The season of giving is officially upon us and it’s safe to say I’m in the spirit. Already, my apartment looks like an overzealous Macy’s department store; it’s decked out with Christmas lights for all of Bushwick to see.
It appears I’m not the only one who’s preemptively full of seasonal tidings. The Brooklyn Nets, they decided to drop two early presents in our stockings: A giant, (almost) superfluous pile of coal following the beatdown in Toronto, and a shimmering, emotional win against the playoff-rival Philadelphia 76ers. To celebrate, I’m highlighting two players who have shone brilliantly like treetop stars, and two that have resembled basketball-dribbling grinches.
Trending Up: David Nwaba
Honest question: Has there been a faster riser in recent Nets history than the undrafted fourth-year pro out of Cal Poly? One month ago, the undersized combo forward was riding the pine next to barely-legal teammates, occasionally showcasing signs of life during short stints on the hardwood. After cutting Iman Shumpert, the Nets hedged their bets on Nwaba’s continued progress. Well, thus far, the early returns on that controversial wager have been… shoot… they’ve been splendid. On Sunday, David was the first man up for Kenny Atkinson’s bench brigade.
I’ll put it like this: If you were to attach lobster claws to a Mack truck, you might get an idea of what it’s like to watch David Nwaba clamp on defense. My man can bang bodies with the broadest dudes in town, he can pick off passes like malnourished Venus Fly Trap. Insert the obvious Dwyane Wade comp here, but every time Nwaba sends an opposing shot off the glass, I find myself rocketing out of my seat – in sync, almost, with the velocity of those thunderous ricocheting blocks.
For the most part, Per-36 stats are useless in their essence; they paint unrealistic pictures of players and don’t account for external stimuli… namely, attrition.
However, Nwaba’s per-36 stats just can’t go ignored. Over a stretched out sample, David Nwaba would record 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks. That combined 2.9 stocks (steals + blocks… hat tip to The Ringer’s Bill Simmons for the terminology) would lead all Brooklyn players by a considerable margin. I’ll let the film explain the rest:
Nwaba leverages his 7-foot wingspan like an all-pro safety. On top of this, Brooklyn’s built-like-a-brick-house defensive deterrent is blessed with an innate at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time ability. Don’t believe me? In the video above, notice how he swoops into the frame to pick off the once-safe Toronto inbound pass. This isn’t against two scrubs, either. Nwaba’s finessing Kyle Lowry and Pascal Saikam, telling them to take that championship mettle and shove it up their---you know what? Let me chill.
Oh, but it gets better. Against Philadelphia, a behemoth ground-and-pound team, Brooklyn’s zone defense produced a variety of odd cross-matches. Halfway through the first quarter, Nwaba found himself pinned against Al Horford on the low-block. With Horford outsizing Nwaba by a full four inches and 20 pounds, I was prepared for the worst. Even at 33 years old, Al is still a top-20 post-up player (in terms of usage) and should be able to – quite literally -- shoot the ball over the head of Brooklyn’s defensive specialist.
But as things tend to go with David Nwaba, the often-overlooked professional overcame insurmountable odds. Three times, actually. Folks, we witnessed Newton’s third law in motion: With every Horford body bump, Nwaba responded with an equally formidable physical counter. While watching the video below, make sure to pay close attention to that third clip. It’s my favorite one of all. Notice how Nwaba eats Horford’s attempted drive like a sponge, forcing Philly’s big man into an unsavory 11-foot whiffed hook shot.
To cap it all off, Nwaba – a near-instant fan-favorite – is connecting on 43.5 percent of his 1.3 attempted threes per. That’s right, he’s leading the Brooklyn Nets, a team whose roster includes Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris and Taurean Prince, in frickin’ outside shooting. If his fiery marksmanship continues, Sean Marks could have unearthed one of the league’s splashiest 3-and-D specialists in quite some time.
Trending Up: DeAndre Jordan
Please accept this apology for any and all written slander from my end. You’ve shoved all of my fancy stats and edgy video clips vehemently in my face. I look forward to witnessing the many Lob City-esque dunks in the future. Again, my bad.
Yes, it’s true. I have written some not-so-nice reviews of DeAndre Jordan’s box outs. I’ve definitely made some cruel judgments on his defensive versatility. Yet, this past weekend, Jordan looked the part of a $10 million center. He’s been Brooklyn’s best big man. Period.
While Jordan’s December numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, they paint a solid picture of his production: 10.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 65.9 percent from the field, 2 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.3 steals. He’s done a little bit of everything, dipping his paws into passing lanes…
Embarrassing poor fools and their hapless layup attempts…
Flaunting fancy no-look handoffs before positioning himself for subsequent stone-walled screens…
And then, best of all, leveraging that God-given size. During the month of December, he’s grabbing 3.7 offensive boards per game – 8th best in the league. Here, he treats James Ennis III like a pesky speed bump, taunting the 6’7” forward with rebounding prospects before grabbing that easy second-chance opportunity… plus the and-1.
