Optimism is high in Brooklyn; so high, it seems like any Net could run through a brick wall if asked. But perhaps it's time to put aside what's become high expectations just for a moment and take a look the Nets' deficiencies. It's not a mystery where they lie: Lionel Hollins and Billy King keep talking about them!
Hollins is on the record wanting more toughness and better rebounding out of his All-Star center Brook Lopez. Hollins also hinted he'd like the same from Mason Plumlee and Kevin Garnett. Toughness and rebounding is what last year's Nets lacked and it's something Hollilns has brought up time and time again, essentially saying unless there's improvement, this year's Nets will struggle.
General manager Billy King echoed Hollins' sentiment. He told ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk, "The biggest area I'm concerned with is rebounding the basketball. We'll be able to score. We've got enough scorers. I think our defense is gonna be better. But to be a good defensive team, you've gotta rebound the basketball."
How bad were the Nets at rebounding last year? In short, pretty bad. The Nets ranked 29th out of 30, trailing only the Heat, with 38.1 RPG. The Nets struggled mightily on the offensive glass, averaging merely 8.8 offensive rebounds per game last year, good for 28th in the league. Their -4.8 rebounding differential trailed only the Lakers' -8.0 as the worst differential.
Put another way, by Brian Erni of SNY, Their percentages per game were 21.7 percent on the offensive glass and 72.3 percenton the defensive side, good for 27th and 28th respectively.
So how can the Nets improve their rebounding?
Where the Nets first need to look for rebounding is Lopez and Plumlee. Lopez, a notoriously poor rebounder, averaged only six per game before missing the rest of the season due to injury. The previous year he averaged 6.9. He hasn't had good year since his second year in the league, when he hauled in 8.6 per game. That was in the Nets 12-win season. As a rookie, Plumlee averaged 4.4 RPG in limited minutes. Both Lopez and Plumlee need to elevate their numbers in order for the Nets to become a better rebounding team.
"Just being more aggressive, being tougher, rebounding better. Just being a force in the paint," Hollins said at practice before the Nets left for China. "When you're 7 feet, weigh 260, I'd like for him to be a force. I'd like all of our big guys to play tougher, more aggressive."
The Nets could hope that Garnett will fill the need. His defensive rebounding was impressive last year, but his offensive rebounding numbers weren't quite as impressive and in fact, it's been that way for several years. Take the 2013 playoffs vs. the Knicks. He averaged 13.7 rebounds per game, highest average in the playoffs that year, but only 1.5 came off the offensive glass Perhaps, Brooklyn shouldn't rely heavily on Garnett, who is in the twilight of his career, to consistently produce rebounds.
As I wrote earlier this offseason, Brooklyn could hope for rookie Cory Jefferson to come off the bench and snatch rebounds when needed. However, there's no guarantee the late-round rookie's rebounding skills will translate to the NBA, at least not as quickly as the Nets might hope. It's also worth noting Jefferson is non-guaranteed and may not make the final roster. Same holds true for the two other bigs Billy King brought into camp at the last minute: Jerome Jordan and Willie Reed. Jordan is massive and Reed is very athletic but even if they make the team, can Hollins rely on them or Jefferson? Doubtful.
Because they seem to lack a natural rebounder, like a Reggie Evans, Brooklyn will also have to rely on Andrei Kirilenko, Mirza Teletovic and Bojan Bogdanovic to contribute on the glass. The Nets may even ask Joe Johnson to be a factor on the boards. Johnson has said he's going to have to go after the boards more.
"We've gotta be a better rebounding team and it's not just gonna fall on Brook or KG," King told Youngmisuk. "It's gonna fall on all five guys on the court to rebound the ball, because we don't have that traditional rebounder, so it's going to take a team effort."
Could an improved Lopez and Plumlee along with a team effort make the Nets a solid rebounding team? Probably. But it's yet to be seen if Brooklyn is capable of that. Sunday morning's game, vs. the Kings in Shanghai, could be a good test, with Sacramento's young, high-lying roster. There will be others.