At the center of controversy for numerous reasons coming into the season, the Brooklyn Nets have played some less-than-inspired basketball over the first week of regular season basketball coming back. The Nets are currently 2-3 and could have easily been 1-4 if the 76ers didn’t completely forget how to shoot halfway through the fourth quarter of their game. Although early season basketball is not anything to overreact to, one question is being asked: Should we be concerned about the Nets?
The answer to that question is a simple “no.” Despite the team not playing extremely well, Kevin Durant looks as though he has not skipped a beat, building off his late post-season success last season. So far this season, Durant has averaged an impressive 30 points per game in just 35 minutes. Not only this, he is also averaging about 10 rebounds and five assists, while also being efficient from the field.
With star point guard Kyrie Irving being sidelined from games due to his vaccination status, it is just a two-man show in Brooklyn for now, with Durant and James Harden leading the way. At least, that was what it was supposed to be heading into the season. However, Harden has not performed up to his MVP standards, and there is speculation among the NBA world as to why.
Over the off-season, the NBA announced that referees would cut back on calling fouls, specifically reducing the number of intentionally-drawn fouls. Harden is notoriously known as one of the best players in terms of drawing fouls in the league, and these rule changes have had an impact so far.
Through four games, Harden has only averaged three free throw attempts per game. For comparison, he has only finished with a single-digit number of attempts twice over the past nine seasons, and even those were significantly higher than three. People believe that his inability to draw fouls is leading to a lower scoring output. This season, Harden has only averaged 16.6 points on just 35.8% shooting, which is also lower than his career norms.
With the league publicly broadcasting that they will be calling fewer fouls, certain members of the Nets believe that Harden, who has gotten plenty of calls before, is being used as an example of how serious this new policy is.
“I feel like he’s unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls,” said head coach Steve Nash. “I get it, there's a line, but some of them are still fouls. He's just gotta stick with it.”
Harden agreed with his coach, saying that although he tries not to complain, he does believe that there are calls deliberately not going his way. He said, “Sometimes I feel like coming into a game it's already predetermined or I already have the stigma of getting foul calls.”
Despite Harden’s struggles, the Nets’ guard play has still been good, particularly in regards to the newly-acquired Patty Mills. Signing with the Nets this offseason, Mills was brought in to replace Spencer Dinwiddie, and he has done so with incredible shooting performances so far. He hit his first 10 three-point attempts of the season, while simultaneously providing a source of veteran leadership on the team.
One area of disappointment so far has been center Nicolas Claxton, especially with his defense. Last season, Claxton showed signs of becoming an elite defender in the league after proving that he can hang with some of the best guards in the NBA at the perimeter while also playing great defense in the paint. This season has been another story after he has consistently gotten beat by opposing big men. Again, the season is still early and Claxton is still young at just 22 years old, so it is very possible he may turn it around.
Overall, it is still very early in the NBA season and lots of things cannot be determined. Overreactions are common, but until late December or early January, no real assessment can be made on a certain team. The Nets roster still has lots of star power and is incredibly deep, so it would be surprising if they don’t return to form somewhat soon.