Wednesday’s Nets victory might have summed up the start of James Harden’s season: Good enough but underwhelming.
Harden called the second-half stumbles against Cleveland a “meltdown,” and though the Nets eventually held on to win, it required a ton of energy against a team missing 60 percent of its starting five.
For Harden himself, his numbers are ticking up as he adjusts to a league that is no longer calling the fouls that he had mastered drawing. The alarms from his first dozen games this year have quieted, but he still is not quite the superstar who finagled his way to being one of the best scorers in NBA history.
“We just got to keep fighting, man,” Harden said after scoring 27 points on 6 of 12 shooting against the Cavs. “Find ways to come away with wins, find ways to keep improving on both ends of the ball. It’s a long season.”
Most encouraging recently from Harden is that he is finding ways to return to the foul line. He went 12 of 12 Wednesday and has 43 attempts in his last four games. He averaged 4.7 attempts in the first 12 contests of the season.
He is adapting, and there have been fewer instances in which he flings his body into defenders and less baiting those defenders into the air and leaning into them.
Many of the fouls Harden has drawn recently have come more naturally through drives to the hoop — which might be contributing to a newfound turnover issue.
Last season, he averaged four per game, which is up to 4.9 this year and has been getting worse. He has turned the ball over 29 times in his past five games.
It’s still early, the team and star will tell you. But he will have to keep tweaking his style of play as he searches for what works best.
“We’re in a little bit of a funk right now in a sense of just everything,” Harden said. “But we win and keep going. Get ready for Friday.”
In a league that is increasingly about 3-pointers, the Nets are leading the NBA in an overlooked aspect of shooting: the midrange game.
Entering play Thursday, their 52.5 percent mark on shots from 10-15 feet was the best in basketball. Harden has shot 75 percent from that range, while Kevin Durant is at 66 percent and LaMarcus Aldridge at 63.9.
Durant, who moved up on the all-time 3-pointers list to No. 26, leapfrogging coach Steve Nash on Wednesday, now has sunk 1,687 for his career. He is 32 shy of Dale Ellis.
“He’s got a few more guys to pass,” Nash said.