FanPost

Game 1 (For Real this time) Preview: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets

The music to go with the preview.

It's a few days late, but we've reached that special day. It won't probably as festive (or as widely covered) as Nets management had hoped for in the summer thanks to the hurricane, but the Nets officially debut at the brand new Barclays Center tonight. Who's the first team they'll play? That would be Atlantic Division foe Toronto.

How'd these teams do last year? Let's check it out:

Team

Record

Pace

Offensive Efficiency

Defensive Efficiency

Offensive Rebounding %

Turnover Rate

Free Throw Rate

Effective FG%

Opponent eFG%

Toronto Raptors

23-43 91.4 98.5 101.5 25.87 14.77 27.4 47.55 47.46

New Jersey Nets

22-44 93.1 99.7 106.9 27.82 14.33 26.9 47.28 51.31

League Average

-

93.8

101.8

101.8

26.83

13.77

27.6

48.7

48.7

The big gain for Toronto was on defense. By itself, being league average on defense isn't all that impressive. But after being one of the worst defensive teams in the league, this represents a substantial step forward. They made some major improvements this past offseason, as they acquired Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, Terrance Ross & Jonas Valancianus. Self promotion alert: I did a Season Preview post for Toronto a while back.

Their home opener was Wednesday vs. Indiana, and the game reads a lot like a Raptor game from last season. It was slow paced, physical, and...

it ended in a loss. But there were a bunch of good things to take away from their opener, such as Kyle Lowry's fantastic performance and the debut of rookie Jonas Valancianus. Kinnonn Yee of Raptors HQ had this to say when comparing the Raptors to the Indiana Pacers and the result of the season opener:

In fact, I think if we give the Raptors a couple more months under their belts, we could see a very different result. The Raptors are new to this whole "playing hard on defense and scrapping for every possession" gimmick.

Looking at the Nets, it was an ugly, ugly, ugly year on defense. Consider this: the Charlotte Bobcats, them of the 7-59, amazingly inept season, were the worst defensive team in the NBA, registering a defensive efficiency of 107.8. For a large part of the season, the Nets were worst at defense than one of the worst teams in NBA history. I feel that is really important, so I'll say it again: For a large part of the season, the Nets were worst at defense than one of the worst teams in NBA history. In the end, they allowed 106.9 per 100 possessions, which was second most in the league. So where'd hey struggle the most? Their three point defense was extremely porous, as opponents shot a staggering 37.4% from downtown, which was second highest in the League. It also didn't help that New Jersey's lack of interior presence got their foes to take 27 shots per game at the rim.

Was the offense any better? In a word, no. They were below average offensively, and that was thanks to their inability to finish at the rim. For clarity's sake, here's where the Nets have ranked in terms of field goal percentage at the rim for the past five seasons:

2011-2012: 30

2010-2011: 29

2009-2010: 29

2008-2009: 22

2007-2008: 28

A lot of that is due to employing terrible players, and with the roster overhaul, this trend should begin to reverse itself. Another trend that should change this year is the amount of attempts from deep the Nets take. Due to Brook Lopez missing 61 games, the Nets didn't have someone they could consistently throw the ball to in the post. Because of this, the Nets (and to be more specific, Deron Williams) took a whole bunch of threes. The Nets were third in three attempts per game, and they shot a respectable 34%.

And before we dig into the matchups, let's take a quick trip back to the 2007 playoffs. This was the last time the Nets were in the playoffs, and this was their last playoff win.

Tip-off is at 7;30. Matchup time!

*****

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry vs. Deron Williams

2011-2012

Minutes per game

True Shooting %

Rebound Rate

Assist rate

Turnover rate

Usage Rate

Kyle Lowry

32.1 55.8 8.2 42.46 17.6 22

Deron Williams

36.3 52.8 5.3 36.58 16.69 30.4

League Average

23 52.4 5.6 38.1 17.8 20.94

Certainly Lowry isn't a point guard on the level of Chris Paul, but he's still pretty damn good. He's in his prime, signed to a fair deal and is very productive. He's been an efficient shooter, very good on the glass, solid in managing his possessions and active on defense, and all of those attributes shined in his Raptors debut vs. a very good Pacers team. Lowry had 22 points on 11 FGAs (including 7 trips to the foul line), seven rebounds, eight assists to only two turnovers, and five steals. Throughout his career, Lowry has done a very good job of consistently getting to the free throw line, and if the Nets defense is anything like it was last season, he'll be spending a good portion of his evening at the charity stripe. He's a physical defender as well, and his team did a very good job defending Deron Williams the last time they faced each other. When Lowry was on the court, Deron shot only 28% from the field.

