NBA

Nets or 76ers? – where James Harden is best suited in Stats Perform data

By Sports Desk November 24, 2020

Where will James Harden be playing in 2020-21?

The Houston Rockets superstar reportedly wants to be traded to Brooklyn Nets, where he would reunite with Kevin Durant and team up with Kyrie Irving.

Harden is also considering Eastern Conference contenders the Philadelphia 76ers, while there have been rumblings about the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors.

As the Nets and 76ers reportedly vie for the 2018 MVP, we look at where Harden would be best suited and what he would bring, using Stats Perform data.

 

Brooklyn Nets

A super team featuring Harden, Durant and Irving at the disposal of first-year coach Steve Nash?

Harden has called Houston home since 2012 and signed a contract extension through to the 2022-23 season in 2017, but the sharpshooter reportedly turned down a new deal and wants to leave the Rockets in pursuit of a maiden championship.

The eight-time All-Star was team-mates with Durant at the Oklahoma City Thunder between 2009 and 2012.

Harden would bring a high volume of three-point and free-throw attempts to Brooklyn, not to mention a dominant scorer, which the Nets have rarely had.

He attempted the most three-pointers in 2019-20 with 843, and he also topped the free-throw attempts category at 800. Taurean Prince topped Brooklyn's 3PA list with 431, while Spencer Dinwiddie stepped to the line on 446 occasions.

In terms of individual seasons averaging 30.0-plus points, Harden boasts three seasons, while Durant has two. The Nets? 0. John Williamson's high of 29.5 points per game in 1977-78 (in just 33 games) is the closest.

In each of the past three seasons, Harden has earned the NBA scoring title. Durant – yet to play for Brooklyn following an Achilles injury – has claimed four honours, compared to the Nets' all-time haul of 0 after Keith Van Horn finished fifth in 1998-99. Harden and Durant have won seven of the past 11 scoring crowns.

Harden would also bring a resume with a lot of wins and postseason experience, as did Irving and Durant as former NBA champions with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Warriors respectively – the Nets have lost in the first round in back-to-back seasons, while not since 2003 have they featured in the Finals.

Harden boasts a team win percentage of 64.9 in regular-season games in which he has played, while he has amassed 128 playoff appearances.

The issue of Harden signing for the Nets would be centred on possession and distribution, given he, Durant and Irving are ball carriers.

Looking at the highest usage percentage – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor – since 2014-15 to get an idea of how the Nets could make it work with the trio, and Harden (second, 35.3 per cent), Durant (eighth, 29.6 per cent) and Irving (ninth, 29.4 per cent) rank in the top 10. The NBA average is 20.0 per cent.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers-Harden link is obvious – Daryl Morey.

Morey spent 13 years as general manager in Houston, where he prised Harden from the Thunder, before joining head coach Doc Rivers and the 76ers as president of basketball operations in Philadelphia ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Despite a humiliating first-round series sweep at the hands of Eastern Conference rivals the Celtics, the 76ers remain committed to building around All-Star duo Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – evident by the arrivals of Seth Curry, Danny Green and Dwight Howard.

Just like the Nets, it remains to be seen how the 76ers will facilitate a trade, but the championship hopefuls – without a title since 1983 – are believed to be still pursuing a deal.

It appears as though Morey and the 76ers are focused more on three-pointers, an area Philadelphia have struggled in since JJ Redick's exit in 2019. Last season, the 76ers ranked 22nd in the NBA with 31.6 three-point attempts per game, but they have acquired Curry and Green, and if they lure Harden to the city of Brotherly Love, that would give them yet another good long-range shooter.

Morey's teams were also known for getting to the free-throw line frequently, and that could be the case again if Harden swaps Houston for Philly. Harden (first, 7.6) and Embiid (fifth, 6.8) both rank in the top five for most career free throws made per game since the 1976-77 merger.

The last time an NBA team had two players average 6.0-plus free throws made per game apiece in the same season (minimum 70 per cent of team games played) was in 2010-11, when two duos did so – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for the Miami Heat and Durant and Russell Westbrook for the Thunder.

Where this team could be different than in past Harden-led sides would be rebounding. In 2019-20, Brett Brown's 76ers were great at rebounding – ranked second in the NBA for average rebound margin with plus-3.6. Houston, on the other hand, were 26th in the league with minus-3.6, having turned to small ball.

Embiid would be arguably the best big man Harden has played with. In his NBA career, Harden has never played with a team-mate who averaged 20.0-plus points and 10.0-plus rebounds per game in a season.

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