In the history of the NBA, Kevin Durant has found a way to make his way into some spectacular starting lineups. In the beginning, Durant paired with Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Then, he won two championships alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. As we enter the 2021 season, Durant has found a way to position his name into the talk of one of the best starting lineups in the league, if not in the history of the NBA.
Thanks to the team-building around the Nets, Brooklyn has heavy odds to win the NBA championship this season. Through trades and veterans taking less money, the overall team has one of the deepest squads in all of the land. This starting lineup has a chance to be great. Can the team live up to the lofty expectations?
Point Guard - James Harden
In 36 games with the Nets, Harden dazzled. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10.9 assists. Had Harden not missed time with the Rockets holding out, as well as been hurt, Harden would have led the league in assists. The walking triple-double was allowed to be the team’s point guard given his ability to create plays.
Harden is listed as the team’s starting point guard after making the switch from shooting guard, but he is so versatile that he can play both positions. Harden is a three-time scoring champion, but he may not even be the best overall scorer on the team. Harden has a chance to lead the league in assists with the weapons available to him. If he does, it shouldn’t surprise any of us. At this point, we should expect it.
Shooting Guard - Kyrie Irving
When James Harden was traded to the Nets, the team decided to shift Irving to shooting guard. For now, Irving is listed as the team’s point guard, but he fulfills more of a scoring role than a playmaker. Even with that said, Irving remains one of the best playmakers in the league despite averaging just 6.0 assists. The baseline move-turned floater is one of the best in the league.
Irving averaged 26.9 points per game and shot 50.6% from the field. The former No. 1 overall pick has his best squad since LeBron James and Kevin Love in 2015-2016. Irving is potentially the third-best offensive player on the team, which makes this one very dangerous offensive lineup.
Small Forward - Joe Harris
When it comes to major contributors in the league, Harris led the league in three-point field goal percentage when he shot 47.5% from the field. Harris ranked in the top of the league for three-point field goal attempts, solidifying himself as one of the best long-range sharpshooters in the NBA. His 14.1 points per game were near a career-high. With Irving and Harden handling the ball again, Harris should have plenty of opportunities to find wide-open shots.
Harris has a very important role in this team. Opposing defenses will emphasize the team’s backcourt. In theory, the Nets should have no problem creating opportunities for their long-range shooters when looking to penetrate the paint. This could be a career year for the former Three-Point Contest champion.
Power Forward - Kevin Durant
When Durant started the season, he was on pace to win the MVP. By the end of the year, he averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists in 35 games. Had Durant played the whole season, the Nets might have triumphed over the Philadelphia 76ers to win the No. 1 seed with Durant leading the way. Now, the team is hopeful that he can stay healthy, especially since he didn’t play any games the year before.
Durant is currently seen as the best player in the league. That is when he is healthy. Durant remains the best overall scorer in the league. He showed that in the playoffs and had his toe been behind the line in Game 7 against the Bucks, we might be talking about the champion Nets instead of Milwaukee. Now, Durant has a chance to rewrite his legacy by leading a team to the NBA Finals.
Center - Nicolas Claxton
Despite Blake Griffin remaining with the team, Claxton did enough to carve a starting role. Clayton entered his third year in the league and had a successful sophomore year. In 32 games, Claxton averaged 6.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks. While the defense is not going to be one of the top defenses in the league, Claxton is the far better overall rim protector than Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
That is precisely the reason that Claxton moved his way into the rotation with DeAndre Jordan on the roster last year. Jordan was a former league-leading rebounder but lost his step last year as he fell out of the rotation. Clayton won’t’ average 30 minutes per game, as he will likely split time with Griffin.
Patty Mills, Jevon Carter, Marcus Zegarowski, Cameron Thomas, DeAndre’ Bembry, David Duke Jr., Bruce Brown, Kessler Edwards, Paul Millsap, James Johnson, Sekou Doumbouya, Reggie Perry, RaiQuan Gray, Devontae Cacok, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Day’Ron Sharp
The bench on this team is so deep that even the fourth-string players are flashy names. Starting at the guard position, picking up Patty Mills was an underrated pickup. The longtime veteran won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs and is coming off a very impressive Olympic performance with Australia. Combined with Bruce Brown, who sometimes had to play a guard position, the one-two depth for guard and small forward is deep.
Looking at some of the other positions, we should expect Paul Millsap to provide big-time veteran minutes like Jeff Green last year. Both Millsap and James Johnson are capable forwards in this league that owns a wealth of experience. Then, the two biggest names on the bench in Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge will split time at power forward and center. Both may be in their 30s, but both want to win a championship and will do whatever it takes to win.
Championship Or Bust
Let’s just recap the starting lineup again. Two of the five starters are former scoring champions or MVPs. The team’s shooting guard is a former NBA champion, while the small forward is a Three-Point Shootout champion. Then, let’s look at the bench. The bench features three former All-Stars, including a former Slam Dunk champion.
The resumes are ridiculous. Is there a time that we saw an entire team look like this from top to bottom? This could be the first time that the Brooklyn Nets could be dancing come summertime. The Nets franchise has never won an NBA championship. The last championship that was won by the franchise was when the team was a member of the ABA. Julius Erving led the team to its last title in 1976 when the franchise was referred to as the New York Nets.
The New Jersey Nets made an NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 before dropping to the Lakers and Spurs respectively. This could be the first time that Brooklyn gets to see its name in the national spotlight. After all, isn’t this what both Durant and Irving wanted?
Durant wants to prove that he can lead a franchise to a title with him as the alpha. We all know that Durant won two Finals MVPs with the Warriors, but many are quick to rush that he joined a 72-win team that featured MVP Steph Curry on it. Irving tried to win without LeBron James by his side and was run out of Boston in the process. Now, both are trying to rewrite history to their legacies and prove they are the players they believe they are.
As for Harden, the clock is ticking on his chances. Harden is 32 years old. He couldn’t get the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals despite making two trips to the Conference Finals. He has played with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook and failed to bring his team to the grandest stage. This is by far the best surrounding cast he has ever had.
All three All-Stars know what is at stake. There are legacies on the line. There are potential rings on the line as the Nets are favored to win the NBA title this year according to oddsmakers. A second-round playoff appearance just won’t cut it. Neither will a trip to the Conference Finals. Heck, even just making the NBA Finals isn’t good enough. It’s either title or bust when it comes to this team’s season.