The Brooklyn Nets revealed on Tuesday that James Harden suffered a setback in his hamstring injury rehab, adding another wrinkle to an injury-riddled NBA season. This latest development took everyone by surprise as the Nets were gearing up to showcase their trio of stars in the next few games.
Instead, the Nets will have to shift gears and change plans heading into the final few weeks of the season.
"Back to square one," Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said. "We'll rehabilitate him and get him back whenever we can, and who knows when that will be. We'll support James and our performance team in getting him back in as best condition as possible. And hopefully that comes sooner than later, but there's no guarantee."
What’s more alarming is Nash’s statement about how this could be an injury that may or may not keep James Harden out until the NBA Playoffs.
"He'll be back when he's back," Nash added. "That may not be until the playoffs. It may be sooner. I don't know."
The full impact of James Harden’s absence on Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets have been alternating wins and losses since James Harden went down with a hamstring injury against the New York Knicks. When he was rested prior to the Knicks game, the Nets were 1-1.
Clearly, James Harden’s presence masks a lot of the Nets' problems, including the defensive issues they deal with without a strong interior defender. The Nets are 27-7 with Harden on the floor, and that’s with Kevin Durant missing 26 of those games. Four of those wins came with both Durant and Kyrie Irving unavailable to play at the same time.
Based on their three recent losses, it's clear that the Nets struggle mightily against the best defenses in the league. The LA Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat limited the Nets' offensive movement and opportunities.
Brooklyn were exposed without another ball-handler and a major offensive threat. It's also important to note that the loss against the Lakers came with both Irving and Durant in the lineup.
The Brooklyn Nets have surprisingly scored more and shot a better percentage without James Harden in their last seven games. However, Steve Nash's side turned the ball over 15.9 times compared to only 12.5 times with James Harden on the floor. This gave their opponents more than three extra possessions that helped decide ballgames.
The absence of James Harden is going to affect the Brooklyn Nets’ offensive possessions severely. They will now have to rely on someone else to help take care of the basketball.
Who can replace James Harden?
The short answer to this question is no one. There’s absolutely no way that the Brooklyn Nets can replace James Harden’s 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game.
Fortunately, Nash and his coaching staff have found a way to help manage around Harden’s absence the past few games, albeit with inconsistent results.
Landry Shamet has been the Brooklyn Nets’ go-to guy to help stabilize their backcourt. His stats have risen since Harden’s injury, averaging 17.8 points and 3.7 assists per game. Shamet is also shooting 52.2 percent from the field, including 47.9 percent from the 3-point range in six games.
Irving learned his lesson when he refused to pass the ball to the 24-year-old guard during the waning moments of the 109-107 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday. The seven-time All-Star said:
“I’m looking at it like, ‘Why did I not get something open for Landry?’” Irving said after the game. “Guy’s got 30 points. We should go with the hot hand.”
In the Brooklyn Nets’ next game, Shamet scored 18 points and had eight assists, underscoring his value to the team as another playmaker. He may not have James Harden’s knack for grabbing rebounds or scoring in bunches, but Shamet is a hard-nosed young player who doesn’t buckle under pressure.
Even when Durant returns, the players will have to be conscious of the third-year guard’s importance to the offense and not overlook him in favor of the other two superstars.
Though the Brooklyn Nets need Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin and the rest to step up, ultimately, their fate may be decided by Shamet’s performance.