Thanksgiving is a celebration of all the great things in life: mouth-watering food, family, drinks and perhaps a sprinkle of football. But this year, that sacred holiday meant just a smidge more. Your Brooklyn Nets, a team that jumped out the gates to the tune of middling success amidst a fairly painless schedule, faced their first real challenge of the season. Since November 27, Brooklyn has exclusively battled against surefire east coast playoff teams. In typical Nets fashion, all three contests were, heh, vacuum-sealed-tight crunch-time battles until the sound of the final buzzer. Ultimately, Brooklyn came out 1-2 following the double-header versus the Boston Celtics and the late-afternoon bruiser against the Miami Heat.
With all that said, I’m bursting with hot takes and (probable) overreactions, so let’s get into the latest edition of “Trending Up, Trending Down.”
Trending Up: Kenny Atkinson’s ATOs
Quick q: How’s the “fire Kenny” crowd doing lately? Feel bad yet? Let this be your URL-based confessional. This is a safe place.
Say what you want about his start to the season, but Kenny Atkinson has made countless correct adjustments on the fly. The team’s not forcing enough turnovers? Great, let’s upgrade Garrett Temple’s role and sick David Nwaba and Iman Shumpert (more on him in a second…) on these poor fools that dare challenge Brooklyn. Zone defense isn’t working the way it used to? Kiss that baby goodbye and wave hello to man-to-man coverage and *some* switching. Drop coverage looking suspect? Here, have a taste of some Jarrett Allen 7’6” wingspan deliciousness as he gladly engulfs midrange parabolas.
However, where Kenny’s been at his absolute peak is after timeouts. Let’s grab a look.
I’m cheating a bit on this first one (as it occurred late against Cleveland), but who really cares? To start, Garrett Temple inbounds the ball to Spencer Dinwiddie, who catches from about 33-feet out. All the while, Joe Harris takes off from the strongside corner, curling around a weakside Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen staggered screen, the latter of which clips the body of Cleveland’s Collin Sexton (AKA the guy guarding Joe). Harris receives the ball at the top of the key, and realizing that Sexton’s futile pursuit is a step behind, Brooklyn’s non-stop hustler of a spot-up menace barrels to the rim for a crafty two-handed behind-the-head leaning lay-in.
Here’s that same play just one week later but with less satisfying results.
The beauty of running Harris off double screens is that he provides Brooklyn with two-fold efficiency on offense. Should the defense give him a millimeter of space, the Nets’ 44 percent-in-a-down-year 3-point shooter can readily rise up and launch crispy 3-point nukes at the basket. If the defense rides him more tightly, Harris’ shiftiness and elite sense of timing as an off-ball nomad can shake even the grittiest of defenders. Just ask Jaylen Brown, who kindly contributed my favorite Joey Buckets-related quote of the decade: “Joe be running like he running from the police. Jesus Christ. As soon as you turn your head, he gone. It was a good challenge and it was a good way to get going.”
Here are some numbers for my more analytical readers… In his last 10 performances, Harris is shooting a much-improved 48.1 percent off drives. For context, the sixth-year-pro shot just 31.8 percent as a driver during his first 10 games. Atkinson’s offense is yielding better looks for the multi-faceted American hero.
Okay, one more out-of-bounds pièce de résistance before we trek forward. To start, Garrett Temple – whose playmaking skills are fully out to play as of late – receives the ball in the post with Miami’s Goran Dragic (or “Goran Tragic” as my auto-correct likes to call him) defending. At this point, Iman Shumpert cuts from the logo to the left block, drawing his defender (Justice Winslow) into the painted area. Meanwhile, Taurean Prince cuts from the left wing to the top of the key, forming a criss-cross configuration with Shumpert.
Here’s what makes this play so special: Because Shumpert brings Winslow into the paint to clog the middle, this actually acts as a pseudo-double-screen. Kelly Olynyk, the player guarding Prince, runs into both Shumpert and Winslow before slamming into a DeAndre Jordan pin-down (FYI: a pin-down is a screen that faces the basket). With Olynyk bumping into bodies galore, Prince calmly builds himself a scrumptious post-Thanksgiving day sandwich full of leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce before launching a picture-perfect 3-point swish. A big “mmm” to both of those delicious things.
Trending Up: Iman Shumpert
Hey, remember when the Nets were a bottom-6 defense? Holy schnikes does that feel like a millennium ago. As mentioned before, Kenny Atkinson has made slight tinkerings to his defensive principles. But his biggest change of all is, well, purely based on personnel.
