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TRENDING UP, TRENDING DOWN: A look at which Nets are doing well, which aren’t ... Vol. 2

It’s a series now: Matt Brooks occasional look at who’s been naughty, who’s been nice. (Too early?)

NBA: Houston Rockets at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Trending Up – Spencer Dinwiddie

He’s baaaaaaaaaack!!

Spence, buddy, it’s nice to finally see ya! After an impossibly slow start to the year and an appearance on the inaugural edition of this column, the evasive backup guard has decidedly flipped his (negative) narrative on its axis. In his last five games, the Colorado alum has averaged 21 points, 5.6 assists, and three rebounds on much improved 46.6/40/84.2 splits. His trademarked nifty euro-step scoop-shots are starting to occur with more regularity.

Sudden tenacity around those glorious carbon steel rings has replaced October’s cluelessness and all-around perplexity. In his first 5 games, the downhill (speed) demon scored on just 47.4 percent of his restricted area attempts – which, if held consistent over all 82 games, would have been his worst at-rim shooting percentage since his rookie year. Since then, that number has skyrocketed to 70.8 percent, a success rate that is typically flashed by hulking seven-foot big men. Din’s recent undeniability harkens back to last season’s memorable December run, in which the goateed runaway-train threw up 20 points per game on (wait for it…) 68.7 percent at the cup.

What is that has Dinwiddie connecting like Andre Drummond around the rim? Not exactly the most nuanced take, but it might come down to his three-point shooting.

Let’s rewind a year and, again, glance at Dinwiddie’s impressive numbers. Last December, the (then) fifth-year pro connected on an exceptional 37.5 percent of his outside shots, well above his season-average of 33.5 percent. Like many things in Brooklyn, it appears Dinwiddie’s early season shooting patterns are stuck on an annual loop. This season, Dinwiddie’s piss-poor October (27.3 percent from three) was superseded by a much-improved November (34.4 percent from deep so far this month).

The relationship between Dinwiddie’s outside shot and close-range game is likely a two-fold exchange. With Dinwiddie’s threes connecting like high-speed internet, defenders are forced to contest him closely around the arc, giving him more breathing room to bulldoze his way to the cup. Simultaneously, Dinwiddie – for better or for worse – is a ‘heat check’ guy. With his long-range jumpers surging through the twine like heat-seeking missiles, Dinwiddie’s confidence has risen exponentially. The higher his morale ascends, the more inclined he is to make the right decisions when traversing down the lane. For all my TL;DR readers: Cocky Dinwiddie = better at basketball. It’s simple math, homie.

Round of applause to Spencer Dinwiddie for his sudden turnaround. He’s Brooklyn’s inverse Reggie Jackson. The man clearly hates October.

Trending Up – Dzanan Musa / David Nwaba

Dear mad scientists reading this article,

First, I hope this webpage reaches you well (jeez, is that really how I’d address a group of mad scientists? This reads like a corporate email. Anywho…). Quick question for you all:

Is there any, ANY way you can genetically combine the basketball talents of Dzanan Musa and David Nwaba?

With Caris LeVert perched on the injury reserve, shooting guard Garrett Temple has been upgraded to the starters, opening up rotational space for two other unheralded swingmen: Dzanan Musa and David Nwaba. The two couldn’t differ more stylistically.

Dzanan Musa has flashed a keen sense of touch as Brooklyn’s instant-offense backup. With a skip to his Lou, the mohawked Bosnian obliges at all opportunities to put the ball on the floor and finish plays with gorgeous sweeping hooks.

He’s 6’9” with an old-school style inside the paint. Musa’s got shades of Kyle Kuzma to his game. (The two share a near-excess of oozing confidence as well). Give Brooklyn’s 20-year-old an inch of space, he’ll happily let off catastrophically deep long-range attempts.

On defense, he at least provides modest effort. As of now, though, his sheer lack of real NBA reps leaves him pretty undisciplined. Here, Musa fails to get around Dario Sario’s weak “screen” (if you even want to call it that). Meanwhile, his man, Devin Booker, splashes point number 20 in Musa’s grill.

