The 2021 Brooklyn Nets
To adjust for the context of the times, this article was written a few days after Blake Griffin was signed by the already superstar-heavy Brooklyn Nets, roughly a week before the 2021 NBA trade deadline. Now that your reception of this article is somewhat adjusted to the present time just in case you’re reading this a year or two from now, let me get into the juice of what needs to be said in this article.
First of all, the Brooklyn Nets are far from being the first super team that the NBA has ever seen. In its rich history, so-called super teams have existed even before the three-point line was adopted in the NBA. The Boston Celtics of the 60’s led by Bill Russell and coached by Red Auerbach were the first super team in the NBA, and there were more after that – Jerry West with Elgin Baylor and Wilt, Julius Erving with Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks, etc.
In this article we will not go that very much further in time to bring up legendary trios like Magic, Kareem and Worthy – or Bird, McHale and Parish/Dennis Johnson – or even MJ, Scottie and Rodman. Because the rules of the NBA game have continued to change over years and decades, it becomes both unfair and impractical to compare the great trios of today to those of the far past. Therefore, although I won’t put a clear line on which year from which I’ll start considering as part of ‘recent memory,’ I will only compare the 2021 Nets to popular trios of the modern era. You will also observe that the trios I’ll match the Nets up against are those that have won at least one title (sorry 2012 Thunder or Lob City Clippers).
And so, without further ado, let’s start matching up a few NBA Big 3’s of recent memory against today’s Brooklyn Nets.
The Heatles versus the 2021 Nets
You can’t talk about any big three without referencing the South Beach Big Three, winners of two of four NBA Finals appearances, and the period where many consider LeBron was at his peak. I don’t need to run a Google search to verify if indeed the two-time championship winning Miami Heat of the early 2010’s were at the top-five in defensive rating in each of those four seasons with LeBron James leading them.
The trio of James, Wade and Bosh, even if you take their talents out of consideration are three players with a lot of size in their respective positions. Granted, Wade is average height for a shooting guard, but he has a near seven-foot wingspan and leads all guards all-time in blocks. Size-wise, the trio of James, Wade and Bosh have the clear edge.
OFFENSE: In terms of shooting ability, the 2021 Nets have the clear edge. You don’t need to do an online search to prove that KD, Kyrie and Harden have a better True Shooting Percentage (TS%) than the Heatles for their careers. Wade was one of the few starting shooting guards in the NBA who never developed a consistent outside shot, and Bosh only started shooting 3’s consistently on his second year with the Heat.
DEFENSE: LeBron was at his defensive peak with the Miami Heat, Wade is an all-time great defensive shooting guard, and Bosh was a solid rim protector while being able to switch over to slower perimeter players. Meanwhile, the 2021 Nets are still one of the ten worst defenses in the league – Kyrie can’t guard anybody and Harden has never been known as a defender, even notorious a couple of years in Houston for not even trying to defend in transition.
WINNER: Heatles in 7. The only way to slow the 2021 Nets these days is to outscore them. While the Heat’s offense is at best average in today’s NBA, at their peak, LeBron and Wade were un-guardable in transition. Depth also seems to be the problem with the 2021 Nets – something the Heat were able to address by having Ray Allen and other all-time great shooters in Mike Miller and James Jones.
The 2008 Celtics versus the 2021 Nets
The Celtics trio was slowly becoming a fantastic four as Rondo developed through the years, so it’s best to use the 2008 Celtics as baseline when Rondo was still coming out (like Kawhi in 2014). With every big three there’s always at least one of the three sacrificing his own offensive opportunities for the good of the team – and it was no surprise that this would be Kevin Garnett early on. But with a lighter offensive load, Garnett was able to utilize his energy for defense, becoming defensive player of the year.
OFFENSE: The 2008 Celtics are limited on offense when put side-by-side with the 2021 Nets, but they were probably one of the smartest teams ever assembled. Led by Doc Rivers, it was easy for the 2008 Celtics to build chemistry and rise to an elite level. But it’s clear that without the right system, they’d only be as good as a second-round-to-conference-final exit team, which they did in fact become when the James, Wade and Bosh came into the picture. Garnett was a player Doc Rivers had to beg to shoot jump shots, Pierce was an elite scorer but not really at James Harden’s level, and Ray Allen’s role was reduced to being a shooter, a shoe filled in by guys like JJ Redick and Paul George on Doc’s future teams.
