The Brooklyn Nets have gained a near-mythical status among NBA fans as obvious title favorites.
For most, the equation is easy: Kyrie Irving + Kevin Durant + James Harden = NBA Championship. However, each of the Nets’ superstars mentioned above has their own hangups, manufacturing uncertainty in the face of seemingly guaranteed success. When healthy, the rest of the roster is built to support their big three, but there will be no easy lunch for the Brooklyn Nets.
Each star currently is dealing with their own issues. Kyrie remains unvaccinated, James Harden is overweight and struggling with the NBA’s new rule changes, and Kevin Durant was just sidelined an MCL strain.
Aside from KD’s MCL, these are all preventable issues. There’s no doubt this team has championship talent, but there is a distinct lack of will or dedication showing through the cracks.
Brooklyn Nets’ Over-Reliance on Kevin Durant
On the season, Kevin Durant averages 36.5 minutes per game. In the last two months, however, Durant has been asked to play over 40 minutes in a game eight times, a number that looks even worse when factoring in that he has played over 37 minutes an additional six times.
Usually, teams with three superstars don’t have to overuse any of their big three because they can share the load. Instead, the Nets’ philosophy to winning tight games is to heavily lean on Durant, casting aside their other two stars’ talents (if they were even available).
We have already seen Durant carry the Nets to great heights by himself. Last year in the playoffs, he was one foot-on-the-line jumper away from the Eastern Conference Finals. We have also just seen him go down for possibly over a month, right after a stretch of extended minutes.
Isn’t the idea of three stars to help avoid injury? Or does this show that coach Steve Nash distrusts Kyrie Irving and James Harden in Durant’s absence?
What is James Harden in 2022?
The natural solution to Kevin Durant’s upcoming prolonged absence would be giving James Harden a more significant workload. He was the bell cow in his Houston days; why can’t he produce similar numbers in 2022?
He came out of the 2021 offseason severely out of shape and is still struggling with fitness issues over halfway through the season. These issues quickly lead to fewer minutes as Brooklyn can’t afford to lose him to injury as well.
Fitness struggles, however, aren’t the only thing holding Harden back.
His overall field goal percentage is the lowest of his entire career aside from his rookie season, just 41.9% per 100 possessions. Additionally, Harden is shooting a career-low from 3-point range at just 34% per 100 possessions.
One may be tempted to draw a line between Harden’s fitness level and his offensive struggles. But Harden has dominated as a lesser athlete for most of his career. There’s no reason a slower, weaker physical profile would hold him back now.
Harden’s lackluster 2022 season has come from one root cause: his approach. This season could be the best shot of his career to win a championship. Instead, he has come in and coasted from the start of the season, banking on the wealth of talent around him to bail him out.
Luckily, he now has the opportunity to prove this narrative wrong in the next month or so. If he doesn’t, the Nets may be watching the late postseason from home for the second time in a row.
Kyrie Irving’s Unvaccinated Status a Looming Threat
Much has been made of Kyrie Irving’s persistent refusal to get vaccinated. As the Omicron variant looks to peak in the U.S. soon, Irving’s decision not to get the jab may prove to be highly consequential.
Vaccinated or not, everyone is vulnerable to contracting some form of COVID-19; however, Kyrie Irving’s increased risk of contracting or spreading the virus means he could pass it to his teammates.
He practices, travels, and plays with them on a regular basis. If the Nets are to miss more players for long periods, it could sink their season.
Kyrie is also not allowed to play in cities with certain COVID restrictions. In total, he will be eligible to play in just 21 games, just over a quarter of the Nets’ season.
Since coming back, Kyrie has quickly gotten back to looking like his old self. But is his impact worth the risk?
What Do the Brooklyn Nets Do Now?
Despite all of their problems, the Nets are all but guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Where they land could be up in the air from here.
Currently sitting at 3rd in the Eastern Conference, some have suggested tanking to a bottom-four playoff seed. This would allow them to play with Kyrie Irving in a Game 7 of a playoff series. It would also allow them to fully recuperate, get fit, and get healthy before a postseason where they should be the favorites.
Whatever they elect to do, they must accept that they will have to be all-in come winning time. Few title-contenders can overcome critical issues with their best players.
The Brooklyn Nets’ stars came together to be contenders, but instead, they may have revealed themselves individually as pretenders.