What word would I use to sum up Deron Williams's time as a Net? Context. Now that sounds weird but hear me out. When he was traded from Utah in February 2011, I think the majority of basketball fans and Net fans in particular were expecting big things from Williams due to him moving to the weaker (at the time) Conference, having extra motivation after being traded and his status as (perceived) "Best Point Guard in the NBA." Of course, Deron never was the best point guard in the NBA, but he was better than what's he given the Nets so far.

Williams had a career high usage rate last year, and that (combined with injuries) took a toll on his shooting numbers. He had his worst TS% since his rookie season as he took three pointer after three pointer. It wasn't a particularly successful strategy, as Williams shot only 34% from the great beyond despite being sixth in total attempts. Expanding on the shot types discussion a little bit more:

My issue with Williams is one that you mentioned: He settles too much. Deron has one of, if not the best, crossover moves in the NBA; however, he seems to almost never use it to get passed the defender. He almost always gets the defender off-balance and then pulls back from a jumper. Now, of course he should pull back and pull up a good portion of the time because he has one of the better mid-range games at his position (although his percentages have dipped since his wrist injury — something that I don’t think has received enough attention), but he needs to attack the rim more. Williams’ main problem the last two seasons has been his efficiency (or lack thereof); when you attack the rim, you do three things: (1) you slow the game down, (2) you get to the line at a higher rate, thereby significantly boosting your efficiency and (3) you can create a momentum shifting play if you convert on an and-1.

Now that Lopez is back and Joe Johnson is on the team, Williams shouldn't be asked to carry the offense again and would hopefully find better shot opportunities. And not suffer a serious injury. Well this isn't nice.

Advantage: Nets (slightly)

Shooting Guard: Landry Fields vs. Joe Johnson

2011-2012

Minutes per game

True Shooting %

Rebound Rate

Assist rate

Turnover rate

Usage Rate

Landry Fields

28.7 50.6 8.5 25.03 15.10 16

Joe Johnson

35.5 55.7 6.1 20.93 10.3 24.93

League Average

23 52.7 6.6 17.95 12.56 19.79

Fields was another of Toronto's big acquisitions this offseason. After signing a 3 year, $18.7 million deal in the summer, how'd he do in his Raptors debut? No points on 6 shot attempts and only 2 rebounds in 24 minutes. Of course it's not fair to assume Fields will be terrible throughout his Raptor tenure based solely on one game, but it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see rookie Terrence Ross take his spot in the starting lineup at some point this season.

Did I want Joe Johnson on the Nets? No, but that ship has sailed and it's time for me to move on. As part of that "moving on," I should appreciate Johnson's efficiency. As a member of the Hawks, he was able to be efficient (though not as efficient as you would hope with that many possessions going your way) as he was the first option on the Atlanta offense as they consistently made the postseason. Johnson should serve as a steady second (or third, depending on Brook Lopez) option on offense so Deron Williams won't have to be near the top of the league in usage rate, which is something that he is not suited for in my opinion. When he faced the Knicks and Fields was on the court, he shot a robust 56% from the field and 60% from three point range. To be fair, Fields shot 82% from the field when Johnson was in the game.

Advantage: Nets

Small Forward: Demar DeRozan vs. Gerald Wallace

2011-2012

Minutes per game

True Shooting %

Rebound Rate

Assist rate

Turnover rate

Usage Rate

Demar Derozan

35 50.3 5.6 10.92 10.5 25

Gerald Wallace

35.8 54.7 10.8 19.35 13.2 18.6

League Average

22 52.7 9 15.99 12.78 17.98

But there's no question that with his contract coming due, time is running out for DeMar, with this season likely showing fans if he's ready to flourish, or if the bar has already been set as high as it can go.

