A year ago, these were the names that were coming off of the then New Jersey Nets bench. The guys who were second on the depth chart, entrusted with providing a spark for the team, or at the very least a breather for starters. Unfortunately for Nets fans, these guys and their fellow bench-warming brethren did not accomplish any of these feats. In fact, none of the Nets accomplished anything, en route to a 22-44 season.
But as we all know, things changed when the team crossed the Hudson. A new stadium was christened, massive contracts were absorbed, and TMZ suddenly became interested in a minority owner sitting courtside at his own team’s games. And while all of these things seemed to be pushing Brooklyn in the right direction, there still remained one big question… Did they have any depth?
If we look at the team’s acquisitions without the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to understand some critics skepticism over the Nets’ subs. Reggie Evans, while an undoubtedly tremendous rebounder, had a reputation as a hothead who could be toppled by a strong gust of wind. Jerry Stackhouse was seen as a geriatric whose addition looked more like an example of Coach Avery Johnson’s cronyism than anything else. Finally, there was the late, head-scratching acquisition of Andray Blatche; a perpetually underachieving prima donna, who has produced many more off the court highlights than on. Add these signings to the likes of the amnestied Josh Childress and inexperienced rookies like Tyshawn Taylor, Mirza Teletovic and Toko Shengelia, and the Nets still had their fair share of question marks. In fact, the only new addition to the team who was expected to produce was C.J. Watson, the back-up point guard who was coming off a career year in Chicago.
Man, did we underestimate them.
As of November 29, the Brooklyn Nets have the second best bench in the league, trailing only the freakishly good Milwaukee Bucks. Looking even deeper, the Nets’ bench currently ranks in the top 10 of the NBA in the following categories: rebounds (defensive, offensive and total), steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and offensive efficiency. In fact, the only category the self-titled "BK Bench Mob" struggles in is free throw percentage, but what do you expect from a group that includes Reggie Evans?
All of those statistics are fine and good, but where the Nets really shine is in the individual seasons that their reserves are having.
Exhibit A: Reggie Evans. Evans has built an 11-year career on grabbing rebounds and getting the hell out of the way on offense, and this year has been no different. To date, he’s averaging a mind numbing 15.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is far and away his career best. Add this to the fact that he’s putting up three points per game on a paltry one and a half field goal attempts, and the Nets got everything they ever dreamed of when they signed Evans to a three-year, five million dollar contract. But what really makes Reggie such a great guy to have on your team is… Well, Reggie being Reggie.
This video shows it all. The sneaky push from behind. The finger in the face of an already pissed off Jarred Jeffries. The refusal to engage in a fight he seemingly started. It’s all the little things that make up such a large part of Reggie’s game. He’s not a dirty player, because dirty indicates an intent to harm somebody. No, Reggie is a conniving player. He elbows, pushes and flops the opponent into insanity. Sure, it may cost him a few thousand in fines from the NBA, but that’s essentially the buy-in that allows Reggie to play this game. So far, for Brooklyn, "Reggie being Reggie" has worked out just fine.
Exhibit B: Jerry Stackhouse. Jerry Stackhouse has been in the league for a long time. Like, a really long time. Like, Jerry Stackhouse has been in the league for so long, that he was drafted when Bill Clinton was the President… in his first term. This all lead to some raised eyebrows when the Nets announced Stack’s signing during the off-season. After all, he hadn’t logged significant minutes since 2009 and had been rumored to be heavily favoring retirement. Even after his signing, all signs pointed to Jerry keeping his warm-ups on and acting as more of a "player-coach".
And then Jerry started shooting. And then Jerry started making. In 9 appearances this season, Stack has shot 50% from inside the arc and approximately 54% from deep. His true shooting percentage (combined efficiency of all shots) currently sits at 69.4%, a whole 17% more than his career average. Oh, and did I mention that he’s posting a PER of 18.2 on a cool 15.8 usage percentage? All of this from a guy who entered the NBA when Michael Jordan only had three championship rings. It would have sounded absolutely insane to say this in October, but in Stackhouse, the Nets have a legitimate contender for the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
Finally, we have Exhibit C. The signing of Andray Blatche was seen as a huge leap of faith by most observers, even within Nets Nation. Even with his bloated salary being covered by Washington, Blatche had done little in his eight years to justify the off-the-court headaches that had become a signature of his. But where in previous seasons taking a flier on a player like Blatche would have come back to bite the Nets in the behind (Hi, Travis Outlaw!), this year is just different.
Simply put, Andray Blatche is having a career year. Per 36 minutes, Blatche is putting up career highs in points (19) and rebounds (11.4). He’s also limiting his turnovers (1.3) and three-point attempts (0.2), signifiers of his maturation as a player. Indeed, this seems to be the biggest change in Blatche’s game. Sure, he is still a goofball, but he’s limiting his carefree attitude to the locker room. Is it any surprise that Blatche showed up to Nets camp in the best shape of his life, at a slimmed down 235 pounds?
Now, not everything has been golden for the Brooklyn Nets’ bench. Highly touted Eurostash, Mirza Teletovic, who was known for his three-point shooting, has been extremely disappointing. Last year’s rookie sensation, Marshon Brooks, has struggled to find playing time. This year’s rookies Tyshawn Taylor and Toko Shengelia have recently been marked for the D-League. Keith Bogans and Josh Childress have been on the team? I think?
But for the nine-man rotation that Coach Johnson has been deploying so far (which includes C.J. Watson, who has been good yet underwhelming), everything is coming up roses. Who knows if such high productivity is sustainable, or a regression to the mean will send the team crashing back to Earth? In the meantime, Brooklyn fans will kick back, relax, and enjoy the show.