This is the first edition of a new weekly feature from new NetsDaily writer, Will J, who will be recapping the previous week every Monday during the season.
It would have been nice if our Nets were highlighted on NBA-day (aka, Christmas) with the other marquee teams this league has to offer, but sadly, they weren't. We had to wait for the Nets to show us what their holiday-induced rest would deliver. Five days off and 18 inches of snow later and Newark's most rag-tag team of pros couldn't have stumbled more mightily than they did leading into 2011. The losses were ugly, lopsided, and allowed for few moments of optimism.
The Magic game was, like many a Net game this season, looking fairly good at the outset. The Nets were keeping Dwight Howard at bay, Brook Lopez was scoring, and the offense seemed to be poised to take down the trade-infused frankenstein that currently is the Orlando Magic.The good times rolled for little more than a quarter, as Hedo Turkoglu realized that basketball in Orlando is really the only basketball he can competently play and old pal Ryan Anderson decided to feast on the myriad of premature block attempts Derrick Favors deployed in his very rookie-esque defensive performance.
The Nets weren't expected to win the game, but getting little to no offensive output beyond the two pillars of Net hope - Devin Harris and Lopez - the game looked sloppy and disjointed. The Nets recorded AS A TEAM a mere 12 assists. Perhaps they were overrested. Perhaps the team had gourged a little too thoroughly on Christmas. Whatever the case, we all looked forward to another barn-burner with OKC.
The sting of absolutely blowing repeated late leads in overtime against Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago was probably still painfully fresh amongst the team and fanbase. The Nets' performance, once again, wasn't pretty. For the second game in a row their turnover numbers lapped their assist numbers, this time coughing it up nine more times than against Orlando. When Ben Uzoh leads the team in assists while playing only 11 minutes, you know the flow of the offense is like molasses.
For a team supposed to be stuffed to the brim with shooters, the Nets took only seven shots from behind the arc, connecting on two of them. Everyone who dressed played - gotta love participation - and no one seemed to be in rhythm. Sasha Vujacic was perhaps the most effective player on the Nets side. At the beginning of June we probably would have shuttered at the notion of Sasha Vujacic leading the team into 2011, but that seems to be the case.
As the world's masses were gearing up for champagne charged celebrations, the Nets were trying to just get an old fashioned W against a very talented Chicago Bulls squad. But, as we've seen on countless, mind-numbingly frustrating occasions, the Nets came out in the second half forgetting that the goal was to win the game, and not just have fun out there. We saw it happen on almost a nightly basis under the Kiki regime, and certainly most of us would assume Avery would bring a bit more punch, a bit more fire to the halftime talks than the Nets had been accustomed to, despite all the new faces, but alas.
After keeping it close through one half the Nets could not keep up with the pace of the Bulls or the bruising play of Mr. Five Million himself, Carlos Boozer. The starters played more minutes than usual, with small ball being employed mostly, keeping Favors and Kris Humphries glued to the bench for the most part. Lopez grabbed eight rebounds, which nowadays would qualify as a victory for a man whose rebounding numbers have been in a freefall all season. He also got to the line 11 times and didn't miss once. If Lopez could get some scoring help, particularly from beyond the 3-point arc, the Nets might have stole this one. Better game than last, but still the fourth loss in a row. An unsavory way to ring in the new year, to be sure. At least Stephen Graham was sinking jumpers like it was going out of style.
Ok, ok. They've had to go up against certain playoff teams when they were hurt, over-rested, and a little out of sorts. Surely a nice easy matchup against one of the few teams in the NBA with a more unsightly record than the Nets, the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, would be just the thing to reverse our new year malaise!
Well, when you let Nikola Pekovic, Kosta Koufos, and Darko Milicic combine for 29 points and 11 rebounds in 48 minutes combined, you have some rather dire problems. Lopez had what might be considered his worst game so far this season. He didn't get to the line, he didn't shoot very often, and he allowed the Minnesota frontline to have their very European way with him. Humphries brought the intensity for the first half, getting a double double midway through the second quarter, but his second half was alarmingly silent. At least the Machine seems to continue to be well oiled. Oh yeah, and let's not even talk about the nine-point third quarter. Lowest point in the Nets season so far? It's at least in the running.
