Well… that one probably won’t end up on ESPN Classic. It took the Brooklyn Nets four quarters and overtime period to do it, but hey, they did it. Use whatever cliché you’d like.. grit, tenacity, a resolute mentality… the Nets took down the 6-21 Pelicans and improved to 15-12 on the season.
And I hated every single second of it. Man oh man, what a stinker.
Still, though, even amidst what I think was supposed to be a basketball game, and not just two groups of professional *blindly* tossing things at baskets, there were some defined heroes among men. Brooklyn’s performance versus the Pelicans progressed like a four-part screen-play with five major protagonists.
Part I – Jarrett Allen’s rim obstruction.
Last time these two ball clubs met up, Brandon Ingram made a business decision… to utterly own all human forms of life at the Barclays Center. I’m assuming his pregame ritual went some like this:
Man, this Brooklyn place is nice. Real, real nice. Great food, cool peeps. You know what? I’m feelin’ dandy, so how about I just never miss a shot tonight? That sounds pretty cool.
Ingram’s 40 points on 17-of-24 shooting clearly made an imprint on a certain somebody. I’ll give you a hint: He has really… shoot, just outstanding hair.
Jarrett Allen made a concerted -- oh who am I kidding? – a downright outlandish effort in inhibiting the league’s 15th-best per-game scorer. The best way to do so? Try four humiliating rejections at the basket from Brooklyn’s young center of the future. Ingram, New Orleans’ spidery first-option, prefers to get himself going through easy transition buckets at the rim; he is, after all, a top-20 scorer in fast-break points. Notice how (in the second clip from the video below), “The Fro” emerges from the weakside to deny Ingram with an almost vulgar disregard. Like a shot-blocking Boo from Super Mario Bros, Allen surprises the Pelicans’ star player with unmitigated malice.
In the end, Ingram finished with 22 points on the night, but it took him 23 shots to get there. Allen’s cruel confidence-crushing ways in the early goings of Tuesday’s game were a big reason why.
Part II – David Nwaba’s two-way impact
Welcome to hour 48 of obnoxious gushing about Brooklyn’s latest three-and-D phenom. I would apologize, but that would actually entail feeling real guilt for such brazen celebration.
David Nwaba followed up his impressive weekend showcase with a 28-foot pull-up heat-check-like performance (if you’re reading this, don’t get any ideas, Dzanan Musa) in New Orleans. The four-year-pro was utterly outstanding on both ends.
Outside of yet another D-Wade-like block off the glass (against poor Brandon Ingram… tough night, buddy), Nwaba produced some A++ material on his positional “right place, right time” exactitude. Nwaba doesn’t just lock onto his matchup, he flat-out Gorilla Glue’s his 219-pound frame to every inch of his assigned player. Shaking Nwaba’s defense is akin to ripping off a Band-Aid covered in cement mix; it’s probably going to hurt and, more than likely, it won’t work out too well. Just ask Brandon Ingram after this fifteen-footer:
Here, Nwaba guards New Orleans’ Josh Hart with pin-point accuracy, hurling his Thwomp-like frame and sealing off Hart’s initial drive, ultimately pushing the Villanova swingman into a fadeaway 17-footer.
On the other end of that (hideous) New Orleans hardwood, Nwaba followed Kenny Atkinson’s direction splendidly. He hit threes (2-for-3 on the night!) and made big plays in transition. 31.5 percent of Nwaba’s total offensive possessions occur within the fast break, and he’s scoring a very good 1.21 points per 100 possessions – a 70th percentile rating. His ability to not only receive contact, but finish through physical pressure has greatly elevated Brooklyn’s transition game.
Nwaba’s only 6’5” but he plays like a bruising 7’3” center. Word to my Twitter homie, DukeBarrister, he put it best:
If there’s a 50/50 scrap for the ball, Nwaba is getting it. Every single time.— Duke (@DukeBarrister) December 18, 2019
…and truth be told, I can’t get enough of it.
Part II – Kenny Atkinson’s ATO mastery
Kenny’s out-of-bounds cunning was a recent “Trending Up” nominee. Tuesday was more of the same. Not to be too hyperbolic, but Kenny’s ATO decisiveness may have secured the zip-lock-tight victory.
Up first is an ATO we’ve seen from Atkinson before. With one of his lethal marksmen clutching the ball (in this case, Joe Harris), Atkinson runs another shooter (Garrett Temple) around a weakside staggered screen (set by Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen). As Temple slows his footwork at the top of the key, it initially appears as if the 34.1 percent 3-point shooter is prepping for the outside shot. But then, without notice, Temple juts to the rim with a full head of steam, leaving his defender (Lonzo Ball) in the dust. From there, Garrett receives the throw-in pass from Joey Buckets and finishes with an uncontested layup.