- Brandon Graham of Raptors HQ

Contract time came and DeRozan got paid to the tune of $42 million over four years. I used to think that DeRozan was some anonymous dunker who isn't good at anything else on the court, but he does have some positive attributes to his game. Of course, "some positive attributes" isn't enough of a reason to hand out $40+ million to an essentially average player, but seeing as how Landry Fields got more money than he should've gotten in my opinion, who's to say DeRozan won't continue to improve on his three point percentages (it went up 18 points from 10-11) and get to the foul line on a consistent basis (15th in FTAs)?

I didn't want Gerald Wallace to come back to the Nets, but much like Joe Johnson earlier, I need to shut up and fall in line. Be that as it may, Wallace is still a solid player. Assuming he's at full strength, Wallace will bring excellent defensive rebounding and passing at the small forward position, both of which are of the utmost importance if the Nets hope to have a successful season in Brooklyn. Even though he shot 39% from three as a member of the Nets, I still don't want him shooting it from downtown at all. Good defense and rebounding is what he's known for, and he should be able to have some success guarding DeRozan in this matchup. It's always a plus to have your opponent shoot deep twos, and because DeRozan shot 35% from 16-23 feet last year and only 27% from three point range (that 18 point increase doesn't sound as impressive now), Wallace should give him room on defense and force him into jumpers.

Advantage: Nets

Power Forward: Andrea Bargnani vs. Kris Humphries

2011-2012

Minutes per game

True Shooting %

Rebound Rate

Assist rate

Turnover rate

Usage Rate

Andrea Bargnani

33.3 53.8 9.8 9.54 11 28.7

Kris Humphries

34.8 53.9 18.3 9.8 13.14 19.35

League Average

21 53 13.6 12.85 13.43 18.61

Even though Wages of Wins (& Raptor fans) hates Bargnani's on court play, he is coming off a career year. He did a great (by his career standards) on the defensive glass last season, but he was still below average at the power forward/center position. The Raptors did much better than they had been with Bargs on the court, as they allowed nine fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the court last year than they did in 10-11. There weren't any major roster overhauls last year, and coach Duane Casey was high on his efforts, so it's fair to say he's starting to remove the "really bad at defense" tag from his name. On offense, he has an ability to stretch the floor with his deep shooting, and that should force Humphries out to the perimeter, a place you don't really want him to be.

Kris Humphries' 2010-2011 was so good (by his standards) that some dude tried to make the case that he should have been considered for the All-Star team. Not one of my better posts, for a variety of reasons.

I think the biggest problem for Humphries last season was that he was asked to do too much on offense. I don't have anything quantifiable to prove this, but it felt as if the Nets ran a million isolation plays for Humphries last season. Just by looking at his career numbers and by watching him a couple of times, you can see that he can't really create for himself on offense. Somebody else makes it happen. What Humphries should be able to provide excellent offensive rebounding, as Humphries was one of the better rebounders on that side of the ball in the league last year. Humphries has been one of the better offensive rebounders in the league since he joined the Nets, and Toronto was one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA last year.

Advantage: Even

Center: Jonas Valancianus vs. Brook Lopez

2011-2012

Minutes per game

True Shooting %

Rebound Rate

Assist rate

Turnover rate

Usage Rate

Jonas Valancianus

- - - - - -

Brook Lopez

27.2 52.7 7.7 6.18 6.2 32.7

League Average

18 53.8 15.1 11.96 16.86 15.55

He only shot 6-15 on the floor, but Valancianus still had a successful NBA debut vs. Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. he was able to snag 10 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive glass, in his 23 minutes on the court. If things haven't changed and the Nets continue to be terrible at defensive rebounding, Jonas will have another successful game.

In his last full season, Brook Lopez was second among Centers in usage rate. I don't think that will happen again, but he'll certainly get his shots on offense. His last season wasn't a particularly successful one shooting the ball, as his True Shooting % of 54.9% was below what the average center posted and when you take into account the amount of possessions he used and his lack of contributions everywhere else, it looks really bad.

