James Harden has made a dream start to his Brooklyn Nets career - but can The Beard grow?

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, left, gets a pat on the head from guard James Harden. Picture: Mark J. Terrill/APBrooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, left, gets a pat on the head from guard James Harden. Picture: Mark J. Terrill/AP
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, left, gets a pat on the head from guard James Harden. Picture: Mark J. Terrill/AP
James Harden is six weeks into his Brooklyn Nets career and so far, it’s been a dream. In his short 17-game career with the Nets, he is setting career marks for most of the significant shooting statistics, the notable exception being points, but there’s a reason for that.

Harden is shooting better three-pointers, twos and free throws. He is creating more than ever and collecting more defensive rebounds. For all intents and purposes, at 31 years of age, one of the best shooting guards in the league just got better.

So it’s little surprise that fans of Brooklyn are happy with the trade and very happy with The Beard, one of Harden’s more famed monikers.

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Harden did well in Houston, collecting the 2017-18 MVP during his eight years in Texas. In those eight years, the team made the playoffs each time and never had a losing season.

The shooting guard had some good times in Houston and is well thought of by the fans. Still, the team never achieved the ultimate goal of winning NBA titles, something that caused the acrimonious split between Haden and the organisation.

Harden knows his time in the NBA is getting shorter and wanted the team to make a run at the championship. But, after they fell a game short of making the finals in 2017-18, the management seemed consigned to defeat, letting the supporting cast slip away as they entered a rebuilding phase.

Harden stuck it out for another two seasons, then after a lack of movement and a change of coach, he decided to make his feelings known, leading to the early season trade to Brooklyn.

In his last game, Harden scored 37 points, had 11 total rebounds and seven assists, an example of how successful his time in Brooklyn has been so far.

Of course, as I said above, Harden has been a delight in New York City, hitting the ground running and becoming a core member of the Nets locker room. In addition, his stats have significantly improved and the only one to decline is his total points.

Now, that’s not indicative of anything other than Harden not having to be the star in Brooklyn and knowing that he can be part of a team rather than having to lead every day from the front.

So all is well, right?

Well, here’s the thing, New York fans are fickle. They love when players are playing well, but they also quickly jump on their backs when they aren’t.

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The New York media are as, if not more, passionate about the teams. Just look back at ‘Linsanity’ in 2012 when the craze around the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin reached fever pitch.

The Beard is the apple of the fanbase’s eye, but there are storm clouds on the horizon. Harden’s stats always decline in the playoffs.

That could be said of most players, as when you enter the postseason, you are, of course, playing against the elite teams in the league. After a long hard season, it can be expected that fatigue could play a factor, but a five-point drop like in the 2018-19 season?

Across his career, Harden has seen a 2 per cent drop in his shooting from the field, a 3 per cent drop in his three-point shooting, and he scores 2.2 points fewer per game.

But a quick look at similar players tells a different story. LeBron, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant all increase their efficiency in the playoffs. They step up and score more points per game than their career averages.

Harden has got off to a great start in Brooklyn and seems comfortable under the glare of the bright lights of New York. Of course, those lights only get brighter as the season goes on, so if Harden really is a success with the Nets, now is not the time to judge.

When May rolls around and the business end of the season gets underway, Harden will have to perform because with those bright lights comes an extraordinary amount of pressure, and New York City fans expect to win it all. If Brooklyn Nets don’t at least win the East, fans will be looking for someone to blame, and a decline in stats is the perfect excuse to lay that blame on The Beard.

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