BROOKLYN, N.Y. --- Ahh, my NetsDaily homies, it’s good to be back! After a busy week of traveling across hyperspace to solve intergalactic relations (kidding, I moved -- no joke -- 15 feet across street. Stressful times in the Brooks household, I know!), it’s time to hit the pavement hard with some fresh Nets content.
Since we last spoke, the Nets… well, they’ve kind of continued their middling progress, going 2-2 since Oct. 30. While I doubt the boys in black-and-white set out this season with chants of “1, 2, 3, .500 basketball!,” it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
With all that said, I wanted to re-introduce a column I briefly toyed with but never fully committed to last season: Trending Up; Trending Down. The concept is simple: Each week -- or bi-week, depending upon the material provided by our blessed content Gods -- I’ll be selecting two players who stood out substantially from the crowd, and two players who, uh (how do I put this?)… didn’t. Let’s get it, folks.
Trending Up: Kyrie Irving
Only five players in NBA history have averaged, at a minimum, 31 points, 7.5 assists and six rebounds: Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson (twice), MVP-season Russell Westbrook and yes…
Kyrie Andrew Irving.
What else can I really add about the man whose name needs no introduction? Irving is second in per-game scoring, sixth in assists, fourth in PER, third in win shares, seventh in VORP and first in the “I just threw my phone across the room in hysteria because of how sick this dude is” rankings.
That now-infamous Jackie MacMullan profile piece should've torn the wunderkind of West Orange native; it should have rotted Irving’s core inside-out. Instead -- to appease our resident Batman stan Billy Reinhardt —- Irving is no stranger to media darkness; he was born in it, molded by it… the Barclays Center is his ‘Pit’ and now the superhuman star is laying down a League-wide butt-kicking for the ages.
Statistically speaking, this past week wasn’t even quote-unquote Peak Unhinged Kyrie. Versus the Pistons and Rockets, Kyrie shot a combined 15-for-39 from the field. Of course, the headbanded maestro then proceeded to pick up right where he left off with 39 points on a supremely efficient 21 shots during Monday’s Pelicans game. What he did to All-Defensive guard Jrue Holiday is *checks notes, twice for good measure* illegal in forty-nine states (not including Alabama because, well, everything is legal there. So I’m told):
The sequel to this movie might be even prettier. pic.twitter.com/dinX0Wsamn— Matt Brooks (@MattBrooksNBA) November 5, 2019
But no, what’s really impressed me is his willingness to involve each and every one of his Brooklyn teammates. From a macro perspective, the Nets are still figuring each other out. But, a quick glance underneath the microscope unveils rapidly forming ionic-strong basketball bonds between Brooklyn’s cornerstone pieces. I know, I know, 500 words deep and I’m already two shameless Twitter shares deep, but just look at the Nets’ three-best players sharing the rock!
The chemistry between these three (Harris-LeVert-Irving) is tangible. pic.twitter.com/eUv5Ki0YCl— Matt Brooks (@MattBrooksNBA) November 5, 2019
Perhaps the biggest difference between last year’s grouping and this season’s up-tempo Nets is their tire-squealing, 0-to-60 meter-shattering change of pace. Brooklyn’s speed, which a year ago sat at 101.5 possessions/48 minutes, has lurched ahead in fifth gear thanks to year one of the Kyrie Irving experience; Brooklyn has produced a 107.3 PACE rating – good for third in the NBA.
The New Jersey showman’s willingness to not only grab defensive boards, but push the ball ahead of him on nearly every possession has vaunted Brooklyn’s offensive versatility. Here, he creates the widest of wide-open corner looks through the use of a zippy skip-pass to Caris LeVert, who obliges with an easy make and some tippy-toed hops for show.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with the 2018-2019 Nets was their inability to create much of anything during their fast-break opportunities (15.5 transition points per game – 24th in the association). Thanks in large part to Kyrie Irving, that weakness has now become a strength; Brooklyn is etching 22.3 points per contest during fast-break situations, concurrently ascending 15 spots up the league’s transition leaderboard.
To me at least, Irving’s ceaseless ability to keep a live dribble is perhaps his most valuable trait. In an era where perpetual cycles of ball-movement dominates our viewing experience, the superstar’s shades of And1 showmanship combats all modern-day hoops group-think. With Kyrie, there’s no icing him to the sidelines, no shading him to his off-hand, no pinning the 27-year-old to the baseline. Just when you think you’ve got the guy figured out, Irving whips out another ankle-obliterating head-fake from his bag to shake the defense’s double-team.
Not that my opinion matters, but Irving’s made me a believer this season. I hope he’s done the same for you.
Trending Up: Joe Harris
I’ve been on record with some pretty, um, optimistic Joey Buckets takes throughout this calendar year. After shooting the living daylights out last season with a league-leading 47.4% three-point percentage, Harris has somehow found a way to outdo himself. His traditional stats serve as a nice amuse bouche to his full scoring package: a career-high fifteen points per game, a career-high 54.2% shooting, a career-high 54.5% from three, a career-high 6.3 three-point attempts per contest,and a career-high 9.6 blown-kisses from the women in my family every time he steps on the floor. (The Harris fanaticism has reached sky-high levels in this household, it’s true.)
