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Nets open 2021 with sloppy performance in loss to Hawks, 114-96

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Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Brooklyn lived and died by the three-ball and it was not pretty. In fact, it was ugly. The Nets kicked off 2021 with a sloppy performance that will likely lead to a long film session tomorrow. The Atlanta Hawks bounced back from Wednesday’s loss, defeating the Nets 114-96. Brooklyn is now sitting at 3-3 on the season with some pressure moving forward.

The Nets struggled to buy a bucket — going cold - shooting from deep, finishing 7-of-37, but their offensive firepower will bounce back. While Steve Nash thinks the offense needs work so does a lot of other areas.

“It is not an excuse,” Nash said about his team’s shooting night. “We didn’t shoot the ball well but we did not do a lot of other things well. It is still early and we need more time to drill in the concepts but on both sides of the ball, we need a lot of cleaning up. While we are frustrated, we got to stick with it.”

That said, the defense is a major concern moving forward. Nash did appreciate that his team gave up fewer offensive boards but agreed there’s work to be done on the Nets’ No. 1 priority.

“We looked at a lot of things from the first game and we did not improve on a lot of it,” Nash said following the loss. “We thought we gave up a lot less offensive rebounds. We hurt our defense on turnovers and they stretched us. We didn't do a good job and improve enough in the areas that we were weak in so it just seems like it's a little thing here, a little thing there, wasn’t necessarily one situation more than others.

“It was more like a mistake in communication, a mistake in transitions, a mistake on a pick-and-roll, a mistake on a pin-down, so we just got to stick with it. It’s early. We are frustrated with it but it is so early that we need to give ourselves some time to continue to work, improve, and communicate.”

Throughout the game, the Hawks’ dominant pick-and-roll offense tormented the Nets. It left the Nets lost off switches, capitalized on fundamentals, and found the open man ... repeatedly, Atlanta gave Brooklyn a taste of revenge and much more as the Hawks continue to gain attention in the East.

De’Andre Hunter was the high man for Atlanta, finishing with 23 points in 31 minutes followed by John Collins, who is making his name as the next Nets killer, finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds, and a series of powerful slams in 25 minutes of play. Brooklyn also struggled to lock down Trae Young, who went for 21 points in 32 minutes of play.

Jeff Green noted how he believes the Nets allowed the offensive struggles to dictate their defense, leading away from following the principles structured for that end of the floor.

“I think we, as a whole, allowed the offense to dictate our defense,” Green said following the loss. “When that happens, it gets frustrating. Not amongst each other but frustrating individually because we know we can make shots,” said the veteran big. “Tonight just got away from us and we just got to get back to the drawing board, rely more on our defense, and principles. We have guys who can score and put up numbers. We just got to get back to our defensive principles.”

Beyond the defensive concerns looming, Brooklyn didn’t take care of the ball in Friday’s loss. The team turned the ball over 15 times in the loss and got crushed on second-chance points (22-9). In fact, the Nets allow 20.8 second-chance points per game which leads the NBA.

Joe Harris also noted how the lack of made shots, along with a mix of everything else, dictated the turnovers but says turnovers become a big problem when they are “done passively more than aggressively.”

“A mix of everything,” Harris said about what contributed to the turnovers and sloppy play. “I think sometimes when the ball is not going in, the rhythm collectively is just a little bit off. That is when you start making mental miscues and mistakes here and there but that happens.

“I think our problem though is when those mistakes do happen, whether defensively or offensively, they are done with an aggressive nature. You can’t be passive when you are playing so turnovers aren’t the end of the world but they are more problematic when they are done passively more than aggressively.”

Despite the negatives and the emerging concerns, Kevin Durant tried save the day again. He continues to play sensational basketball in his first five games back, recording a team-high 28 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in 37 minutes of play. Irving, despite having a rough shooting night, finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes of play.

Steve Nash sticking with TLC at the 2

With Spencer Dinwiddie’s devastating injury leaving a hole at the 2, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has emerged and has impressed Steve Nash.

When Nash was asked about whether he wants a 3-and-D or a playmaker filing that 2-spot prior to Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Nets head coach is sticking with TLC - noting his reliable play on both ends of the floor on top of his hot shooting from the outside. The 46-year-old head coach also likes how TLC compliments Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Although sticking with TLC, Nash says multiple players can play that role as well.

“Those wing positions, we have different guys that can play that role,” Nash said. “I think that TLC is a good compliment in the starting unit. He’s very reliable to the game plan and the defensive schemes. He has defended well. He has been a reliable shooter thus far this year as well and spacing the floor for us but there is plenty of guys that can play that role.

“I think with Kevin and Ky, it is nice to have guys that are very good three-point shooters as he is, can space the floor, and play without the ball so I thought that was a good look for us last game - defense was very good and I am happy with him.”

Despite being one of the Nets who went cold from deep in Friday’s loss, Kevin Durant praised the French wing, saying every time he shoots the ball, he believes it is going into how the team will need his confidence moving forward.

“Get back tomorrow and keep trusting in him. I feel like every time he shoots the ball, it is going to go in so having that confidence shooting it and it’s a long season. There are going to be games where you don’t shoot the ball well but I think he was still active and we are going to need him going forward. It is all about staying confident, keep shooting the basketball, keep being aggressive, and having some fun our there.”

The Film Room

Can we take a second and admire this gorgeously scripted Hawks offense? (I’m becoming such a covert Hawks stan.)

Both Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter move toward the wings to make themselves available for dribble-handoffs with Trae Young to start off the play below. But just a second! Hunter and Bogdanovic leak out to the wings, and the possession flows into Atlanta’s uber-effective Trae Young/John Collins pick-and-roll.

