Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden: A look into the NBA's greatest unknown
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
The scariest trio in the NBA got together on January 14, when James Harden left the Houston Rockets to join the Brooklyn Nets, thereby teaming up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Ever since, the messaging coming from the Nets’ Big Three has been clear. They want to win together, and they are proving it, leading the team to the top spot in the Eastern Conference and indicating they will be a mighty hurdle for anyone to get by in the postseason.
They think together, scheming and planning and putting forward an image of a unified group all hunting the same outcome.
And when the league’s COVID-19 protocols allow for such things, they sometimes hang out together.
They just don’t — and here’s the weird bit – actually play together, at least not very often, unwittingly creating one of the NBA’s greatest unknowns as the playoffs creep up on us.
According to Sports Illustrated, there have been only 186 minutes of Nets action spread over only seven games in which all three were on the floor at the same time. Durant spent 23 games on the sideline due to a combination of COVID-19 protocols and a hamstring injury. Irving took some time off to handle personal issues. Now it is Harden’s turn, as he is slated to be out for 10 days or so with his own right hamstring problem.
It all figures to be a headache for first-year head coach Steve Nash as he tries to generate cohesion in a unit that was hastily and expensively thrown together.
"As far as time and chemistry, it’s not ideal," Nash told reporters. "At the same time … we worry about the things that we can't control. So we’re not going to spend a ton of time worrying about the negative ramifications."
Going into Friday's action, Brooklyn sits in first in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, with a record of 36-16 before a clash against the depleted Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.
Durant got back in uniform Wednesday, and his return took the form of a spectacular, minutes-restricted cameo, as he went 5-for-5 on his way to compiling 17 points in a comfortable victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Harden has been spectacular enough that some have touted him for the MVP award, as he is putting up 25.2 points and a league-leading 10.9 assists per game. Irving is scoring 27.9 points per game, good for sixth in the league.
Not everyone is convinced by the Nets’ defensive abilities, but many experts are all-in on Brooklyn. When the Nets are in full offensive flow, it is difficult to imagine how they can be stopped, even considering the tighter defensive realities of the playoffs.
"Two words ran through my mind when I watched KD and the Nets [on Wednesday]," FOX Sports NBA Analyst Chris Broussard said on "First Things First." "It’s over. It’s an embarrassment of riches. KD fits more seamlessly into an offense than any 30-point scorer on the planet because he is so darn efficient."
What is it going to look like when all three stars are back? That’s where the guesswork comes in because there is such limited information to work with. Every other collection of stars on a trending team has been able to play together far more frequently. Even groups of players no longer on the same team have racked up more collective minutes than Durant, Harden and Irving.
The oddsmakers, however, have seen enough. FOX Bet lists the Nets at +250 to win the championship, while Five Thirty Eight gives them a 39% chance of making the Finals.
Yet there is more to NBA success than simply throwing out an extraordinary collection of talent and experience — or mixing and matching them based on who is fit and available at the given time.
"We’ve always been in communication about different sets and different actions," Durant added. "I feel like we were learning [to play with] each other through that time. I feel like we know each other’s games and know exactly what to do on each play."
He also knows, however, that process can get them only so far.
"As far as late in the season, we’ll need everybody on the court," he said, "... to actually see how this stuff works."
The answer to that … could determine the outcome of the season.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.