With eight losses in thirteen games, pressure is beginning to mount for the Brooklyn Nets.
The team says there’s no panic, but for fans (at least), the sense of urgency is increasing; the time to turn the season around is now.
Coming into the season with a roster of eight new players, it’s no surprise that the Nets got out of the gate slow. It’s not easy to integrate so many new players into a system, especially when swapping out last year’s star, D’Angelo Russell, for Kyrie Irving. Then, both Irving and Caris LeVert went down, joining Kevin Durant in the trainers’ room and on the bench.
Working through early season chemistry issues and miscommunication was to be expected. The extent of the injuries couldn’t have been. So, it was always going to take time for Kenny Atkinson’s vision to be grasped and scheme to be implemented.
Despite all the roster turnover and changes within the organization, the Nets believed their culture would stay relatively intact and their reputation as one of the league’s hardest playing teams would be upheld. Playing with energy and effort would allow them to steal some wins in spite of the early season kinks they’d have to work through.
Through thirteen games, the Nets collective motor has often stalled. Inconsistency has plagued them, both in execution and effort.
Following Monday’s disappointing 115-86 home loss to Indiana, Atkinson tried to encapsulate the Nets struggles:
“Below-average teams are inconsistent, and that’s what we are right now”
That’s the accountability and honesty the Nets need to turn this thing around. Pride needs to set in within that locker room. Players need to take a stand and simply play harder, if only because it’s the easiest fix as something the Nets can control.
And funny thing, they admit it!
“There’s no scheme to generate effort. Effort is what it is,” Garrett Temple said after the loss. “Obviously we’re small in some spots at the four, but we have enough size to rebound at least or compete on the rebounding. The rebounding is the story. That’s the story about effort, and we didn’t have it tonight.”
For the season, the Nets have actually held up well in rebounding, sitting third in the league at 47.5 rebounds per game, but a lack of consistent effort can be seen in other areas.
The Nets have been consistently slow in their defensive rotations, lackadaisical in closing out to shooters, uninterested in pressuring ball-handlers, and lazy in shot selection – often chucking up contested shots when the going gets tough.
Many fans want to single out new acquisitions DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince as the culprits, but the truth is, collectively, the entire unit needs to do better as a team is only as strong as its weakest part.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect to the Nets inconsistent effort is that we’ve seen how successful the team could be when they play hard and with energy.
In small spurts, the Nets have looked dominant. In back to back games in the two toughest road environments, the Nets outscored the Jazz and Nuggets, 68-53 and 61-49, respectively. Despite the two collapses, it seemed inevitable that both great teams would make comebacks on their home floors and the high end of both performances should give the Nets confidence in their ability to eventually reach that elite level of play for full games at a time. The Nets have shown they can be a dangerous team when engaged and playing hard.
Against Indiana, yes, the Nets were without their best three players, but Indiana was depleted as well. Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdan, and Jeremy Lamb were all absent from the Pacers lineup, so you could say the playing field was level.
From the moment the inactive list was announced, it was obvious it was going to be a tough, ugly, grind it out game. On their home floor, it was a game the Nets should’ve won, yet they didn’t even compete. That’s unacceptable. Poor performances happen and Indiana has proven to be a tough matchup for the Nets in Atkinson’s tenure, but getting completely dominated on their own floor simply because they didn’t compete at the same level as Indiana is embarrassing.
Early in his Nets tenure, former coach Lionel Hollins once said teams should never lose by twenty-plus points in the NBA. Hollins believed, despite any disparity in talent, playing hard for 48 minutes alone should keep teams within at least twenty. Nets embodied that mantra the past few seasons. They always competed, fighting for down to the wire finishes and comeback wins in games they often had no business even being in.
When you think about last year’s Nets and the reputation that the team garnered, you wonder what happened to the makeup of this team.
When you think of the players that consistently played the hardest last season, all the guys that aren’t in Brooklyn anymore first come to mind:
Ed Davis, Demarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, even Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier.
Now think about this year’s team. Do the Nets have anybody that plays exceptionally hard? An argument could be made for Rodions Kurucs, David Nwaba, Nicolas Claxton, and even Joe Harris, but two of those players are out of the rotation, one is a rookie playing limited minutes, and one rotation player in Harris just isn’t enough.
Might the Nets have undervalued what the departures from last year’s team brought to Brooklyn? The Nets could sure use the inspiring energy and leadership those guys provided with their effort and attention to detail.
The Nets’ structure has been built on effort and hard work. Yet thus far this season, it looks as if Brooklyn has lost its backbone ... or at least its consistency on effort.
They need to find that effort level again if they have any hopes of turning this thing around. Improving their effort is the most easily correctable thing, but also why it’s the most disappointing early season takeaway. Effort should always be there as Joe Harris touched on postgame:
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s out of your control when you play, but the things that are in your control are competing every possession, playing hard every possession, having that sense of urgency, the ownership, the pride. A lot of that stuff is not there with us right now. It’s there in lapses, but it’s not there consistently.”
After the loss to Indiana, Harris looked right into the cameras and didn’t make any excuses about being shorthanded:
“The stuff that we didn’t do tonight has nothing to do with talent.”
Harris also took accountability on behalf of the players, clarifying that it’s their job, not the coaches, to keep each other in check and demand effort.
“That’s a player-led thing. There has got to be a sense of urgency where there’s a level of accountability across the board, you keep people in check, making sure the energy level is there, making sure people are competing and playing hard. That’s definitely something that’s more internal and not from the coaches.”
It’s been a reoccurring theme for the Nets this season and one that needs to be rewritten soon.
“It’s a lack of effort and energy on our part and that’s why its frustrating,” added Harris.
The Nets will get a chance to right the ship with a bounce back performance against Charlotte at home on Wednesday.