Brooklyn has built a big three of immense offensive talent in Kevin Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving. They are in ultra-win-now mode. The Nets need a championship in the next two seasons to justify this trade – it has set up the Durant vs LeBron rivalry for another Finals meeting. It is New York versus Los Angeles for the title, or that’s how the narrative will be painted in the coming months.
Putting the two teams on level footing at this stage is foolish. The Lakers are reigning champions and they got better in the offseason. They are rightly the consensus pick to win it all.
Here are three reasons the Lakers deserve to be considered title favorites.
Lakers elite defense
Davis is one of the best defensive players in the NBA. LeBron was superb on that end last season. Marc Gasol, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris are all above average.
The Nets’ defense is reliant on Kevin Durant. Harden and Irving are subpar on that end. Joe Harris is solid enough, and Bruce Brown is good, but DeAndre Jordan is exposed in certain matchups. Landry Shamet can be targeted.
The Lakers are top in defensive rating at the time of writing. Brooklyn faces an uphill task to be an average defensive team after trading Jarrett Allen. Durant’s workload on defense is going to be huge – can he cope with being the team’s best defender?
The Lakers’ preseason status as overwhelming NBA title favorites was, in part, because of how they improved their offense. Dennis Schroder, Gasol and Montrezl Harrell add creativity and scoring. Schroder is an ideal third option behind James. Gasol gives another player to run the offense through.
Brooklyn, in contrast, have three isolation-heavy scorers. Harris and Shamet provide the perimeter shooting. Irving will be the third option on offense, something he hasn’t done at any point in his NBA career.
The Nets have moved the ball well at times this season, but the offensive scheme will change drastically following this trade. We know how the Lakers offense will look – the Nets cannot come close to being title favorites until we see Harden adapt to a team offense.
There are no chemistry issues on the Lakers. Everyone has bought in. There is a clear accepted hierarchy. With Harden’s track record with star teammates and Kyrie Irving being Kyrie Irving, the chemistry concerns are plentiful with Brooklyn.
Harden and Durant’s friendship is one thing, but it’s a big three off the court as much as it is on it. These are three personalities who have not been the easiest to get on with. Some would argue Irving and Harden are difficult teammates.
If Brooklyn reach their ceiling, they could be the Lakers’ closest challengers. For now, though, there is a chasm between the Lakers and the Nets.