I’m becoming increasingly worried that the Texas native suffers from some strange inverse version of seasonal affective disorder. As the months grow colder, and that New York skyline turns dimmer, the 31-year-old seems to be growing progressively happier – and increasingly dominant -- in his new Brooklyn home. Imagine what Jordan will look like during the frigid, gloomy month of April. Consider this a warning.
Trending Down: Jarrett Allen vs. Stretch-Fives
Jarrett Allen had himself a quiet weekend by his standards, averaging 7.5 points, 9 rebounds and 0.5 blocks. Which, fine, whatever. No need to sound the alarm off a two game sample. (Also, he just crushed all forms of big-man life versus the Pelicans. So…)
However, a trend that is becoming increasingly troublesome is the fits that stretch-centers continue cause “The Fro.”
Marc Gasol, bless his soul, has had himself a dauntingly slow start to the season: 6.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 35.6 percent shooting from the field… as a center. After a busy summer of winning the FIBA tournament and (no big deal) the gosh darn NBA Finals, some sluggishness from the 34-year-old was to be expected.
At this point in his career, the former Grizzly cornerstone has effectively become a specialist. Gasol’s job is simple: Protect the rim within a shielded drop-coverage system and shoot effin’ threes. And in a way, that should make him an easy target to equalize as his defender.
Yet on Saturday, Gasol was gift-wrapped open shots galore. His 17 points (on 6-of-11 shooting) represented a season-high for Gasol; 9 of those points came through uncontested 3-point looks.
Here, Brooklyn’s zone defense thrusts Allen -- effectively – into no man’s land. As he toggles left to stay with the flow of Toronto’s offense, he leaves Gasol standing on an island, hands raised high, awaiting the incoming pass. Once Pascal Siakam swings the ball to the international seven-footer, Allen responds with a lethargic close-out to the arc, giving Gasol ample time to fine-tune his deep-ball stroke.
Here’s another defensive transgression from earlier in that Toronto game. Positionally speaking, Allen starts the possession strong, hovering near the free throw line -- a Jarrett Allen’s arm-reach away from the Spaniard spotting up on the arc. However, as Siakam prepares his move on the post, Allen foolishly helps one pass away. One egregious dig later and the rest is unfortunate history.
I’ve long been optimistic about Jarrett Allen’s ceiling, especially as it pertains to his defensive versatility. However, that hopefulness comes with weighty expectations. One way or another, Allen needs to channel consistent effort against all types of opponents.
Trending Down – Joe Harris… trade rumors
Since Kyrie Irving last played (November 14), it’s no secret that Joe Harris has been in a horrific 3-point shooting slump. Over the past month, Joe’s connected on just 31.4 percent of his “open” 3-point looks according to NBA’s statistical library, a déjà vu of sorts to last season’s first-round series (in which the marksman made just 20 percent of his open threes).
Even so, the 28-year-old is still shooting 49 percent from the field during the month of December. His scoring average has actually climbed as his slump has deepened, notching 15.9 points during his last 7 games. He’s effectively replenished his plummeting stroke with an undiminished downhill tenacity, scoring on 60 percent of his driving shots.
Still though, financially speaking, as a renowned 3-point guru, Joe’s slump from deep has peaked its head at a rather unfortunate time. Although the Nets hold his bird rights (meaning that the team can exceed the salary cap to retain him), the 6’6” small forward will enter this summer as an unrestricted free agent. With a substantial financial decision on the horizon (in the ballpark of $12-15 million per season), it’s not outlandish to see his name pop up in some recent trade rumors.
But to those rumors, I say: Bah, humbug!
Again, Brooklyn is already over the salary cap. If the Nets were to let Harris walk, it’s not like Marks could replace him with a player of equitable monetary value (and likely, talent). So in a sense, why not keep him and figure the rest out later.
Based on what we heard from Sean Marks last summer, it appears he has Joe Tsai’s blessings in moving toward a successful future. “(Tsai has) shown the support we need from a basketball operations department,” Marks said preseason. “The ultimate goal for everybody is to win the whole thing.”
Early-season grandiose spending on Taurean Prince backed up that notion; Tsai will spend big to retain this championship core. And why not? He’s increased his net worth by $3.6 billion this year! Retaining Harris would be more of the same. Conversely, punting on Brooklyn’s 3-point knight in shining black-and-white armor would signal a change in plans… and possible disengagement between the front office and ownership.