If you’ve watched Brooklyn Nets basketball over the past couple of years, the word you might use to describe the style is boring. Things were very stagnant and ball movement was essentially nonexistent.
When you look at the main pieces of the team in the past two years you think of Joe Johnson. You think of Jarrett Jack. And of course, you think of Brook Lopez. The Nets always went with an iso-savvy offensive system that fit guys like Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack’s game. Oftentimes, the ball would get dumped down to Johnson; he would post-up and kill most of the shot clock, resulting in either: 1) a contested shot or 2) passing it out to the perimeter. When he’d pass it out to the perimeter, guys weren’t moving off the ball to get open. They were stagnant and forcing up bad 3-point attempts with the shot clock winding down.
It was boring ... and it didn’t work. Most certainly not in today’s NBA where teams are creating offense early in the shot clock due to an uptempo flow with movement on and off the ball.
We’re so used to the Nets taking their time in a half court set hoping that Joe Johnson would create something. This isn’t meant to discredit Joe who made the Nets a better team during his time here.
But he, along with others, were “ball stoppers” or “black holes” as some would call it because it stops the flow of the offense.
However, under the new coaching staff, equipped with the right players to fit the style of play; things appear to be much different with the Brooklyn Nets offense. We’re not going to get excited over one preseason win, but there were plenty of encouraging signs for a team that’s been doubted by pundits all offseason.
The ball was moving. Players were moving. When one settled in a spot, another was likely setting a pick for them to get open on the perimeter, whether it be the guy moving off the ball or the big man setting the screen and popping out behind the arc.
This opened up the perimeter and the pick-and-roll game… which eventually leads to a wide-open paint.
We looked at Chris Fleming’s possible offensive approach before the season started and Thursday night against the Pistons reflected exactly what we expected: fun, fast-paced basketball filled with movement. Fleming’s system was summed up nicely in a piece by Denver Stiffs.
Here are a few of the main points of the piece that we saw Thursday:
a) Fill 4 perimeter spots at all times (there will be times where guys are involved in dribble penetration, etc). Once you pass the ball as a perimeter guy and you have to go back outside. Corner, foul-line extended, high elbow gives you six possible places for those four guys to be - and only those spots.
The Nets nailed 14 three-pointers on 34 attempts (41 percent) after doing exactly what the statement above says. When you fill four perimeter spots, at least one of the two bigs must have the ability to knock down the three ball.
Luis Scola impressed by hitting three 3-pointers, while Brook Lopez and Justin Hamilton each nailed one apiece. This forces defenses to bring their big men out to the perimeter.
So with that, Jeremy Lin or Greivis Vasquez can penetrate and force the defense to make a choice: 1) Slide in the paint and leave the perimeter guys wide open. (Wonder why they signed so many shooters?) Or 2) Trust the defender to cover Lin/Vasquez in a one-on-one situation. This sets things up wonderfully for the shooters AND big men down low that can do damage on the interior (i.e. Brook Lopez).
They finished with 21 assists on the night and scored 101 points with Brook Lopez only dropping eight. Not bad.
b) Passing is crucial & Make the ball see you (move and present a target or you won't get the ball).
This is self-explanatory: Shoot, drive or pass the ball. In a coach’s tone: MAKE A DECISION.
This goes back to my point earlier where isolation should be a thing of the past, especially when you lack talent like the Nets. Unless a player is going to take the shot, the ball shouldn't be in one player's hand for more than four or five seconds.
Both the ball and players were constantly moving. If you watch Bojan Bogdanovic in Europe, one of the main reasons for his success was positioning. He knows where to be and when to be there. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Bojan play Thursday, but we saw this with other players such as Joe Harris (12 points, 2-of-4 from 3-point) and Sean Kilpatrick, who struggled with an 0-for-7 shooting night.
One example came in the first half when the second unit checked in. Vasquez brought the ball to the three-point wing on the right side and lobbed it to a posting Justin Hamilton on the right elbow. After the pass, Vasquez ran the baseline with his hands up the entire time. After he ran the baseline, he made a sharp cut to the left the three-point wing where Luis Scola set the pick at the left elbow and then rolled, as Vasquez caught the pass and found the Scola near the rim.
This sounds extremely refreshing especially when you compare it to the slow offense in the past. But there are issues. Guys get gassed, and it’s tough to sustain 48 minutes of this if your guys are tired.
“We’re absolutely looking to take advantage of our youth and their athleticism,” Brook Lopez said of the new up-tempo offense. “It’s absolutely a different look [from year’s past] and I’ve had to adjust to it a little bit, but it’s absolutely in the team’s best interest.”
It’s an adjustment for Lopez because he’s used to playing in an iso-savvy system. It’s all he knows. However, as long as the ball is moving and the post-man always rules (as Fleming would say), then Brook should have no problem fitting in with the new offense.
We’ve said it plenty of times and we’ll say it again: we don’t know how many wins this team will generate, but they’re going to be a lot more fun than they have been in year’s past.