By: Adam Hulse (Twitter: @AdamHulseSports)
Kevin Durant is back again from injury and ready to make a run at an NBA title with the Brooklyn Nets. He is a top-three player in the world, at worst, when he is healthy and makes any team that he is on an immediate title contender. This is even more true now that he is on a super team with James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
On paper, the Nets this year are arguably the best offensive team of all time. Durant, Harden, and Kyrie are all MVP caliber players and they can all drive this team to score a ton of points. All three of them are averaging over 25 points per game each for the season. In addition, they each average over five rebounds and five assists as well.
The problem is that they have played so few games together as a trio. In fact, the Nets have only had seven games this season where all three of them started. Granted they won five of those seven games, but that’s such a small sample size.
The other potential issue, besides health, is their ability to play defense, especially against big men. None of the big three are known for their defense, and their supporting cast is not a great group of defenders either. Playoff basketball is a whole different game than regular season basketball, where defense really does matter, so it will be interesting to see how that factor plays out.
Kyrie and Harden are great players, but Durant brings this team to a whole different level. Without him, the Nets are still one of the best teams in the league, but with him, they are the favorites to win the NBA championship. He is the highest-scoring player on the team averaging 27.5 points per game and also leads the Nets in PER with a strong 26.83.
Durant is one of the most difficult players to guard in the history of the NBA. His unique build paired with his elite skills make him an incredible weapon. He is 6’10 tall with the wingspan of a 7 footer, but has the handles and shooting ability of a top-level guard. When he is on his game, he is nearly impossible to stop.
His game is verified by his long list of awards. He has won two NBA championships already and was the Finals MVP for both of them. He has also won a regular-season MVP, Rookie of the Year, four scoring titles, and nine All NBA selections.
There are two main teams that threaten the Nets chances of winning the Eastern Conference and going to the NBA Finals. They are the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers. Both of these teams have a serious threat on their roster that could really challenge the main weakness of the Nets, which as stated before is their ability to guard players with size.
That player on the Bucks is of course their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The near seven-footer would presumably have his way with the Nets defense because they really don’t have anyone to match up with him. Durant would probably be the one to guard him, and that would be a pretty big mismatch.
The 76ers have an MVP caliber player of their own in Joel Embiid. Similar to Durant, his only concern is his health. Unfortunately, he has not been able to go long periods of time without getting hurt, but when he has played he has been a force. He was the frontrunner for MVP before his most recent injuries.
Unlike Durant, both Giannis and Embiid are excellent defensive players in addition to their offensive production. They would likely guard Durant in the playoffs and would be up for the challenge. Let’s be honest, nobody is capable of completely shutting KD down, but these two players have as good a chance as anyone of at least slowing him down a bit.
To make things more complicated for the Nets chances at making a title run, the threat of either Harden or Kyrie missing time is just as great as Durant. They have all dealt with their share of injuries this season, but hopefully, for them, they can all be at the top of their game when the playoffs come around. If all three are at their best, they will be the favorites to go all the way.
In the scenario that one of their big three goes down with an injury, that does not necessarily mean they are out of the race. The key though is Durant. If he is paired with just Harden or just Kyrie, they are still good enough to compete for the trophy, but the other two without KD just aren’t enough to get it done. That gives the Nets one goal for these last few weeks of the regular season, and that is to make sure Durant is at full strength when the playoffs arrive. If he is, then Brooklyn really has a shot to bring home their first NBA Championship.