David Nwaba, on the other hand, has carved out playing time because of defense. After receiving four-straight DNPs, this summer’s sexy X-Factor pick has started to live up to the hype. In his last two performances, he’s yielded positive single-game plus/minus data, and his 93.5 defensive rating ranks first among Brooklyn players who have received more than 10 total minutes (sorry Theo Pinson, you were the unfortunate cutoff point).

Versus the Jazz, David Nwaba made an immediate impact off the bench. With two quick blocks, an assist and two points from free-throw line, the 26-year-old’s energy was infectious.

On media day, Nwaba told Billy Reinhardt he prioritizes “the little things on the court whether its defending or making cuts to the basket, I try to make the game simple… bring that motor, that energy on the court.” With 6 blocks in just 85 total minutes (which equates to 2.5 rejections per-36), that purring motor is humming steadfast.

Disappointing in its essence, Caris LeVert’s injury opens new windows of opportunity for other Nets. Both of these spark plugs deserve longer looks.

Trending Down – Taurean Prince

I expect that many an eyebrow will be raised… during this week’s five-game road trip, Taurean Prince has averaged 8.7 points on a stupendous 50/54.5 slashing line. So, why is he on the wrong end of this list?

For all of his shot-making excellence, the cracks in Prince’s game are starting to shine through vividly. The 25-year-old has exhibited every possible cardinal sin as an off-ball defender. He’s been left stumbling on the hardwood while his man back-cuts, he’s navigated the choppy seas of big-man screens like he’s working with a broken compass. But, worst of all, he’s constantly caught helping one pass away.

Forgive me for channeling such unadmonished BBallBreakdown energy, but Prince’s secondary-help instincts are far away from where they need to be. For those of you unaware, the principle of “helping one pass away” is when a defender (wrongly) sags into the paint to contain a drive, leaving his man open on the perimeter. Prince has pled guilty to this suspect behavior ad nauseum, and his unnecessary double-teams are a big reason opponents have shot a healthy 38.7 percent in his presence from 25+ feet out.

Taurean Prince’s awareness (or lack thereof) is the iceberg that sinks his defensive ship. He ball-watches intently like he’s distracted by a fantastic movie – The Titanic, perhaps? – giving his assignment time to dance around the arc with frivolous frenzy. Synergy stats ranks Prince as a 6th percentile spot-up defender… an impossibly distressing statistic from a potentially pivotal member of a championship team.

It appears I’m not the only one who has noticed Prince’s recent cluelessness on defense. Take a look at the play below…

With his man (Mike Conley) drifting to the corner, notice how Prince unconsciously sinks toward the middle of the floor while surveying the weak-side action. Kyrie Irving catches on right away, turning to Prince and screaming (I’m assuming) “GET YOUR BUTT IN THAT CORNER!”

With Irving busy barking orders out to his non-compliant colleague, his assignment (Royce O’Neale) lifts to the wing for a wide-open three.

At first glance, it’s easy to accredit Kyrie Irving with the error. But make no mistake, Prince’s ho-hum disposition birthed this whiffed rotation. At this point, we know what Prince is a player: an adept three-point shooter, a promising post-defender and a league-leading on-ball defender…

It’s time he makes us a believer in what he isn’t.

Trending Down – Zone Defense

A year ago, the Nets made waves for their trendy use of the zone defense. While Brooklyn’s 2018-2019 roster wasn’t exactly stacked to the brim with outstanding individual defenders, Kenny Atkinson made use with what he had and unveiled a form of coverage typically used in youth leagues to mask the flaws of his personnel. Last year’s Nets allowed just 0.99 points per possession while defending in the 2-3 zone, 7th best in the entire association.

Fast forward one year and assuredly many, many film sessions later, and it appears Brooklyn’s opponents have studied hard to disintegrate the Nets’ once-touted zone D. Opponents are scoring on a disastrous 44.1 percent of their possessions when defended by a Brooklyn zone – good for 1.16 points per possession. Lightning-quick passes and snappy handoffs within a weave offense can easily bust holes in zones that tend to overload to one side. That’s exactly what happens here during this third quarter possession versus Phoenix.

Even so, Synergy stats still rank the Nets as the eleventh-best team when defending within a zone. This doesn’t so much speak positively about the Nets. It more so tells us where the league is going.

It may be time for Kenny Atkinson -- and the rest of the association -- to retire the 2-3 zone. Its time has come and gone.