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Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Give Up on the Brooklyn Nets
The last time the Nets were this easy to ignore, the team was playing out its days in Newark, awaiting its transformative migration to Brooklyn in 2012.
Three years, three brief playoff appearances and around $300 million in player salaries later, the Nets are more or less back where they started. Tuesday’s 90-88 upset win over the Atlantic Hawks improved their record on the season to 2-9, but the crowd of 12,241 was the smallest ever to see a regular-season NBA game at Barclays Center.
There are forces beyond the Nets’ poor start conspiring against them. The 6-6 Knicks have a Rookie of the Year contender in Kristaps Porzingis. And the NHL has stolen some of the spotlight, with the Rangers in first place and the Islanders moving into Brooklyn (although the Islanders’ average attendance has been just 12,156 at Barclays Center, good for 29th in the NHL).
But there is talent in Brooklyn, and in the Atlantic Division, where the five teams currently have a combined record of 21-39, there’s always room for redemption. Here are five reasons why it’s too early to give up on the 2-10 Nets.
They have one of the best post duos in the NBA. Opposing post players have had their hands full with center Brook Lopez (19.9 points a game) and power forward Thaddeus Young (15.8), both of whom re-signed with the team during the off-season.
Lopez and Young rank second among NBA post duos in scoring, behind only the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (36.7 ppg), according to Stats, LLC.
The tandem has fit particularly well into coach Lionel Hollins’s pick-and-roll offense, with Lopez scoring on 50% of his plays as the “roll” man and Young converting 48.3% of his chances, according to NBA.com.
The offense has found its playmakers. When the Nets bought out Deron Williams’s contract, it was assumed that veteran Jarrett Jack would take over at point guard. The problem was, Jack began the season with a hamstring injury, and his backup, former Knicks point guard Shane Larkin, was still adjusting.
That all seems to have changed now. Jack has proved himself healthy by averaging 19.8 points and 9.5 assists a game over the past four. Meanwhile, Larkin was instrumental in both Nets wins, totaling 28 points and making seven of nine 3-point attempts.
And veteran forward Joe Johnson has played like a point guard, even while struggling with his own shot (34% from the field). Beyond averaging an impressive 4.8 assists a game, Johnson has created 10 potential assists a game, more than any frontcourt player besides Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Draymond Green, according to NBA.com.
The equation is pretty simple for the Nets. They struggled to pass for the first 13 minutes of Tuesday’s win. But after coming out of a second-quarter timeout, the ball started moving. Over the final 35 minutes of play, the Nets dished out 16 assists and committed only three turnovers while outscoring the third-place Hawks, 70-61.
“Once we started moving the ball from side to side,” Hollins said afterward, “we started getting good shots.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Lionel Hollins doesn’t have a reputation for favoring rookies. But after the Nets slumped to an 0-5 start, the veteran coach inserted small forward into the starting lineup. The results have been a mixed bag, which is still an improvement.
After Hollis-Jefferson’s promotion, the Nets went from being out rebounded 207-198 in their first five games to out-rebounding opponents 333-319 in their next seven. The athletic Arizona product has averaged an impressive 6.6 boards a game as a starter, and has helped the Nets’ defensive rating (points allowed per 100 defensive possessions) improve from a disastrous 109.7 to a respectable 101.6 over that time.
Hollis-Jefferson is now the only qualifying Nets’ player with a positive plus-minus rating (13). And if that’s not enough, he has thrown down a few highlight-worthy dunks.
The Nets have been close—really close. The Nets took the defending-champion Golden State Warriors to overtime before losing in Oakland on Nov. 14. They had a chance to beat playoff contenders Memphis, Atlanta and Charlotte on the road before wilting down the stretch. And they dropped a pair of winnable games to Milwaukee and another in Sacramento.
The problem has been in the second half, where the Nets have been outscored by 78 points. Over the first 24 minutes of play, their deficit has been just six points.
East Coast bias. Has there ever been a better time or place to be a middling NBA team than the present-day Eastern Conference?
The Nets have gone a combined 41-52 in November and December in their first three seasons in Brooklyn, and have managed to make the playoffs each year, thanks largely to the NBA’s weaker half. They currently sit only 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, and things could turn around as early as December, when they play 10 of 15 games at home.
Most encouraging of all, the Nets still have four games against the 0-12 Philadelphia 76ers, who lost to Indiana on Wednesday after getting a technical foul for having six players on the floor.
So even if the Nets aren’t great, their luck could be changing.
Source: The Wall Street Journal