Staying true to the tradition of coaches of Brooklyn Nets Past, Lionel Hollins had a very tumultuous season in his first year with the team.
After a failed power play led Jason Kidd to be ousted to Milwaukee, Hollins was named head coach, the fourth head coach in the Nets' three years in Brooklyn. He was tasked with continuing the success the Nets had experienced in Brooklyn by taking them to the playoffs for the third straight year. At the start of the season, expectations were high, and the Nets were expected to make it into the playoffs thanks to a particularly pathetic Eastern Conference.
Fast forward to March 11, the Nets were a pitiful 25-38 and were barely hanging in the playoff race. Numerous players complained about not knowing their roll with the team and Hollins continued to deploy questionable lineups. The Nets were about to implode.
Then, Brooklyn went 13-6 to close out the season and clinched the eighth seed on the last day of the regular season. They drew the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks and instead of rolling over in four games, Brooklyn made the most of the house money they were dealt and tied the series at two in Game 4. They ultimately lost the series, but they made Atlanta sweat it out.
So how did Hollins do overall in his first season as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets? Let's take a look.
Despite popular opinion among many Nets fans, Hollins did some good this year, particularly when it came to pushing the right buttons with his players.
As mentioned before, numerous players had a rocky relationship with Hollins to start the season. Guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Sergey Karasev were in and out of the rotation and were puzzled as to what their roll with the team was. This seems like a negative, but Hollins knew when to bench guys and when to re-insert them. He's hard-nosed, stubborn and tough, but Hollins' strategy worked. Here's what Bogdanovic had to say:
"I’m satisfied with complete season, except with that month when coach Hollins didn’t use me much. I don’t know if he tried to awake some kind of spite in me, or put me in some place, but he managed to do it. After he put me back in, I started to play better and shoot more."
Karasev echoed his teammate's uneasy, yet respectful relationship with his coach:
"Actually I wouldn't call his relationship with any player straight-forward, because he tailors his coaching approach to each individual. He plays his cards close to his chest but he's a top class professional. He has a great feel for the game, and if you give him your all during each practice and every time you play, it does not go unnoticed - He will always tell you that you're doing a good job and to keep up he good work. I think I have a pretty good relationship with him. He has come up to me, given some tips and advice and told me what I need to work on. I hope next year I can prove that I can play under his leadership."
He had a quick hook, but Hollins knew exactly when to put his players back into the lineup. He got the most out of his players even if it wasn't pretty. This was never more evident than with Brook Lopez.
Hollins implored Lopez to be tougher, stronger, to be the best version of himself and he did so with a tough love attitude. He had Lopez come off the bench early in the season even when he was healthy and left him there in the fourth quarter if he felt Lopez wasn't going to give him the best chance to win.
It was definitely tough, but Lopez responded and played some the of best basketball he's ever played toward the end of this season. Hollins did what seven previous head coaches couldn't do; he got the best out of Lopez. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
Though there were positives from this season, there was plenty of room for criticism, particularly regarding the lineups that Hollins deployed. It's no secret that Hollins is not an analytics man and he completely ignored the numbers when it came to two combinations: Brook Lopez/Mason Plumlee and Deron Williams/Jarrett Jack.
Hollins played Plumlee and Lopez together for total of 373 minutes this season. When those two shared the floor, the Nets scored only 98.4 points per 100 possessions and recorded an unbearably bad -13.7 net rating. Because they're both post players, they got in each other's way and clogged the lane for guards attempting to drive to the basket. The trade for Thaddeus Young luckily forced Hollins' hand and the Plumlee/Lopez combination went the way of the dodo for the most part.
The other doomed pair was Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack. They averaged 97.3 points per 100 possessions with a -10.3 net rating, but they played together for a ridiculous 667 minutes. Hollins simply refused to accept the fact the two point guards were toxic together.
Hollins hit the bad-lineup boiling point when he opened the fourth quarter of an April 15 game against the Orlando Magic, a game Brooklyn needed to win to make the playoffs, with the scored tied at 75 and with Williams, Jack, Lopez and Plumlee all on the floor. It was the most critical moment of the most important game of the season, and Hollins went with the most inefficient and ineffective lineup he could conjure.
THE GRADE: C
He used puzzling lineups and almost fell into the lottery, but Hollins got his team to turn it around and just barely snuck into the playoffs. For that reason, Hollins can't be seen as an absolute failure. He developed his players very well this year and is respected in the locker room. He'll need to clean up his rotations and start to embrace analytics, though, if he expects to succeed.
Much to the chagrin of many Nets fans, Hollins isn't going anywhere. The Nets have had four head coaches since the move to Brooklyn and they need stability more than anything. If Jason Kidd had not have thrown a monkey wrench into Brooklyn's plans, we might be singing a different tune but alas, that's not the case, and Hollins is here to stay.