Are the Nets the new favorites in the Eastern Conference after adding James Harden?

David Vertsberger
·3 min read
James Harden treated image
James Harden treated image

After seemingly going all-in on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last offseason, the Brooklyn Nets have doubled down on contending, trading every pick from Canarsie to DUMBO to secure James Harden.

For some trades it’s difficult to quantify success, but this one is black-and-white: championship or bust. That said, here’s how the Nets stack up against the rest of the league’s contenders, and what their chances of winning might look like.

It’s no question this team will be absurd offensively, with head coach Steve Nash able to trot out lineups that should easily put up well over 100 points per game once the chemistry has had time to build. Defense and rebounding is where questions arise, with DeAndre Jordan likely carrying the load in those regards. He’s past his prime and has little backup, but in the right matchup Brooklyn can minimize these weaknesses and bank on their talent to get them over the top.

Take the Boston Celtics, for example. The Nets will have to get through the East before reaching the Finals after all, and though Boston is more of a darkhorse contender, they currently sit atop the East and won’t be an easy postseason out. Brooklyn’s rebounding vacuum doesn’t look so bad in relation to Boston’s woes, and with the Celtics’ offense primarily coming from their perimeter wing stars, a Durant/Jeff Green/Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot defensive rotation wouldn’t roll over.

Then there’s a Philadelphia or Miami, who boast star centers in Joel Embiid and Bam Adebayo, respectively. If Jordan picks up two fouls early in either match-up, it’s on a small-ball lineup or Nic Claxton to deal with those interior threats.

The Sixers are likely the easier matchup of the two given how much their defense relies on Embiid and Ben Simmons plus the limited creation out of their backcourt. Brooklyn would face an interesting challenge with the Heat, with their motion offense running Irving and Harden ragged chasing Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Co. around big-bodied screens. Miami’s one team it’s difficult to see the Nets being able to hide anyone against, while their switchability and top-to-bottom ability on defense could slow down the Brooklyn offense somewhat.

If there’s one team out of the East that can really give the Nets problems, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks. Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo are a menacing bunch defensively, and match up nicely against Brooklyn’s big three. The Greek Freak will eat on the boards against this thin Nets team, while Brook Lopez stretches this already shaky Nets defense to its limits. Individual matchups also tend to favor Milwaukee, at least in physicality, with Holiday towering over Irving and Antetokounmpo’s strength sure to give Durant some issues. This matchup will be Brooklyn’s biggest obstacle in pursuit of an NBA championship.

Should they make the Finals, there’s no shortage of monster teams awaiting them. The Clippers have all the defensive wings, and the Suns are impressing as a supremely balanced and deep team.

The big question is how the Nets stack up to the Lakers, the defending champs and still the favorites to take the 2020-21 title. Nobody matches up to LeBron James as well as Durant, but without added frontcourt help it’s not clear how Brooklyn will be able to contain Anthony Davis. The way the Lakers were locked in defensively during last year’s playoffs and Finals make them out to be a prime candidate to weather this robust Nets offense as well.

The Finals are a ways away though, and the Nets have a great deal of meshing to do. Yet, it’s already clear the league offers few teams that can truly match the talent the Nets have on paper. They signed Durant and Irving then traded for Harden to win a championship ,and at the very least, they’re in a terrific position to do so.

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Milwaukee
-139-2.5O 237.5
Brooklyn
+115+2.5U 237.5