As evidenced by their drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-93, the New Jersey Nets remain a team stuck in neutral. Despite shedding a fantastic amount of cap space to recreate their roster this offseason, New Jersey is still one of the league’s bottom feeders.
With such a remade roster, it’s only fair to start with the incumbents using the Thunder game as a guideline.
Devin Harris—7-13 FG, 5-5 FT, 3 AST, 2TO, 19 PTS—has terrific end-to-end speed, which makes him an excellent transition player where he tallied eight of his 19 points. In the halfcourt, he’s quick to attack seams to the basket and has mastered a nifty stop-and-step-through maneuver to finish around the hoop.
However, Harris was only 2-6 on his jump shots, which suggests that teams can sag off him to limit his success. He also missed two layups, including one when he posted Russell Westbrook successfully but couldn’t finish the shot.
Worse was Harris’ passing, with at least a half dozen passes deflected, flat lining New Jersey’s offense. He only generated three assists:
- A bounce pass off a screen/roll with Brook Lopez where Lopez caught the ball, barreled into a defender, and finished a tough layup;
- An uncontested lob to Derrick Favors when Oklahoma City’s weak-side failed to rotate after Favor’s man showed on a screen; and a nice split of a double team
- A nifty split of a double team led to Harris jumping in the air and throwing the ball at Kris Humphries’ feet, forcing Humphries to fumble around for two seconds before dunking.
Of Harris’ two turnovers, one came on a spin move where Westbrook ripped the ball out of his hands highlighting Harris’ lack of strength, with the second coming on a botched jumpstop.
Harris is fairly effective at attacking his man and getting a decent shot for himself, but because of this, he’s less of a point guard who makes teammates better, as he is a scoring guard who passes as a second option—one of the main reasons New Jersey’s offense has been so inefficient under his watch. It’s hard to generate effective weak-side and five-man offensive sets if a point guard is running mainly two-man games and attacking off the dribble.
Defensively, Harris poked a dribble away from Westbrook for a nice steal, but he tended to get stuck on screens before giving up on possessions, while also was lounging around on a sideline out-of-bounds play when Westbrook caught the pass, caught Harris with his pants down, and zipped to the bucket for a layup.
The point being that while the Nets have problems elsewhere, they’re struggles begin with Harris’ awful defense and inability to make teammates better.
Brook Lopez is New Jersey’s other pillar and he has exceptional touch for a seven-footer, as he spent the Thunder game creating jump hooks for himself over Oklahoma City’s smallish front line. Lopez’ problem is that he has no range. It takes him an eternity to drive to the rim or to roll to the cup on screen/rolls. He’s often timid in the post, is relatively soft, and his moves are slow developing and mechanical.
Defensively, Lopez is too upright in the post, allowing Nenad Kristic of all people to hook through him and hit a scoop layup. Naturally, his lack of foot speed makes him an inadequate perimeter defender, but after the Thunder hit a few jumpers off of curls, Lopez played a step higher and managed to block a Westbrook jumper, and strip Kevin Durant on a jump shot attempt.
Too many times, Lopez would fail to anticipate weak-side offense, and thus roughly half of his expected rotations were late or absent. Also, Lopez has virtually no rebounding range and doesn’t track rebounds well, leaving him with a pitiful average for a center.
Lopez certainly has talent, but the coos of people dubbing him as an elite big man were off-base. There’s a lack of explosion to Lopez’ game that he has to overcome if he wants to become a star. Right now, Lopez doesn’t dominate games the way an elite big man would.
Travis Outlaw—4-9 FG, 3 REB, 1 AST, 3 TO, 12 PTS—is a high-stepping mistake player with poor court awareness. Among his transgressions, he was beaten back door for a layup, missed a pair of rotations, stepped out of bounds around a screen, charged into a Thunder defender, and missed a wide open Humphries after curling around a screen. Outlaw tends to drift when he shoots and has a slow release. On Portland, Outlaw’s niche was to be a designated second-unit scorer and shoot step-back jumpers to his heart’s content. In a starting lineup though, Outlaw isn’t well-rounded enough or talented enough to be a successful player.
