Like athleticism, toughness and physicality are awfully difficult to quantify. Maybe personal fouls could be the best index, but an overmatched player can foul just as much, or possibly more, than a physical player.
Technical fouls? Last year, the Nets were 19th in the NBA. Not compelling either way. How about charges? Here IS a telling stat: No Nets player finished in the top 25 of charges drawn, according to data kept by Bloguin. Paul Pierce had 10, tied for 27th and Andray Blatche was next among Nets players with seven, placing him 52nd. Neither of course is back.
So without a lot of quantifiable data, this article in the BUZZKILL series won't suggest the Nets lack toughness and physicality, but will examine where the Nets can look for those traits in players who don't exactly scream toughness.
Obviously, the Nets will have no problem expecting toughness from Kevin Garnett. The 38-year-old power forward does not avoid contact and has throughout his career struck fear in opposing teams. The problem is Garnett can not use his physicality while riding the pine. He average only 20.5 minutes per game last year, and played in mostly short spurts. Garnett will need to spend more time on the hardwood so that his toughness will have an effect on the game.
The Nets also need a tougher Brook Lopez, something head coach Lionel Hollins is well aware of. Hollins told the media earlier this preseason he needs a tougher Lopez.
"Just being more aggressive, being tougher, rebounding better. Just being a force in the paint. When you're 7-feet and 260 pounds, I'd like for him to be a force. If you're an inside player, a big guy, control the paint and play outside last. Don't play outside and never get in the paint."
Often regarded by critics as being "soft," Lopez will need to play aggressively and with an edge in order to silence those critics. He'll also need to gain confidence in his surgically repaired foot --and ankle-- and stay healthy. But after six years in the NBA with a rep, deserved or undeserved, as a "soft" center, can Hollins truly expect Lopez to be a dominant, physical presence?
The rest of the roster does not exude toughness and physicality, but each player has a slight edge that can contribute to the team's overall toughness.
Mason Plumlee relies more on his agility and athleticism, so he'll need to throw his 6'10" 235 pound frame around and play like his size. Guards Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson aren't known for their toughness, but both don't shy away from contact. The duo, and Plumlee, will need to lead by example and play gutsy basketball so the Nets won't get bullied.
Normally reliable Andrei Kirilenko, known for his hard-nosed play, was limited to only 45 games last year and when he played, he seemed to lack the edge he used to play with. With AK-47 already missing time this preseason due to back soreness, the Nets may not be able to rely on him for toughness as the Utah Jazz did for ten years.
An interesting potential source of physicality could be power forward Mirza Teletovic. Though listed at 6'9" 255 pounds, Teletovic is primarily a three-point shooter and is not the prototypical, physical power forward. Some might say Teletovic is a soft, glorified three-point shooter --you know, a "European"-- but his toughness may be underrated. As LeBron James learned last season, the 29-year-old Bosnian is not afraid of contact. Teletovic could surprise with his toughness this season.
Hollins, in talking to Mike Fratello on Media Day, thought that that the need for toughness might not be an individual issue, but one for the team overall.
"When I watched the team from afar last season, being on TV and all, I saw a team that didn't look at cohesive as it needed to be, to be as good as it wanted to be, a little bit of aggressiveness and a little bit of toughness...
"They play but there's another level of intensity they have to have in order to be really successful and there's another level of unity which I see getting better just this year with different players on the roster. So I see a lot of possibilities, but also see there's going to be a lot of work in order to make those possibilities reality."
For the Nets to be a physically tough team, everything needs to break right. Lopez and Plumlee need to play their size, and the role players need to prove they can play consistent, physical basketball. Hollins will certainly emphasize toughness, so it is up to the players to carry out their coach's message.