When watching basketball, you always know when something special is happening on the court. For me, an indicator of this is goosebumps, showing me that I am witnessing something that is historic, like Kobe’s last game or LeBron’s chase-down block on Iguodala in 2016. Finals. Well, I get goosebumps at least once every night I’m watching the Brooklyn Nets score the basketball mercilessly. It is almost unbelievable to see how great Harden, Durant, and Kyrie are on offense, and every night it seems like there is nothing any defense can do to even try to slow them down. They are currently second in the Eastern Conference, half a game behind Philadelphia. But how does that affect their title chances? It is a well-known cliché that defense wins championships, and Brooklyn definitely struggles on that end of the floor. Can their offensive talents be enough for them to lift the Larry O’Brian trophy at the end of the season?
I don’t think we have ever seen a team that has that much offensive power as the Brooklyn Nets do. Imagine having three players on your team that can together account for 75 points every game! While Harden has taken more of a point guard role (he is leading the league in assists per game with 11.1), Durant and Kyrie have served as shot makers that are torching defenses from all over the floor. Not that the Beard is not scoring. All three of them are averaging at least 25 points per game this season. But as history has taught us (Sorry Russ), it is much more important what efficiency numbers players are putting up with these huge numbers. Only 10 players in NBA history have entered the 50-40-90 club (50 % field goal percentage, 40% three-point percentage, 90% from the free-throw line). While KD is on pace to have a second season like this, Kyrie and Harden are close to entering the prestige club, shooting slightly beneath 90% from the line. That means that the Nets might have three players this season who could end up in such elite efficiency company.
No wonder their offensive rating could end up as the best one of all time. To be fair there are five other teams from this season that are on pace to be in the top 10 all-time based on offensive rating. However, no other team except the Nets has done it this efficiently. They are as a team shooting 50% from the field, 40% from the three, and 81,4% from the free-throw line this season. If the season ended right now, they would be the only team posting these percentages in NBA history! Advanced stats support their claim for the best offensive team of all time as well. Brooklyn Nets are so far, posting an effective field goal percentage of over 58%, which has never been done throughout the full season by any team in NBA history. Apart from their big three, the player that is a huge factor in making this offense work is Joe Harris. Because defenses have been forced to focus their attention on the Nets’ stars on defense and leave other guys open, Harris is the guy that makes the defenses pay. Of players who have at least 6.5 three-point attempts per game, Harris is the most accurate in the league, shooting 50,2% from the perimeter. By being a constant threat from outside, he is putting defenses in a dilemma over whether to overhelp or not. Steve Nash has, after much scrutiny from the media, found a way for his three stars to share the ball and his role players are doing exactly what they need to do. When everything clicks, they are impossible to stop:
But as we all know, basketball has to be played on both sides of the floor, and Brooklyn is currently doing a very poor job at doing that. They are ranked 27th in defensive rating, allowing their opponents to score 117 points on average. It is amazing to see how such a talented team doesn’t provide effort on the defensive end. The historical data isn’t too fond of teams who are bad at defense. Over the last 20 years, the team that has won the championship has never been in the lower half of the league in defensive rating. The 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors were the worst defensive team of those 20, but still ranked 11th in defensive rating. Now, Kevin Durant might have to do much of the same to lead a team that loaded with talent and become a defensive menace that he was 3 years ago. He might even have to take on the role of a small-ball 5 that he performed in Golden State, and try to hurt the opposing team on offense more that they suffer because of size on defense. Deandre Jordan has been a shell of himself so far, and the Nets will have trouble in dealing with some of the bigger guys in the league like Embiid or Anthony Davis. There is some reason for optimism in Brooklyn, however. There have been some improvements on the defensive end, even without Kevin Durant who is out with a hamstring injury. According to Cleaning the Glass, they are the 17th defense in the last two weeks when garbage time is eliminated. The role players like Bruce Brown and Jeff Green have stepped up on both sides of the floor, and this effort has spread to the rest of the team. You know something special is happening if Jordan is hitting game winners and James Harden is winning the game on the defensive side of the floor.
The Nets need to continue their recent form if they want to win the title. In their winning streak of late they have beaten the Lakers, Clippers, Suns, and Warriors, showing they definitely have the potential to do something big this season. It will be interesting to see how this Brooklyn team will react to playoff basketball when defenses start playing tighter and there is less room for error. Having two champions in KD and Kyrie who have already done it at the biggest stage and the best offense in NBA history definitely helps. Let’s just hope we will have a lot more of goosebumps moments from the Nets this season.