Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden said Wednesday he's still working his way back to full strength after struggling to overcome a hamstring injury last season.
"Just getting more confident, being aggressive," Harden told reporters after scoring 14 points in a 106-93 loss to the Miami Heat. "And it's getting better every single game. As much as I want to get back to just, you know, [scoring] 30's and 40 points, I can't do that [right now]. As much as I want to, obviously I would love to."
The nine-time All-Star explained he wasn't able to stay in peak basketball form throughout the summer because the main focus was getting the hamstring healthy.
"I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer," Harden said. "Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season. So this is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else. And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, [have to] take your time."
The 32-year-old Arizona State product was acquired by the Nets in January as part of a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets. He was terrific when healthy during the second half of the 2020-21 campaign, but he couldn't seem to shake the hamstring injury.
Although the sample size remains small, his numbers have dropped considerably from the 36 games he played for Brooklyn last season compared to his first five appearances this year:
- 2020-21: 24.6 PPG, 10.9 APG, 8.5 RPG, 47.1 FG%
- 2021-22: 16.6 PPG, 8.0 APG, 7.0 RPG, 35.9 FG%
Harden's slow start has hampered the Nets, who are 2-3 in the early going, because his role within the offense is even bigger without Kyrie Irving available because of New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate and the team's subsequent decision not to let him be a part-time player.
Kevin Durant, who's showcased MVP-level form in the team's first five games, noted Irving's absence is a factor, but it's not the only reason for the sub-.500 record so far.
"I know what you want me to say. ... Yeah, we do miss Kyrie," Durant said. "We do. He's a part of our team. But for the most part, we've been generating great shots, we've been getting into the paint. It's just a matter of us knocking them down. I think they'll come."
Getting Harden back to a level where he's one of the NBA's most dynamic offensive players would be a major step in the right direction, and the three-time scoring champion confirmed he's “finally slowly getting back” to playing at his usual level.
"My career, I've been blessed," he said. "Just not having surgeries or whatnot. So just this whole process last year was just like frustrating and draining. ... It was draining for me to know that I couldn't be myself and be out there on the floor and be the player that I am [at the end of last season]."
The Nets have a favorable schedule on the horizon over the next few weeks, including two games against the struggling Detroit Pistons, so they have a golden opportunity to start hitting their stride.
Next up is a clash with the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center on Friday night.