DEFENSE: The 2008 Celtics have the edge here, but not by much. Garnett was an absolute monster on defense but Pierce and Allen were average at best, although they did have some size. KD has shown in his Golden State years that he can be a top-five defensive player in the NBA if he wants to, while Harden was actually a pretty solid post defender in his time with Houston.
WINNER: 2021 Nets in 6. Great as the Celtics were on defense, they couldn’t even handle Kobe, Gasol and Odom in 2020, each of whom were not all-time great shooters. KD, Kyrie and Harden could easily outscore the 2008 Celtics on an average shooting night.
Duncan’s Spurs versus the 2021 Nets
The San Antonio Spurs trio of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker is probably the most low-profile trio in recent memory – but ended up winning four championships together. Granted, Ginobili and Parker weren’t All-Stars yet in 2003 and all were showing signs of aging in 2014 – but the Spurs teams that they were part of should never be taken lightly especially because of what they were able to accomplish.
OFFENSE: The 2014 Spurs was one of the greatest offenses the NBA had seen at the time. With a constant threat in the paint by either Duncan or Parker, they balanced it out perfectly with an array of great shooters like Danny Green, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal. You could argue that the 2014 Spurs is the prototype for how NBA teams are structured these days – surround your two or three stars with shooting and defenders. As great as the 2021 Nets are in offense, the 2014 Spurs marked a transition period before all these great offensive teams who moved the ball around suddenly popped up.
DEFENSE: There’s really no discussion needed here. Tim Duncan is an all-time great defensive player and the Spurs defense was also great all-time in 2014, especially with Kawhi Leonard’s emergence.
WINNER: Spurs in 5. The Spurs could definitely outscore the 2021 Nets. They had enough number of shooters, and Tim Duncan was an automatic bucket near the paint area.
LeBron’s 2016 Cavs versus the 2021 Nets
This was the Cavs team that came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. This was perhaps the best Cavs team LeBron was ever a part of – his two co-stars healthy and his supporting cast both talented and hungry.
OFFENSE: I would give a slight edge to the 2021 Nets here. 2016 Kyrie was already spectacular on offense, but the 2021 Kyrie we’re seeing now is a player who doesn’t seem to have any offensive weaknesses and has somehow added more moves. LeBron and KD are both monsters on offense, so you can probably cancel them out. But Kevin Love was reduced to a mere shooter, and Harden, as great a scorer he is, is reminding us why Mike D’Antoni moved him to point guard for a year.
DEFENSE: The Cavs have the slight advantage here. The 2016 Cavs were not an elite defensive team, but the team they were able to build around LeBron and Kyrie – Tristan Thompson, Richard Jefferson, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert – these were NBA vets who could play as hard as anyone on defense when called upon.
WINNER: Cavs in 7. Don’t get me wrong – I think the trio of KD, Kyrie and Harden is better than the trio of LeBron, Kyrie and Love. It’s the surrounding cast that gives the 2016 Cavs the edge here, something the 2021 Nets still need to address.
KD’s Stint in Dub Nation versus the 2021 Nets
The 2017 Warriors, Durant’s first season with Steph and Klay, was the greatest shooting team ever assembled. You had a healthy Steph and Klay and you add KD – nobody was guarding this team on any given night. They were the type of team that could trail by as much as 30 in the 3rd quarter but still win the game by 20.
OFFENSE: KD’s Warriors. I don’t think any team in NBA History is going to beat them on this.
DEFENSE: KD’s Warriors. This was the year KD wanted to win defensive player of the year, on a team that was already elite on defense. The Warriors, with personnel like Iggy and Draymond being able to defend the positions 1 through 4, with big guards like Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson, was considerably one of the best defensive teams of all time. It’s just that they were so good offensively that their elite defense can be easily overlooked.
WINNER: KD’s Warriors in 4. This goes to show that KD’s currently on a slightly worse team with the 2021 Nets, but will this, if the 2021 Nets win it all, in effect give KD the credit he was not totally given during his Dub Nation stint?
As great as KD, Kyrie and Harden are with the Nets right now, I only picked them winning one out of the five match-ups I’ve mentioned above. This means that they still have a lot to add or work on to make the team around them better, and this also means that their time together is ticking. Will this version of the Big 3 end up like the 1996-1997 Rockets, or will it turn out like any of the trios I compared them with?