As a catch-and-release artist, the sixth-year pro is producing anaudacious 1.75 points on every catch-and-shoot possession (98thpercentile ranking, per Synergy). Try as hard as they might, hapless defenses are woefully underprepared when attempting to contain the Virginia sharpshooter; 46.2% of his tightly contested looks have glided swiftly through the twine, and that percentage only rises to 61.1% if he’s left wide-open. (For the record, if you’re leaving Joe freaking Harris open from three, good riddance ya big dummy.)
Outside of Kyrie’s high-speed initiation, Harris is a big reason for the Nets’ improvement in transition. He’s connecting on a seemingly impossible 75% (!) of his fast-break looks – a number that’s better than 96% of the league. I mean seriously, how does one stop this?
That’s pretty gosh tootin’ good defense by Svi Mykhailiuk, but who really gives a damn? By the time Svi gets his hand up, Joey Deadeye (please steal this moniker, Ian Eagle) has already hopped in his stance like an eager bunny, clutched the ball with dangerous zeal, and released a split-second three-pointer.
Props to Joey Buckets: He’s made the phrase “more than just a shooter” an overused cliché here in Brooklyn. Drives with accompanying up-and-under finishes at the rim? He’s got plenty of those. Wraparound passes to his bigs? That’s light work for Mr. Buckets. If he starts producing step-back threes with some regularity, it might be best if Adam Silver just cancels the league altogether.
Seriously, what’s the use in holding actual games if stuff like this becomes easily accessible for the league’s best shooter?
Trending Down: Rodions Kurucs
During the preseason, Kurucs told reporters he hoped to ascend into a point-forward-like creator role in 2019-2020. To put this politely, there may be some cognitive dissonance at work. You guys, I’m ready to cancel the Draymond Kurucs show if you are. Maybe there’s a reason Kenny Atkinson “wants (Kurucs) to be less of a ballhandler.”
On the season, he’s recorded nine total turnovers and just one assist. If you listen closely, you can faintly hear VORP Twitter cursing at the skies in frustration while glancing at that ghastly AST/TO ratio.
Some pluses: grossly small sample at work, but he’s made 66.7% of his total threes. That stat doesn’t really matter, though, considering the dude is outright refusing to chuck ‘em up from deep. Year two of the Kurucs experience could best be describedby one single play. Here, he passes up a wide-open three-pointer, only to travel after a dimwitted pump-fake and predetermined drive. I feel like I’m almost putting this lightly, but Kurucs’ confidence in his outside game has whittled down to next tonothing… and I’m not really sure why.
Altogether, Kurucs is stinking up the joint worse than 97% of the league on offense, hitting a percentile ranking I didn’t even know was possible. Some of you may be wondering, what happened?
To avoid getting into specifics, Rodi’s had himself a…distracting summer. Keep in mind, with more reps and stronger comfort ability with his legion of new teammates, there’s a good chance Kurucs figures things out down the line. A slight bonus for the young Latvian forward: Defensive metrics are much more charitable to the 21-year-old pro (67th percentile ranking in overall defense).
For now, though, the kid’s working in earnest to play himself out of the rotation. If the Nets pursue a veteran switchable forward with their 16th-player option, glancing back at this specific column, I’m sure you’ll know why.
Trending Down: Spencer Dinwiddie
Ladies and gentlemen, what an honor it is to introduce you all to the recent pariah of the Nets’ community: Spencer Dinwiddie!
Over the past week, Spencer’s ran headfirst into more criticism and rudely constructed trade machine packages than any other player should ever have to endure. To avoid compounding upon the scapegoat-Dinwiddie train, I’ll try to keep this short.
Yes, Dinwiddie isn’t off to the best start: 14 points on 38.8% shooting and (dear God) 24.2% from three is far from ideal. Like many players on this potentially championship-caliber roster, Dinwiddie entered this season with hopeful expectations aplenty. “Of course I do,” he said to Brian Lewis in response to the notion that Brooklyn could win a champion.
In the worst way possible, his undying faith in Brooklyn – and more importantly, himself -- has been more than evident thus far into the season; the backup PG is performing a truly movingseven-part “Josh Smith shot selection” homage for all the fans to see.
Look, I get the appeal of “being the man” on a franchise that’s suddenly garnering a great deal of public spotlight. And to a degree, I’m sure I’d act in the same manner and try to dominate the moment. But, man, some of Dinwiddie’s offensive possessions have just been brutal. An example: A heavily-contested fall-away midranger without any rhythm. Yikes.
Wasted possessions like this are a big reason opposing reserves have snuck back into games. You can almost feel the energy get sucked out of the building following each futile step-back whiff.Brooklyn’s transition defense is suddenly woefully out of position following a majority of these ugly misses.
Dinwiddie’s shooting slump has visibly affected the rest of his game. On Monday, the dude was practically seeing ghosts onsome of his three-point attempts. Go ahead, someone convince me that this isn’t a player stuck in the confines of his own mind?
Perhaps even more troubling is his repeated pattern of leaping into the air before passing. More often than not, this turns into easy interceptions for gleeful NBA defenses. Blowing a 3-2 breakaway advantage is one hell of a travesty, punishable by...hm… angry words from an internet blogger. Take that!
Remember how I said I fully expect Rodions Kurucs to break his slump? Double those feelings for our guy Din. He’s been through many a downswing before, and slowly – shot after shot – he’s found his way out. We’ll soon see the legend of Spinwiddie tearing apart defenses to the chagrin of his fans.
As usual, I’m here to preach patience. Chin up, my friends. The worse the downswing, the better the resurgence. Onward to Portland!