Credit to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot: He does a great job containing Trae Young off that pick-and-roll, but Atlanta ends up with a De’Andre Hunter pull-up middie. The key to this possession is the level of movement to kickstart things from Lloyd Pierce’s squad. One of the many keys to running an effective pick-and-roll offense is throwing as many diversions as possible to keep the defense second-guessing itself. The Atlanta Hawks certainly understand that... and how to manipulate expectations.

As for Brooklyn highlights... oh boy. There isn’t a ton to gloat about on offense, so let’s take a glance at Brooklyn’s defense.

Kevin Durant mentioned that “over-helping” was an issue during the first meetup with Atlanta. Here’s what KD had to say about Friday’s performance in that specific category.

“I feel like we’re definitely getting better at it,” said Durant on over-helping. “But you gonna have those plays where you move in too much into the paint, and they kick out to the three. They hit 16 of them tonight. A few of those, we could’ve taken away. But that’s just a part of the game. We’ll watch film and see how we can get better.”

Below is a great example of one of such plays that may come up in that film session.

Kevin Huerter (looking much sprier with the ball in his hands tonight) and Clint Capela hook-up for a pick-and-roll, and Huerter uses the head start of a ball-screen to drive to the cup alongside his Swiss big man buddy while Jarrett Allen backtracks to “tag” the both of them. Caris LeVert “stunts” or fakes in Huerter’s direction but maintains that ball-pressure on “Red Velvet” for a second too long. As LeVert jumps in Huerter’s direction, his man (Bogdan Bogdanovic) slides from the nearby wing to the corner to give Huerter a better passing angle for the three-point shot.

Fundamentals. You’ve got to see man and ball.

(Also, look at all that MOVEMENT from the other Hawks. Brandon Goodwin cuts from the corner to the restricted circle to free up room for Bogdanovic as he slides down from the wing; Solomon Hill clears out from the mid-post to enhance Atlanta’s spacing. I’m telling you, man. Lloyd Pierce knows what he’s doing.)

EP 155: The Gang Goes Rebounding

The discussion regarding what the Nets are missing never ends. “A third-star!” some proclaim. “They’re a big wing or three short,” says others. “Who is the enforcer?” mutters a small, but loud minority. And then of course, “WHERE ARE THE THROWBACKS?!” screams the Jersey fans. (You already got ‘em, you sillies!)

But no, what is absent from Brooklyn’s rotation is simple: A bottle of Windex.

Because the Nets have had trouble... cleaning the glass.

Through its first six games, the Brooklyn Nets are the worst team in the league giving up offensive rebounds. Brooklyn’s opponents are scooping up 14.8 freebies per game off Net glass, the most in the entire league by a considerable margin (second in this category is the New York Knicks with 12.4 offensive rebounds allowed). To shore up things on that end, Steve Nash offered a simple, but straightforward answer before Friday’s game.

“I definitely think gang-rebounding has gotta become habitual for us. We’re gonna struggle there until we’re really good at gang rebounding.” Nash continued, “it’s just something our guys are going to have to get used to: Taking that responsibility, doing it in numbers, and just giving ourselves a chance to get another rebound or so a quarter. That can put us back in an acceptable range.”

And gang-rebound, they did; Brooklyn allowed just 10 offensive boards to Atlanta on Friday, which would rank just outside the top-10 in offense rebounds given up. Not great, but improving.

Drawing (plays) for Uncle Drew

Kyrie Irving is a prolific off-ball shooter. Thus far, he’s nailed 50% of his 2020-2021 regular season catch-and-shoot trey-balls. In fact, Irving has connected at a 39.9% success rate or better off the catch in six of the eight seasons Second Spectrum has tracked that data. For Brooklyn, utilizing Irving in more of an off-ball role––similar to how the Celtics deploy Kemba Walker––could greatly open things up for the remainder of the offense.

The Nets, as things stand, are the only team to boast three players with 29%+ usage-rates; all three of Caris LeVert, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant have commanded a heavy majority of Brooklyn’s offensive possessions. Pre-game, Steve Nash made it clear he wants to slightly alter how Brooklyn’s touches are divvied up.

“I’d like to have the ball in his hands a little more as a playmaker,” Nash said of Kevin Durant. “Or as a guy who can facilitate. We’re trying to find that balance, and that’s something that might take a while... But I like it when Kevin’s able to handle or at least catch it in spots where players can cut off of him. I feel comfortable with that concept; we’ve done some of that, but we’d like to increase that. We’re still trying to find that balance and cohesion.”

The results were... mixed on Friday. Sure, Kevin Durant took 21 shots. But so did Kyrie Irving, who put up 10 fewer points than Durant in 4 fewer minutes of floor time. There’s an argument to be made that if Kyrie’s cold, Durant should be taking more shots.

The Nets are still a work in progress. With an incredibly condensed training camp, this will be a season-long process of trial and error.

KD moving up in all-time scoring average

With his scoring so far, 28.2 per game, Kevin Durant has now moved into a virtual tie with Jerry West for the fifth highest career scoring average in NBA history. According to Basketball Reference, the two look to be tied at 27.03, but if you carry out the long division, West is at 27.03004 ppg while Durant is at 27.02693 ppg. Next up at No. 4 is LeBron James at 27.05271.

What’s next

The Nets look to regain their footing and confidence as the team hosts the struggling Washington Wizards Sunday, Jan 3. at 6:00 PM.

For a different perspective, head on over to Peachtree Hoops, our Hawks sister site on SB Nation.