It's a benefit to have a big that can hit a 20 footer as it provides more options on offense and can open up the floor a little bit. But when your big is taking fewer shots at the rim (& shooting it at a worse % too), it creates a problem. I think it would be in the Nets best interests to get him the ball in the paint earlier in the shot clock. He does have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and with players like Deron Williams (crosses fingers) & Gerald Wallace, they can get him the ball more often and he can be in a good position to either score or draw fouls.

Nothing's really changed since then. He has shown an ability to get to the free throw line, and that should serve to improve the Nets team offensive efficiency and lessen the workload Williams & Johnson will have to take on. I'm hoping he trades the deep jumpers for shots at the basket this season.

Advantage: Nets

The Bench:

Toronto: Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, Alan Johnson, Aaron Gray, John Lucas III

Leading the way for the second team is Jose Calderon. Much like Lowry, he's one of the better and sometimes under-appreciated point guards in the Association. He's been one of the best passers for years, as he's been near the top of the leaderboards in Assist Rate. He's also a smooth shooter as well, as he has a career TS% of 57%, which is a very good mark. He had an excellent night shooting against Indiana, as he went 6-12 from the field including 3 makes from downtown. I happen to think Ed Davis is a lesser version of Derrick Favors, but that's still a quality player to have and he should see some good looks at the basket with Lowry & Calderon manning the point. Ross didn't get that minutes against the Pacers, but if Fields continues to have terrible games, he should be able to find his way into the rotation sooner rather than later.

Brooklyn: MarShon Brooks, Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson, Mirza Teletovic, Andray Blatche, Josh Childress, Tyshawn Taylor

On this side, Brooks will commandeer the second team. He was pretty mediocre, although he did make the All-Rookie Second Team. I was frustrated with Brooks last year because I felt he settled for too many jumpers and didn't attack the basket as much as I felt he should've. Evans isn't gonna give you anything shooting the ball, but he's gonna provide a ton of value on the defensive glass, something that the Nets desperately need. Andray Blatche has been consistently terrible throughout his career, so I'm a little amused that there's this perception that he's gonna turn it around now that he's a member of the Nets. Shrugs shoulders. Teletovic sucked in the preseason, but no one cares about preseason results and heprofiles to be a solid player at this level. Childress is out due to a sprained left ankle.

Advantage: Raptors

Miscellaneous

Aside from making it out without injury, I don't particularly care for preseason so I was a little surprised as to why there was such a freakout about the Nets poor showing.

He's like the friend you have that gets depressed every time a relationship ends. It takes you a month to pull him off his couch and back into your social circle, and while you feel sorry for all the pain he's suffered, you know he just can't keep pulling that act every time. At a certain point, he just needs to suck it up and move on to maintain his happiness.

- Mike Prada of Bullets Forever describing Andray Blatche

Deron Williams shrugged off his omission from a list of the N.B.A.’s top point guards, as named by N.B.A. general managers. Chris Paul earned the most votes in the poll, followed by Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker. Williams received no votes. “I don’t care where I’m ranked among point guards,” Williams said. “I’m not here to do any point guard battles this year.” Williams topped the same poll in 2010, when he was a star for the Utah Jazz. But his reputation took a hit over the last season and a half with the Nets. “It’s easy to forget about people when they’re losing, when a team’s not really relevant and not on TV,” he said. “I didn’t have a great year statistically, so that’ll hurt, too.”

- Deron Williams

The only problem with this statement is that Williams never was the "Best Point Guard in the NBA," and barring something unforeseen, probably never will be. He's right that if you're losing, you won't get that much attention (except if you're the New York Knicks), but if you have your performance doesn't line up with your billing, you're gonna catch criticism for it. Long story short, everything Tom Ziller said back in the summer.

Did the big bosses get rid of the jump feature? And gifs don't work anymore either?

136 pages of pure awesomeness on display right here.


Never gets old.

Welcome back 'Sheed. The NBA's missed you.

I feel like I've spent the past month here arguing as to why James Harden is the more productive/better player than Joe Johnson. So far, Harden's making that task very, very easy for me.

Journey through the Darkside: Raptors HQ

The mothership: Raptors vs Nets coverage

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