When James Harden joined the Nets a month ago, he and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the other two members of the Big 3, all swore they would put their egos aside and make sacrifices for the good of a team with designs on winning an NBA title.
No one has altered his playing style more than Harden. He won the past three league scoring titles as a high-volume shooter but has emerged with the Nets as a superb playmaker who is averaging an NBA-leading 11.2 assists per game and has hit double-digits in that category in 12 of 14 games with the Nets.
After their dominant 134-117 victory at Golden State on Saturday night, Irving described a conversation he and Harden had at a recent practice that was telling.
"I just looked at him and I said, ‘You’re the point guard and I’m going to play shooting guard,’ " Irving said. "That was as simple as that. So he’s been taking control of the responsibilities and doing an incredible job."
Harden said the exchange came during a practice in which coach Steve Nash was putting Harden in control out high and asking him to direct his teammates to the appropriate spots, and he has embraced that playmaking mentality.
He averaged 34.3 points on 22.9 shots per game with the Rockets last season but is averaging 23.0 points per game on 14.6 shots per game with the Nets.
"I came to this team knowing they have two special scorers," Harden said. "Obviously, I can score when I need to, but as long as I am getting everybody involved and Ky is getting the shots that he wants, KD is getting the shots he wants, it’s pretty efficient and seems to work well that way."
At Golden State, Harden had 19 points on 11 shots plus 16 assists and Irving scored 23 on 17 shots and added four assists. In the Nets’ 42-point third quarter, Irving scored nine points on a team-high seven shots and they built a 28-point lead.
"Kyrie’s an unbelievable scorer," Harden said. "He can score from anywhere on the floor . . . That third quarter, he was just super, super-aggressive, and that’s what pushed the lead up."
Durant long ago played with Harden on the Thunder and is not surprised by what he has done but appreciates the adjustment he has made.
"He’s just always played this way," Durant said. "When you’ve got guys that can score the basketball, that use up a lot of the clock, use up a lot of the basketball — me and Kyrie — he’s just picking and choosing his spots well.
"But he’s still being the same player, knocking down shots, being a shot-maker. But when you’ve got two other guys out there, sometimes opportunities might not be as much as they were in the past for James."
The Nets got balanced scoring with six players in double figures at Golden State, and that’s what they need, starting Monday night in Sacramento. That was to be the seventh game in which all of the Big 3 have played together, but Durant now is out with a strained hamstring.
When asked what the adjustments each has made since joining forces show about the Big 3’s commitment to sacrificing for each other, Irving said, "We don’t want to take our greatness for granted. We want to hold each other accountable to reach another level in the long term.
"This West Coast trip . . . we’re just trying to build some camaraderie out there and just have fun dominating. We look forward to continuing to have performances where we understand that we have to sacrifice, each one of us, in order to be at our highest potential as a team. We’re not called upon to just be the main guys. We’ve got to sacrifice, and it’s fun."
Points and shots per game for each of the Big 3 plus assists per game for James Harden and Kyrie Irving:
All games with Nets:
PPG SPG APG
Harden 23.0 14.6 11.6
Irving 27.6 18.9 5.1
Durant 28.6 19.7 —
Harden and Irving playing together:
Harden 20.9 12.8 11.5
Irving 27.2 18.8 5.3