The Brooklyn Nets had a 7-10 record in the month of March. Although the month was capped off with two sloppy losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons, the Nets’ March could be looked upon optimistically. While a 7-10 record may not be impressive, it IS a sign of optimism for the Nets. They won more games in the month of March than December, January and February combined. The Nets went 4-36 through the three winter months. So 7-10 is an improvement after a one-win January and a zero-win February.
The numbers speak for themselves. Take a look…
While these numbers mostly indicate defensive improvement, the Nets’ offense was also buzzing in March. Prior to the games against the 76ers and Pistons, the Nets ranked 17th in field goal percentage and 12th in three-point shooting in March. However, those two recent games were relatively poor shooting nights. Brooklyn shot 42.9% from the field and 30.3% from three in their loss to the 76eres. In the next game, they shot 38.0% FG and 32.3% 3PT against the Pistons. After those two games, the Nets fell to 23rd in FG% and 17th in 3PT%. Caveats are a constant, of course.
Greg Logan of Newsday speculates that the source of the Nets’ March turnaround stemmed from a tough practice amidst the Nets’ circus road trip at the end of February. Coach Kenny Atkinson and the Nets’ coaching staff put the whistles away in the scrimmage – and play turned physical. Jeremy Lin claimed that the practice instilled a “nastiness” to the team – fueling their competitive spirit amidst a lost season. The road trip also allowed the players to bond, allowing K.J. McDaniels and Andrew Nicholson to become acclimated. Archie Goodwin signed with the Nets after the road trip.
The most notable takeaway from the Nets’ March numbers is their defensive improvement. The Nets’ defense was semi-permeable at best prior to the All-Star Break, with frequent lapses and miscommunication. In March, the Nets’ defense clamped down, generating stops in wins against the New York Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies. The team communicated and switched effectively. Their pick and roll and spot-up defense improved as well, two areas in which the Nets saw frequent lapses.
There are several factors in the Nets’ March mini-turnaround.
The addition of K.J. McDaniels to the team, along with the play of Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as starters injected some athleticism into the Nets’ lineup. When the Nets traded Bojan Bogdanovic to the Washington Wizards, they knew they were trading for the future. But one unforeseen aspect of the Bogdanovic deal was the creation of opportunity for the young wings. As a Net, Bogdanovic was an exceptional offensive player, but never a great defender. Dealing their second-leading scorer opened the door to lead a suffocating defense, and run a recharged offense.
Additionally, Joe Harris’ unfortunate concussion and shoulder sprain allowed Caris LeVert to enter the starting lineup. Harris has done a fine job all season – but he may be more suited for a bench role going forward - especially if he’s matched up against the league’s deadliest scorers on the wings. The Nets were 6-7 with LeVert in the starting lineup. While the rookie may not have had breakout offensive performances, his activity on defense sparked several Nets runs.
The Lin-Foye-LeVert-Hollis-Jefferson-Lopez starting lineup allows the Nets to play a fluid defensive style – the way Kenny Atkinson has idealized defense all season. Hollis-Jefferson can defend point guards, which is important on the pick and roll. Lin does a decent job of denying larger defenders in the low post. LeVert has quick hands to swipe at the ball. Foye is an unsung hero on defense – his defense against Carmelo Anthony in the March 12th Knicks game held Anthony to some poor shooting early. Each of those players could guard multiple positions. And Brook Lopez is a solid defender in the restricted area, especially when he’s not forced to shuffle to the perimeter.
Even on the bench, athleticism and versatility shine through. A lineup of Spencer Dinwiddie-Isaiah Whitehead-K.J. McDaniels-Quincy Acy-Trevor Booker (with Andrew Nicholson, Sean Kilpatrick, Archie Goodwin and Justin Hamilton sprinkled in there as well) may be the Nets’ most athletic second unit in quite a while. Each of those players is long enough to guard multiple positions. They also are athletic enough to battle through screens and spark fast breaks off of misses.
(There are quite a few competitive players in the draft this season, and not all of them are lottery picks. Josh Hart? Justin Jackson? Grayson Allen? And of course, there’s restricted free agency. It’s fun to speculate…sometimes)
McDaniels, in particular, has shown great promise as a defensive stopper. Acquired from the Rockets for $75,000 (the league minimum), his effort on defense is on full display. He can block shots like a power forward, but also peruse the perimeter against rangier wings. The potential is there. Of course, there was this block against Dwight Howard.
An athletic five on the court also allows the Nets to keep up with the blistering pace they’ve played at all season – despite the uptick in several statistical areas, the Nets still rank in the top five in pace. It seems like the pieces are in place to run and attack more effectively now.
Trevor Booker and Jeremy Lin are two of the Nets’ most tenured players. Those two contributed to the Nets’ March turnaround as well.
Booker, of course was swapped for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, losing his starting role. But Booker has thrived off of the bench – he plays as an undersized, energetic center off the bench. In the starting lineup with Brook Lopez, Booker seemed uncomfortable attackingg from the perimeter. In the Nets’ second unit, Booker has free rein to roam inside – setting screens and not clogging up the paint for an effective post scorer like Brook Lopez.
(The Nets could still use another power forward, specifically one that can shoot. Let the mock draft analysis continue!)
And the presence of Jeremy Lin cannot go without mentioning. Although his last two games have been admittedly subpar, he was a revelation for the Nets in March. As a floor general, he’s been able to push the pace, generating looks early in the shot clock for his teammates. His 14.1 poitns and 4.5 assists in March may not be earth shaking, but the sheer presence of a veteran ballhandler was missed through a majority of the season. Defensively, Lin’s effort to navigate through screens and compete against the deepest position in basketball should be noted. Lin is trying to stake his claim as a true starter in the NBA.
(Don’t worry Nets fans, there still is room for Milos Teodosic.)
While the Nets’ March may have ended on a sour note, their 7-10 record should be built upon, rather than ridiculed. The Nets may not reach 20 wins, but progress has been made, even if it took 60 games. If Coach Kenny Atkinson and the Nets’ roster can harness their newfound defensive versatility and integrate it with the offense, the Nets will continue to climb in the right direction. It’s a work (and study) in progress.
- Inside the Brooklyn Nets’ March Mania - Charles Maniego - 16 Wins a Ring