I hate to say it, but once again, I told you so.
Granted, pointing out that the Nets are unathletic and that it would be a problem isn't exactly Nostradamus. The lack of athleticism is glaring and Brooklyn's roster is filled with guys on the wrong side of 30, some of which can't seem to shake the injury bug. Brook Lopez has missed the past nine games with a lower back strain and runs the floor like he's stuck in molasses when he's healthy. Deron Williams, with his balky ankles, and the aging Joe Johnson don't run the floor like they used to. This team is just flat out slow.
Being unathletic does not automatically relegate a team to the lottery, just look at Lionel Hollins' Memphis Grizzlies teams. Those teams weren't athletically imposing, but were able to succeed by maintaining a slower tempo that befit their roster. They kept teams from running the floor against them while they scored very efficiently on the other end with their limited offensive possessions. This has not been the case in Brooklyn. While they play at a slower pace, 94.3 possessions per game, the Nets rank 24th in the league with a 100.2 offensive efficiency rating. Inefficient scoring plus limited possessions equals an ineffective offense. On defense, a lack of athleticism can lead to fewer close-outs, something the Nets have not done well.
Since the Lopez injury, the Nets are playing faster, which has led to more fast break points, often ending with a Mason Plumlee alley-oop. In Sunday's game against the Pistons, the Nets played at a much faster pace, 97.4, and their offensive efficiency skyrocketed to 112.9. Over the last six games with the more athletic Plumlee playing over the slower Lopez, Brooklyn has boasted a 110.2 offensive rating. They've also excelled defensively, sporting a 100.3 defensive rating, an improvement from the 105.2 rating they maintained with Lopez in the lineup.
What the numbers suggest is the Nets might actually be better off if they play at a faster pace with their more athletic players. They don't have to run the floor at a torrid pace like Golden State, and they shouldn't, but they should consider playing above a snail's pace. When the Nets play slower, they give up on easy bucket opportunities like this one against Detroit:
So what does this all mean for Brooklyn? Perhaps it's time for Hollins to consider starting Plumlee and bring Lopez off the bench when he's healthy. Simply put, the Nets have been significantly more efficient offensively with Lopez out of the lineup. Lopez's athleticism, or more appropriately his lack of it, does not rival Plumlee's and he's unable run and get easy buckets like the second-year big man.
Detroit's head coach Stan Van Gundy suggested he would have preferred facing Lopez. He told the Daily News, "As good as Brook is - I think for us, I'd almost like to have him in there because with Plumlee, they're... playing a faster tempo."
Hollins also has two athletic freaks on his team in Cory Jefferson and Markel Brown. In limited minutes, Jefferson has played fairly well and his 37.5" vertical can be a great compliment to Plumlee's athleticism. Brown's 43.5" vertical is one of best ever recorded, but he hasn't played any meaningful minutes so far. Perhaps it's time for Hollins to inject some speed, some athleticism, some life, into this slow, stagnant offense.