So...what is there to say about each player?
Brook Lopez - Big Disney had a roller coaster of solid performances and dreadfully poor ones. He held his own against Dwight Howard and Carlos Boozer, but found Minnesota's menu of finesse-filled stiffs to be much too much. What happened to the colossal 20-plus point, 10-plus rebound outings we had grown accustomed to the past season and a half? They seem to have disappeared.
Though his wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of confusion remains any time a call doesn't go his way. He isn't straying in the perimeter as much as he was earlier in the season, but he still doesn't seem to be finding himself in position. This goes for both the defensive and offensive ends of the court. He begins his backdown move too far away to pull out anything but a predictable turnaround or the ever-improving arm-rip technique. Humphries is having a good year, but he can't account for all of our rebounds and frontcourt hustle plays. We need Lopez to get back to putting up gaudy numbers. If he doesn't, then it doesn't seem like anyone will anytime soon.
Devin Harris - The dude can drive - plain and simple. What pains me is his all-or-nothing approach to slashing. He either takes it with a steam-headed purpose and finishes at the rim with flair, or gets hacked and tossed like the raggedy Andy that he is, or just passes it off. What about a little dribble-kick-out action? The team recorded an abysmal 12 assists on one night and then a not-so-much-better 14 the next, and a generous portion of the blame has to rest on Harris' shoulders. He just wasn't putting guys in spots where the offense naturally flowed.
Perhaps this is indicative of the hold-at-the-top-of-the-key, stone-footed offense Avery Johnson has implemented, but Harris still has to do a better job of acting the part of playmaker. That said, his slashing always keeps me optimistic, seemingly wondering "Why can't he do that on every play?" With his name being tossed around so frequently in trade rumors, one wonders if he might be forcing his shot a bit rather than passing the ball around in an attempt to pad his numbers. Recently, he hasn't bene helping himself or his teammates.
Kris Humphries - You know what I'd like to see? If everytime he gets subbed out of the game he walks over to the scorers table, punches a time card, sternly walks back to the bench, wipes his sweat off with a towel, and places the towel in a lunch pail underneath his folding bench seat. From now on he will be referred to as "Lunch Pail." This guy is a pure worker and he showed it again this week.
He defends and rebounds with more strength than skill, and the same could basically be said of his offensive output. Once again he continued to rack up about ten boards a game while averaging fewer than 30 minutes, but his inability to contain Bass, Boozer, and Love proved a painful reminder that for all of the great dirty work he does, he may be best served as a change-of-pace, energy player off of the (what would be strong) bench.
Stephen Graham - Graham-V-P, eh? He tucked his surprising 16 point scoring binge neatly between performances that displayed Michael Curry of the Pistons type statlines. His game is downright Quinton Rossian from a sheer numbers standpoint, and he seems to have filled his shoes as a scrappy, defense-first journeyman. He picked his spots, hung out on the perimeter, and couldn't keep up with the guards he was tasked with shadowing. He isn't the man for the job, but he knows that, the Nets know that, and management knows that. He's in there because of necessity, and you know what? He'll be back on the bench the second Morrow is fit to start hesitating on the 3-point line again.
Travis Outlaw - An uglier display of shooting there was not from this Nets squad this past week. He only canned two shots against Orlando, and when he missed, OH MAN did he miss. His ball handling is becoming more and more of a liability when he tries to bound towards to the hoop, only to be trapped by two defenders near either the sideline or baseline, at which time he seems to have - more recently - fumble the basketball and just barely swing it to someone who is probably standing still. He is the personification of the motionless offense the Nets employ: recieve ball, look at defender - jab step - dribble dribble, drive!, failure (unless your name is Devin Harris, but we've been over this). He is clearly suited for a scoring, second-unit role, but as the roster stands he's the best man for the small forward job, as meager as that may seem.