More delicious out-of-bounds morsels from coach Kenny A:
To start, Atkinson has his strongest shooter, Joe Harris, inbound the ball to Jarrett Allen at the top of the arc. From there, Allen swings the ball left to Garrett Temple. At this point, with Joe Harris creeping onto the hardwood, Spencer Dinwiddie preps a sneaky little flare screen to provide his red-hot teammate with a runway toward buckets galore. With Joe’s (great) defender, Kenrich Williams, suddenly caught on Dinwiddie’s pick, Harris obliges eagerly with a curl to the top of the key. At the apex of Harris’ cut, Jarrett Allen provides secondary assistance with yet another screen to further dislodge poor Kenrich Williams. Three points, good guys.
I’ve gotta say, using Harris as the inbounder is a creative way to thrust Harris into one of his trademarked curls along at the arc. Big ups to Kenny’s genius for that one.
One last set. My favorite of all.
The baseline out-of-bounds set begins with Spencer Dinwiddie sprinting toward a Joe Harris free throw-line pick. As he nears his bearded teammate, the two intertwine in a Ring-Around-The-Rosie-looking dance known in basketball terms as a “counter.” With both players curling and concurrently screening for each other, Harris breaks away from the pack and rifles toward the right corner. Once again, big JA does the dirty work with a secondary flare screen, giving Harris room to rise up for the corner bucket.
One thing to note: All three of these sets are specifically engineered to involve the previously slumping Joe Harris. 24-points on 5-of-9 threes later, it’s safe to say Kenny Atkinson awoke the sleeping giant.
Part IV – The Closers: Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie
Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie, two of Brooklyn’s cornerstone pillars, carried this bad boy home. For Spencer Dinwiddie, this meant flaunting what he’s already good at, acting comfortably within his unshakable comfort zone.
Crunch-time possession after crunch-time possession, Brooklyn’s favorite hero – Downhill Dinwiddie – unveiled new, exciting chapters to his everlasting All-Star tale. This time, he decided to turn Jrue Holiday, an All-Defensive teamer last season, into scrumptious New Orleans gumbo.
The second clip from the video above is an absolute treat. As Din pushes the pace in transition, he crosses to his right at the top of the key, bulldozing his way to the rim. His defender, Josh Hart, stumbles into the path of his big-man partner, Derrick Favors, giving Dinwiddie a clear path for the lay-in. I’ll put it like this: You know you’ve got it going when the opposing team unintentionally screens each other.
Update on the Spencer Dinwiddie-Jarrett Allen pick-and-roll tandem… it, uh, still works. Quite well, actually. As stands, according PBP stats, that duo has produced the 4th-most at-rim assisted buckets with 41 and counting! (Slotted behind James Harden and Clint Capela , LeBron James and Anthony Davis , and Lou Williams and Motrezl Harrell ).
To close this out, let’s touch on Brooklyn’s other unbreakable closer, Joe Harris, who, unlike Spencer Dinwiddie, strayed far from his normal area of expertise to secure victory from the jaws of defeat.
Back in January, Kenny Atkinson told the New York Times “we want (Harris) to shoot more bad shots because he’s such a great shooter, but he won’t because he’s such a good guy.” Ten-and-a-half months later, coach got his wish. How nice of Mr. Buckets to get into that giving Holiday spirit.
As Harris received the ball off a curl, New Orleans’ Derrick Favors smartly switched onto Brooklyn’s sharpshooter. Stymied ever-so-slightly, the Virginia product put the ball on the floor…
…and suddenly transformed into a beefy Steph Curry, performing a blur of crossovers before stepping-back into a ballsy three-point shot. Meanwhile, I hurled profanities at my television screen in sheer disbelief.
Disclaimer alert, while this last shot isn’t necessarily a “bad attempt,” it does drift away from Brooklyn’s ingrained analytical system. Like many times on Tuesday, Harris curled around a Spencer Dinwiddie pick before receiving a handoff from Jarrett Allen. A quick blitz by the rookie Jaxson Hayes erases Joey’s three-point opportunity. So, being that he’s more than just a shooter ™, Harris cascades downhill before pulling up for the open 12-foot mid-range fade.
Say it with me… MORE OF THIS!
While it wasn’t a graceful victory, these gutty Nets will take what they can get. Onto the next, I say!
- What each of Kenny Atkinson’s moves in an up-and-down Nets win showed about his coaching strategy - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York