I told you so.
During the offseason, I wrote about Brooklyn's physicality. I concluded that the Nets would struggle against bigger, physical teams and would need to look to unlikely sources of toughness to avoid getting bullied around. While there have been some bright spots, albeit small ones, the Nets have struggled mightily against bigger teams.
But first, let's start with the good. It probably doesn't need to be written, but Kevin Garnett simply oozes intensity. Questioning Garnett's toughness would be a fool's errand. The punishing veteran lays it all out on the floor night in and night out and is still an intimidating force in the paint. Just ask Joakim Noah. In fact, KG ranks third in defensive rebounding percentage at 31.9 percent of all defensive boards. When within three feet of a rebound, Kawhi Leonard grabs it 77% of the time - highest such rate in the league. Then it's KG and LeBron are tied for second at 74.0%. (In offensive rebounding rate, Mason Plumlee ranks fifth, Jerome Jordan 15th.)
Guards like Alan Anderson and Jarrett Jack have proved to be scrappy and hardheaded on both ends of the court. They're not physically imposing, but they like to mix it up on the hardwood.
With that being said, the rest of the Nets roster, and particularly the bigs, lack the physicality that Garnett possesses and it starts with Brook Lopez. The veteran center is simply being man-handled by the larger centers of the NBA.
The most glaring examples of Lopez's deficiencies were early-season games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Orlando Magic. Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic tossed Lopez around the paint like he was a small forward and defensively, he held Lopez to ten points on 5-14 shooting. Against Orlando, Lopez allowed Nikola Vucevic to get a double-double in the first half. Lopez watched the fourth quarter from the bench that night. Lopez is a 7'0", 275 pound center, he needs to start throwing that massive frame around. (He did well the last three games before his injury, but none of the opposing centers matched the girth of a Pekovic.)
The rest of the bigs don't exactly lack physicality, but each has their own problems. Mason Plumlee does not shy away from contact, but his play has been so inconsistent that at times this season he's been relegated to the bench. It's hard to impose your will while riding the pine. As mentioned this offseason, Mirza Teletovic has sneaky-toughness, but at 6'9", 245 pounds, MT3 is too slight to guard human mountains like Pekovic and Vucevic. Wayward son Andrei Kirilenko, a potential source of toughness, hasn't played in a game since November 13 and was just traded to Philadelphia
Quantifying toughness and physicality is a difficult task, after all, a statistic for toughness does not exist. Drawn charges and their correlation to toughness may not be an exact metric, but the numbers are telling. Deron Williams and Anderson both have two drawn charges this season which places them in 47th in the NBA. Lopez has none, according to the data which is a week old. Last year, Paul Pierce led the team with 10 which was good for 27th in the league, but he's since moved to Washington. Their eleven technical fouls are 15th most in the NBA. Though an increase from 19th place last season, it's still not very inspiring.
Last season, when Garnett missed games due to injury, the Nets had Paul Pierce and Andray Blatche to bail them out. This year, if they lose Garnett for an extended period of time, the Nets do not have a player who can replace his toughness. Garnett is 38-years old so he's not going to play all 82 games. Someone, particularly Lopez and Plumlee, is going to need to step up if the Nets want to avoid becoming an even more soft team when Garnett is not penciled into the lineup.