak began, he led the NBA with 11.2 assists per game. His rate of 11.0 per game for this full season is his highest since then, and he’s back on top of the league rankings.

With the Nets currently leading the league in field goal percentage (49.3), with the weapons around him in Durant, Irving, Green and Harris all shooting over 50 percent, plus DeAndre Jordan rolling to the rim and dunking his way to an absurd 82.7 field goal percentage, Harden could be on the way to another assist title after leading the league in scoring each of the last three seasons.

“It’s not really a change at all,” said Harden. “I mean, it feels good not to have to score so much to give ourselves a chance to win a game. I can go out there and just be a playmaker and shoot my shot when it’s available and still get guys involved – and still have a chance to win the game. So, that’s a change. But, for me just being the player that I am. Impacting the game in other ways other than scoring and just trying to be the best player I can be every single night on the court.”

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