With James Harden making his impressive Brooklyn Nets debut on Saturday, we’re about to embark on one of the most unique experiments in NBA history. We’ve seen three stars come together on the same team before, but Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are all in the top 20 in career usage rate, and they have three of the four highest usage rates during clutch time over the last 10 seasons.
In other words, the “there’s only one ball” cliché has never been more apt.
Sacrifices will have to be made, as Harden acknowledged in his introductory press conference, and there will be an inevitable statistical drop-off for all three players. In order to estimate what that might entail, we looked back at the first year of the four most recent Big Threes: the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, 2010-11 Miami Heat, 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers and 2016-17 Golden State Warriors. Each had their own circumstances that led to different dynamics, but taking the average statistical drop-off of all of the players should give us at least an idea of what to expect from the new Nets triumvirate.
2007-08 Boston Celtics
The 2008 Celtics were most similar to this season’s Nets in terms of age, with Ray Allen at 32, Kevin Garnett at 31 and Paul Pierce at 30, so this might be the best comparison. Allen clearly sacrificed the most, which makes sense given his ability to play off the ball as a spot-up shooter, and it’s hard to imagine any of Durant, Irving or Harden taking that steep of a decline. The Boston trio had by far the largest average drop-off in scoring and usage of all the Big Threes we examined. For each of these players to put numbers aside to achieve their goal is quite impressive, and they were rewarded with an NBA title.
2010-11 Miami Heat
Again we see one player taking the brunt of the offensive sacrifice, this time with Chris Bosh. Though the Heat Big Three were much younger than the Nets, this could serve as a good comparison in one sense. In their first year, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade struggled to figure out the alpha dynamic, which ultimately led to a loss in the NBA Finals. In year two, James increased his scoring to 27.1 points per game, while Wade dropped to 22.1, a clear move toward James being the offensive focal point. The Nets will face a similar predicament, but this time it will be between three players since it’s hard to imagine any one of them taking the Bosh role.
2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers
This was an extremely rare instance of a four-time MVP teaming up with a 22-year-old budding superstar, so Irving’s scoring actually increased while James’ usage also went up. Love’s drop-off in scoring was the biggest of any player in the Big Threes we’ve mentioned, and his usage decline is second only to Allen’s with the Celtics. It’s notable, of course, that Irving has been through something like this before, which makes you wonder how that will affect his ability to make things work with Harden and Durant.
2016-17 Golden State Warriors
Technically you could consider this team a Big Four, but Draymond Green’s scoring and usage rate aren’t what makes him a star. Curry willingly sacrificed just months after being voted the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, allowing Durant to feel comfortable in the offense, while Durant reciprocated the sentiment. Thompson’s numbers went essentially unchanged, a testament to his ability to fit into virtually any system given his spot-up shooting ability and off-ball movement. Golden State won the title that season (and the next), and has become the blueprint for how stars can selflessly come together for a common goal. Durant will look to develop the same dynamic with Irving and Harden.
2020-21 Brooklyn Nets Projections
To predict this season’s stats for Harden, Durant and Irving, we took the average drop-off in scoring (minus-13.2 percent) and usage rate (minus-9.8 percent) from the four previous Big Threes and applied them to each player. Obviously, each star won’t have the exact same decline, but it at least gives us an idea of what things might look like moving forward. For Durant and Irving, we used this season’s statistics with the Nets, but for Harden, we used last season’s numbers given his odd situation in Houston prior to the trade.
As you can see, Harden ends up as the top scorer, and that seems like a probable outcome — at least in the regular season. Remember, Durant and Irving have been part of championship Big Threes before while Harden is coming off of two seasons with the Rockets that rank in the top 10 all-time in single-season usage rate. It would make sense for K.D. and Kyrie to ease Harden into things by allowing him more shots and playmaking opportunities to ensure that he’s comfortable.
That being said, we’ve never seen this type of trio play together before. While they’re above-average shooters, all three excel with the ball in their hands, making it hard to figure out who, if anyone, will fall into the Allen/Love/Bosh/Thompson role. Perhaps coach Steve Nash will stagger their minutes in a way that allows all three to have equal opportunity, but history tells us that, eventually, one player will become the third option.
Watching this unfold will be one of the league’s top storylines for the rest of the season, and perhaps many more to come.
Published: 2021-01-17 04:08:00
Tags: #James #Harden #Nets #debut #Predicting #stat #decline #Kevin #Durant #Kyrie #Irving #based #previous #Big #Threes