Derrick Favors - We keep waiting for that big night, but it doesn't seem like it's coming anytime soon. Albeit, the matchups he drew this week were tough at times (see Howard and Boozer), he still couldn't get much going offensivly beyond putbacks, and his rebounding rate has dropped off sharply. Against Minnesota he had a nifty running layup that was defended heavily, forcing him to correct his shot mid air. It worked, and its the sort of thing you wish you saw more, but he just isn't ready, or willing, to attack the hoop with that kind of consistency just yet.
That said, for all the athelticism he has displayed and the defensive efficiency he sometimes displays (ie. his performance against Kevin Garnett) he could have done a much better job in both scoring on and containing Ryan Anderson, who seemed like he was slyly capitalizing on every carom off the rim and sky-high, ill-advised leaping block attempt Favors deployed. These weren't performances the Nets could have been thrilled about, but maybe in a higher altitude, oh, say a mile higher, his numbers and impact might be a little loftier.
Troy Murphy - If his shot had been falling, some of us might have overlooked his consistently ugly shooting mechanics, but the unattractive heaves of the ball were on display again this week. It really seems as though he's yet to find a rhythm. You'd think that he might have sorted it out in practice by now, but that just doesn't seem to be case. Like many a dinner order placed over those two snow-locked days, he seemed to be phoning it in. Now he's sick, and there isn't much more to say other than eat some soup! Rest! We don't want to see any more Johan Petro jumpers, please!
Jordan Farmar - Consistently solid backup. Did what he always seems to do, score some driving layups, hit a three, and offer Devin Harris some quality butt to seat time over on the bench. Unfortunatly he, often, doesn't seem to establish a rhythm within the offense, which led to a lot of dribble drives to the hoop followed by panicked kickouts to guys like Graham and Outlaw who, if they don't have an open look, stick with the deer-in-headlights approach when it comes to attacking from the perimeter. When Harris doesn't display his best, Farmar's shortcomings as a distributor become conspicuously glaring. Now he may miss more time with a slightly torn meniscus. Let's hope Uzoh can recapture some of that Orlando game glory.
Sasha Vujacic - What more can you say? He has been a lone bright spot on this otherwise gloomy basketball team this past week. When his shot is on he seems to play faster, with more punchiness, and really has the ability to distribute well. But when his shot isn't falling the effect on the rest of his game becomes pretty apparent, leading to increased dribbles around the perimeter and a sluggish trigger finger on long range shots. A passionate player he most certainly is. He has been an asset to the team thus far, and he only had one bad game, coming last Monday against Orlando. His best came against Minnesota, but a one-man show he is not. You couldn't have called this three weeks ago, but he's become a highly valued Netropolitan.
Ben Uzoh - The kid seems to have the type of defensive instincts to stick around in the league, and he isn't a terrible finisher either, it's just his very reserved way of playing that doesn't excite anyone watching. You know what he's going to do. He will take the ball up the court and instantly start backing his man down halfway between halfcourt and the 3 point line. He will be forced to play more minutes in the next few games because of the injury to Farmar, so let's hope he rapidly gains a large helping of confidence that he can use to dribble drive and produce more five-assists-in-11-minutes nights.
Johan Petro - Stop shooting mid range jumpers. That is all.
The Dear Leader - Avery Johnson left the court in a hurry after that Magic game, didn't he? He saw what many of us saw and that was a game where the Nets couldn't move the ball, couldn't make shots, and couldn't stop the Magical basketball team of Central Florida from piling on the points in a variety of ways. It wasn't pretty, and it remained ugly for three more games after that, but at least he has his guys jacked up for the first 24 minutes or so in almost each game. Johnson played a small game this week with Humphries getting his minutes cut, Favors playing less, and Murphy being all viral. It might be high time for another "hard practice." Let's see some more "dee-feynse" and "aggressive basket-bouwl".
Hopefully the snowy, holiday hangover will have evaporated by the time the Prokhoballers face the Bulls again. Things can only improve after this game....right? Have a very happy 2011!!