Stephen Graham had moderate success defending Kevin Durant one-on-one, but he received no weak-side and off-ball help on Durant’s various cuts and curls. After Durant started the game curling for a trio of jumpers with New Jersey’s bigs providing poor shows, the Nets dropped the screen defender well off his man, giving Graham room to squeeze between the screener and the screen defender while remaining close to Durant.
On offense though, Graham is limited, and as such, only took three shots—1-3 FG, 2-2 FT, 5 PTS.
Kris Humphries can rebound and he’s more athletic than one would expect, but he’s a mediocre defender with another limited offensive player. Still, his court time is justified because of Lopez’ inability to rebound.
Favors showed that he can dunk with anybody and he hustled throughout, but he has a poor basketball IQ. On one cut, instead of sprinting to the basket where he would have been wide open, he veered and drifted away from the hoop leading to a bad Lopez pass. On a drive, he similarly drove away from the hoop instead of towards it, essentially taking himself into a miss. He also sets flimsy screens and is also soft in traffic.
His best attribute actually was his interior rotations, a rarity for rookies. Several times Favors was aware of teammates being beaten or hedging on screens and maneuvered himself into proper positioning to defend the free man before moving over to his original check.
Sasha Vujacic three times played defense by staying glued to his spot and reaching with his arms as Westbrook or Eric Maynor drove past him. No wonder the Lakers wanted to jettison him ASAP.
Jordan Farmar can scoot and shoot, but he’s another player who plays out of control—1-5 FG, 1 AST, 3 TO, 2 PTS.
Troy Murphy has been a disaster. Brought aboard for rebounding and shooting, he’s never been fleet, but he’s moving slower than ever. He’s always been a deplorable defender, but he isn’t providing anything on offense, and his rebounding hasn’t been enough to justify his court time. With his presence taking up possible playing time for Favors, it would be best off if the Nets trade him as soon as they get a chance.
Quinton Ross is another defensive specialist with no offensive game.
Johan Petro moves fluidly, but is perpetually lost and confused.
Ben Uzoh is fast and shifty and tore up garbage time—6 PTS, 5 AST.
Moving forward, the Nets need to identify what they have going forward and what they’ll need to do to surround their pieces.
Obviously Lopez is a keeper, but his presence in so many of New Jersey’s screen/rolls and screen/fades pulls him away from the basket. If Favors can mature quickly and become a good roll man on screen/rolls, this would situate Lopez nearer to the basket which would help his scoring and rebounding. Should Favors become a dependable rebounder then he’ll cover for Lopez’ deficiencies. Plus Favors projects to be a competent, if slightly undersized, defender. Clearly the Nets have something there.
In the short term, Humphries is needed for his rebounding and the fact that he has more awareness than Favors right now.
Massive upgrades are needed at the wing. Graham and Ross are redundant, Vujacic will fall out of favor quickly, and Travis Outlaw is strictly a backup. Injured Anthony Morrow has a place because of his shooting, so the Nets need to acquire a small forward who can create his own shot.
In the long term, it may be best if the Nets jettison Devin Harris for a more stable, more complete point guard. A Harris trade would fetch a nice catch of draft picks, plus the wing upgrade the Nets need. In the short term though, the Nets offensive attack is so pitiful that they need Harris to field an offense capable of scoring.
The best thing about New Jersey’s situation is that they’re still under the cap and have a sizeable asset in Troy Murphy’s expiring contract. This allows the Nets an avenue to improve externally.
However, New Jersey still lacks a requisite amount of talent to contend for mediocrity, let alone a playoff spot, and it’s hard to imagine too many players currently on New Jersey’s roster contributing to a playoff run in the near future. The Nets need to determine if adding a star to their collection is enough to take the team to anything more than perhaps an eight seed and first round sweep, or if the trading of Harris could bring back multiple pieces to fill the multiple holes on New Jersey’s roster.
As it stands, New Jersey’s future is still a bleak one despite whatever hope a billionaire owner and trip to Brooklyn may usher in.