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Harden on slow start: “Just getting more confident,” comfortable every game

Michael Holley and Mike Smith discuss how much Kyrie Irving's absence has cost the Nets in the midst of Brooklyn's 2-3 start to the 2021 NBA season.

James Harden averages 16.6 points, shooting 33.3% from beyond the arc, and is pitching in eight rebounds and seven assists a game so far this season.

For a lot of players, those are good numbers. But, for Harden, they have led to a lot of “what is wrong?” speculation and stories, plus a rough 2-3 start to the season for the Nets. Harden addressed his slow start after the Nets’ loss to the Heat, saying that the hamstring strain that slowed him in the playoffs last season also kept him from his usual offseason workout routine. So, he is still getting his legs under him. Here’s Harden’s quote, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Just getting more confident, being aggressive,” Harden said after shooting 4-for-12. “And it’s getting better every single game. As much as I want to get back to just, you know, [scoring] 30’s and 40 points, I can’t do that [right now]. As much as I want to, obviously I would love to....

“I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer,” Harden said. “Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season. So this is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else. And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, [have to] take your time.”

Much of the speculation around Harden’s slow start has centered on the change in foul calls for non-basketball plays, and how much that impacts
his ability to get to the free throw line. That certainly is having an impact, Harden is averaging three free throw attempts a game, well below the double-digit game averages we have come to expect from him.

However, watch Harden and you can see he’s slowed, not blowing by people like he used to. For example, look at this much-viewed and discussed play from the Nets loss to the Heat: No, Harden could not draw a foul, but he also could not get by Kyle Lowry and create good space for a shot.

As a result, Harden is attempting fewer drives to the rim and settling for more jumpers. That is something likely to change as he starts rounding into form.

A slowed Harden and not having Kyrie Irving around the team because he refuses to comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate has left a little too much Kevin Durant against the world to open the season (even though Durant has played at an MVP level with 29.8 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists a game). The Nets role players have yet to find a comfortable fit this season. The result is more losses than expected.

But that also likely changes as Harden gets right, his gravity draws defenders, and space opens up.