To say the Brooklyn Nets have been a good team since the All-Star break would be a stretch and, ultimately, a false statement. But, it's undeniable that the Nets -- long since considered to be out of playoff contention -- have been a much more watchable and exciting team in their last 20 games, in which they've gone 7-13.
In the 54 games they played before the break, the Nets posted an offensive rating of 99.3 and defensive rating of 106.7 (good for a -7.4 net rating). Since then, that offensive rating has climbed to 107.3 while the defensive has increased to 110.9, thus lessening the negative net rating by nearly half. So, essentially, the Nets have been around 4 points per 100 possessions better since the All-Star break.
What's the reason for that?
Well, some of the improved overall play is certainly due to the return of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from injury and the emergence of Sean Kilpatrick as a reliable scorer and roughly-average defender. But, on a deeper level, it appears that it's mostly because of how the Nets have upped their tempo and increased their fastbreak opportunities, which has resulted in more scoring chances.
Brooklyn's pace has increased by almost 2 possessions per 48 minutes since the break, which has coincided with across-the-board offensive improvements in assist ratio, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. The faster pace has led to a 5 percent increase in field goal attempts from within 10 feet of the basket, which could be the reason for the Nets' improved shooting efficiencies.
The buyouts of both Andrea Bargnani and Joe Johnson -- which both were finalized a few days following the All-Star break -- certainly helped Tony Brown get his team to speed up its offensive gameplan as Bargnani and Johnson are slower and more isolation-focused players at this point in their careers. Instead, with guys like Thomas Robinson, Henry Sims, Markel Brown and others replacing those aging vets, Brooklyn has had more athletes to run the break with, thus the increased pace.
The Nets have also taken a much larger portion of their shots with more time left on the shot clock in their last 20 games than in the previous 54. Before the break, 4.3 percent of Brooklyn's shots came with between 22-24 seconds left on the shot clock and 19.2 percent with between 15-22 seconds left. After it, those numbers rose to 5.9 percent and 25.9 percent respectively.
Also, in that time period, the Nets have shot much better in that 15-24 second section of the shot clock than before. Thanks to the influx of younger athletes into their rotation and the increased fastbreaks resulting from forced turnovers or long defensive rebounds, Brooklyn is using up less time on its possessions and has been significantly more efficient on those shot attempts.
These increases were seen both in the general field goal data but also with three-pointer data as well, which saw similar improvements in three-point efficiency as well. The January and February days of slow, stagnant Nets offensive sets which often led to contested jumpers late in the shot clock are gone. March has ushered in a more up-tempo Brooklyn attack which utilizes the team's vast array of rookies, sophomores and guys with something to prove in the perfect manner.
However, the most telling set of stats about the sudden shift in the Nets' gameplan is that which covers "touch time range," a measure denoting how long a player has the ball in their hands for before they shoot.
In games played before February 11th, 12 percent of the Nets' shots were preceded by a player holding onto the ball for six or more seconds. In most occasions, this is the traditional post-up or isolation play, so think Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. Starting with Brooklyn's post-ASB win on February 19th against the Knicks until now, 6+ second touch times have decreased by one-fourth to 9.1 percent.
Clearly -- as demonstrated in the nearly 3 percent increase in less-than-2-second touch times after the break as compared to before -- the Nets are using less of those play types as of late in favor of sets that involve more passing and off-ball movement. For a team without dominant wing scorers and just one true threat in the post, the latter is the way for Brooklyn to succeed offensively.
The team defense is another problem -- the 110+ defensive rating post break is atrocious in every way -- but, at least for now, Tony Brown has figured out something on the other end of the floor that has kept this team somewhat compelling down the stretch.
All statistical information from NBA.com/stats