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3 Keys To Unleashing Peak James Harden This Season

James Harden, Nets

The Brooklyn Nets sent shockwaves across the NBA last season when they added more MVP caliber talent to their already star-heavy squad. Acquiring James Harden back in winter basically ensured they would have three of the top 15-20 players in the league. But do the Nets have so much offensive talent that they cannot maximize each one of their stars? Does one of the big 3 inevitably have to take a backseat? That’s possible. But perhaps not inevitable.

Let’s look at the three keys Steve Nash should consider in order to fully tap into The Beard’s arsenal.

1) Point Beard

James Harden is such a polarizing player. His reputation is all over the place. At least among casual fans, there is a running joke that he’s a selfish player who doesn’t like to pass. Remember this stuff?

It’s pretty bizarre isn’t it? Nobody dares call Larry Bird (who Harden recently passed on the all-time assist leaders chart) a chuck. Nobody makes jokes that Durant never passes, yett KD has over 2,000 less career dimes than his teammate, despite logging a few more regular season games.

This isn’t meant to knock KD. It’s just that the public perception of Harden has always been a bit puzzling to me.

But let’s set the record straight for a moment. Harden is a gamer. When the most efficient way for him to attack is to shoot, he’s going to shoot. When that’s not the case, he’s probably lobbing dimes to Clint Capela or drawing a defense in to set up a corner three for Kyrie Irving. When the All-Stars gather for an exhibition every season, Harden is always one of the best passers in that gym, period. Last season Irving made clear who would be the primary facilitator and it worked. When fully healthy, each or Irving and Harden enjoyed some MVP buzz.

Per Malika Andrews, writing for ESPN:

“I just looked at him, and I said, ‘You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard.’ That was as simple as that.”

They’ll want to lean on their best passer to set up their best closers.

2) Marry James Harden and Nic Claxton’s minutes

It’s pretty wild to think that the Nets have a trio of household name bigs in LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Paul Milsap… when 22-year-old Nic Claxton could wind up being their most important big of all. I anticipate Coach Steve Nash will use a 10-deep rotation this season. He will look to whittle that down by the playoffs, and of course, may lean on the most experienced veterans, like he did last playoffs. But one would expect Claxton to receive ample opportunity to build on the exciting flashes he displayed last season.

They’ll want Claxton out there for his weakside rim protection and ability to switch. And nobody is better equipped to unlock Claxton’s short-roll offensive game than Harden. The 2018 league MVP has long honed his arsenal.

James Harden can hit the stepback triple. Take that away and he’s going to blow by you. Once in the paint, assuming you take away both the corner triple kick out and the layup, then you have to avoid fouling him. If you’ve made it this far his final options are the floater and the lob. Claxton was the recipient of some absolute highlight reels lobs last season.

We want to see Nash lean on that duo to cram in as many highlights as possible. Maybe Blake griffin can take a short rest and have a front-row seat for the newest version of Lob City.

3) Conservative load management

This last one is a little disappointing. We know there are going to be paying fans, heading to Barclays Center hoping to see the full wrath of the Nets. “I got to see the best offensive team ever play together” is one heck of a potential claim to boast over lunch the next day. But would you settle for missing out on one of the big three as they load manage their way to the playoffs and win a championship instead? Delayed gratification is the key to this season.

If James Harden pulls a hamstring within the first month or two of the season, it will cast a pale of concern over the team’s entire season. No matter how many games he might string together upon returning, the coaching staff would be a little nervous that he might aggravate it again.

So the name of the game, especially during the early season grind will be easy does it. They need to monitor Harden’s minutes when he plays, and try to convince him to rest every few games. It’s not something he’s done willingly in the past. He’s kind of old school in that regard. He wants to be out there. But for the sake of his own legacy, it’s the prudent move to ramp him up slowly.

A pulled hamstring may have cost Harden two championships now. One suffered by Chris Paul in 2018 when the Rockets built a 3-2 lead over Kevin Durant’s superteam Warriors, and the one he sustained in 2021.

On Thursday night, the NFL’s most explosive running back strained a hammy too. These things cannot be taken lightly.

If they do these three things, James Harden will be one of the most important players in the league this season and possibly even win Finals MVP as a point guard, forever changing that silly narrative about him not passing.