Watching Brooklyn’s bench unit attempt to score points has been about as fun as observing my house plants undergo photosynthesis at 0.25 speed. What has been enjoyable is witnessing this minimum-salaried non-guaranteed defensive demon rise to the occasion.
Iman Shumpert’s hand-eye coordination has almost single-handily lit Brooklyn’s forced-turnover tinder. If it weren’t for basketball, I truly believe that Shumpert could become a world-champion speed stacker. The velocity that his hands move gives me nightmares, and I’m the one who enjoys the pleasantries of covering the damn guy. Now imagine how Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown feel.
In both possessions, Shumpert fronts the Celtics’ cornerstone youngin’s on the high-post before oozing around their bodies with the elasticity of fight-scene Flubber to pick-off the entry passes. (On that subject, pour one out for poor Wilson Croft’s internal organs. Ouch.)
Shumpert wasn’t done terrorizing the should-be-Nets draftees (that sentence hurt to write, I can’t lie). Here, the former world champion shifts his feet beautifully on a three-point closeout before staying step-for-step with Jayson Tatum’s drive and ultimately forcing a turnover.
A mere two days later, Shumpert did similarly terrifying things to the other Boston Jay from nearly the exact same spot on the floor. With Shumpert behind the play by just a hair after a cinderblock Enes Kanter screen, Jaylen Brown smartly put the ball on the floor. Normally, Brown – a 48.6 percent shooter out of drives – would take it to the rack with machismo. However, Mr. Shumpert had other plans. Still just 29 years old, Iman’s lateral quickness has all but disappeared, and he weaseled his way in and walled Brown away from the basket with a cruel smile and an air-kiss goodbye. In response, Brown’s basketball software reconfigured, and that Cal-Berkeley schooling kicked in. “It’s step-back time,” Brown (likely) said with triumph. But alas, the unshakeable Shumpert thwarted his plans yet again. Travel. Turnover, Boston.
Say what you want about Brooklyn’s decision to pass on the Western Conference Player of the Week, Carmelo Anthony. But I, personally, am pretty happy with Iman Shumpert.
Trending Down: Dzanan Musa
Dzanan Musa recently disabled his Twitter account during a period of some not-so-great basketball performances (no coincidence there, I’m sure…). Given that I’m not a proponent of kicking others while they’re down, I’ll make this brief.
Musa has contracted whatever virus infiltrated Rodions Kurucs’ shot profile; he’s passing up outside shots he should take while forcing 29-foot dying quails with alarming frequency. Only a handful of players on earth should even think about tossing up near-30-foot bombs without any rhythm beforehand. Musa is, unfortunately, not a member of that prestigious group.
To be completely honest with you all, I’m stumped on the answer to Musa’s problems. 5.3 points on 32.9/18.4/73 splits with a football field-long leash is not exactly captivating. Would more time with Long Island help? That… I’m also doubtful.
On all accounts, he’s a fantastic kid. Let’s hope he gets right soon.
Trending Down: DeAndre Jordan’s boxouts
Holistically speaking, this recent stage of the DeAndre Jordan four-year experience has actually been pretty enjoyable. Versus the Miami Heat, Jordan was clearing space in the paint for baby hooks like Orlando Dwight Howard. At one point, he may have slipped on some tap dancing shoes… the man click-clacked around the baseline like it was an America’s Got Talent tryout stage. Oh, and best of all, DID I MENTION HE CONTESTED A JUMP-SHOT?!?!?
However, DJ’s pressure on the boards… well, let’s just say there is some room for improvement. Jordan, a two-time league-leading rebounder, has been visibly apathetic on the glass this season. Too often is Jordan found rigid in his stance with his hands at his sides while the ball glances off the rim. Even if he’s positioned correctly, there’s a very good chance DeAndre’s feet fail to even leave the hardwood (just jump, dude!). Versus the Miami Heat, Jordan barely stationed himself in the got-dang painted area! See for yourself!
Miami grabbed 35 rebounds on Sunday afternoon – sixteen of which came from the offensive end of the floor. Chris Silva, a 6’8” backup rookie center, grabbed three of those second-chance opportunities in just 7 frickin’ minutes with DJ watching helplessly. As it stands, the Nets are 1.9 rebounds (per 100 possessions) better when DeAndre Jordan sits. That can’t be the case for a guy whose idealistic skillset entails rebounding and post defense. Even a fractions-worth of additional effort would make the difference.