It was only the first game of the season, so we aren’t going to over analyze the little things, but we’ve finally hit the real deal and we have an idea of what to expect going forward.
With a young, rebuilding team like the Nets, it’d be easy to cut them slack or even over criticize. Fact of the matter is, however, that they lost by five to a projected 50-win team. That alone is a victory on its own because, hey, it was fun and they made it interesting.
Again, it’s only one game but here are some takeaways from the opening night performance.
This team is going to fight and compete under Kenny Atkinson.
We’re talking about a game that I had already written up the recap by the end of the third quarter. They fought hard in the first half and trailed by only six, but a 33-point third quarter put them down by 16 heading into the fourth. They fought for a half but it wasn’t enough, I thought.
Boston was up by 17 with 3:57 left in the game following a Tyler Zeller 20-foot jumper. In came Chris McCullough and Isaiah Whitehead, both likely headed to the D-League for the Long Island Nets soon. That’s when the first half grit and fight came back.
One minute later -- following two missed shots and two forced turnovers -- the Nets found themselves down by 10. Then eight. Then six. Three minutes and 11 seconds after McCullough and Whitehead checked in, the Nets had whittled a 23-point deficit down to three with 46 seconds left. Within the 3:11 that McCullough (plus-14) and Whitehead (plus-12) checked in, the Celtics shot 1-for-9 and committed four turnovers.
The Nets could’ve tied on two decent looks from deep, but missed and lost 122-117. Call it garbage time or whatever you’d like. These guys came in with no expectations and put up a fight.
The Nets can score a lot of points.
Brooklyn’s new motion offense pushed the pace faster and centered around one thing and one thing only: 3-pointers. They attempted a franchise record 44 and nailed 15 of them. Even Atkinson admitted after the game, that was too many. Agree with the tactic or not, they scored 117 points against a team that is seen as a top defensive club in the East. They averaged 101 points per game in the preseason. These guys will score, even if it takes them 44 3-point attempts to get there.
Justin Hamilton and Joe Harris seem to fit the system perfect. And the salary.
Last week, I sat down with Charles Barkley and asked him about the Nets. He replied, “I don’t even know who’s on the Nets anymore,” as everybody laughed along with Chuck’s always humorous tone. I would imagine that Justin Hamilton and Joe Harris fall under the category of the “unknown” Nets.
If they play like they did last night, they’ll be well known. As will Sean Marks.
Justin Hamilton, 26, had stints in the D-League and most recently Spain, but people around the league raved about this pickup back in July. In his debut with Brooklyn, he came off the bench and notched a double double of 19 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting and 3-of-6 from deep ... in only 25 minutes. Hamilton was Marks’ second free agent pickup, landing the vagabond for two years, $6 million. That might very well be a steal, but Hamilton will need to sustain the hot shooting and somehow, someway defend the ball a lot better than he did Wednesday.
Joe Harris, 25, is the next Net looking to surprise and he started off on a good note. He had a D-League stint with the Canton Charge in 2015, but mostly rotted at the end of Cleveland’s bench. This was another sneaky Marks find in the offseason, nabbing the sharp-shooter for two years, $2 million. The former Virginia product shot 10-of-16 from deep in the preseason, averaging 10.2 points per game. In 25 minutes on Wednesday, Harris dropped 16 points on 4-of-9 from three. He was a part of the lineup that brought the Nets back within three late in the game. Like Hamilton, Harris can be a huge bright spot in the new offensive system.
Notable mentions: Bojan Bogdanovic coming off a steaming hot summer Olympic performance dropped 21 points in 23 minutes, while Trevor Booker played that gritty style of play and had a line of: 8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, one crucial steal in the final minute
A big worry heading into the regular season was how Brook Lopez would fit in with the motion offense. He told reporters in the preseason that “It’s been an adjustment” and that he’s willing to make sacrifices for the team, but I don’t think anybody expected this. After averaging just eight points in the preseason – with little to no pick and roll or isolation – Lopez’s role as a star on this team was questioned.
Following Wednesday’s performance, it was questioned even more as the big fella went 1-of-7 from the field, with that one basket coming beyond the perimeter. Last season, he was the top scoring center in the Eastern Conference. However in the new Nets system, one that is fast-paced, relies on 3-pointers and is managed like hockey shifts, Lopez looked very out of place. Hamilton looked more suited for the offense Brooklyn is trying to run, and no disrespect to Hamilton, but he is nowhere near the offensive threat that Brook Lopez is (can be).
Oh yeah, and Luis Scola (minus-19) started over Brook in the second half for matchup purposes. Worth keeping an eye on…
The defense is uhhh…
Atrocious. They allowed 111 points per game in the preseason and 122 on Wednesday night. Boston shot nearly 60 percent through the first three quarters. They dished out 36 assists and got pretty much whatever they wanted on offense. Brooklyn’s interior defense doesn’t look promising one bit with undersized guys like Hamilton and Scola backing up the below-average defender in Brook Lopez.
Scoring 117 points is hard, but letting up 122 is even harder.
Third quarter woes.
This one essentially coincides with the last, but from the beginning of the preseason up to Wednesday, the third quarter has been the Nets kryptonite. After a 6-point halftime differential, Boston outscored the Nets 33-23 in the third and led by 16 heading into the fourth. They allowed 30.6 points per third quarter in six preseason games.
We’ve heard this script about Nets teams in the past and it’s usually attributed to adjustments. The Celtics came out firing from the gate and the Nets didn’t have the hot shooting to make up for its horrid defense.
Notable mention: Anthony Bennett didn’t log a single minute. Not even in the final four minutes with McCullough and Whitehead. Scola (minus-19) was awfully slow on defense and was hardly a threat on offense. Sound a little familiar? The initials are AB, but I won’t go there… yet.
The motion offense is modernized, fast paced and resulted in 117 points, but as I’ve mentioned in the past with this new uptempo offense, the Nets will need to make frequent substitutions. Guys get gassed quickly when the pace is so fast. That limits players in the starting lineup that should be getting much more time than they did. A simple example came in the first quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic caught a hot hand and carried the offense, but he was taken out less than six minutes into the quarter.
Was he gassed or does Atkinson have a system with the rotations a well? Either way, after a 117-point performance, offense is not a concern at the moment.
When you’re in a position like the Nets, it’s easy to find the negatives. Fortunately for them, there were some good things to take away, along with the bad, and along with the ugly. We won’t overreact to one game, but it was nice to get a little preview of what might become the 2016-2017 Nets scheme.