Following a tough loss to the Atlanta Hawks to start off 2021, the Nets held a film session Saturday. No practice just film and some individual workouts. Not surprisingly, the focus was on defense, that is following their defensive principles.
“We didn’t practice today. We just watched film today,” Nash said about Saturday’s practice. “Some guys got work in individually but we just watched film. We are always looking to explore rotation changes in different matchups and lineups. It’s such a new season to us.”
On top of diving into the film, head coach Steve Nash noted how the team will experiment with different lineups throughout the season and said he hoped everyone will “get a chance to play.”
“We are such a new group, played so little basketball together, and we will probably experiment a lot this year at different lineups. At certain times in the year, everyone is going to get a chance to play and see different looks.”
Following the film session Saturday, Nash noted how the defensive lapses —and there was a number of them— were mainly about simple miscommunication ... and a lack of communication.
“We recognized defensively, it is a lot of miscommunications and lack of talk,” Nash said about analyzing film following Saturday’s practice. “Just missing assignments and simple stuff. Fundamental stuff so just cleaning that up.
Aside from defense, Nash touched on the Nets’ offensive side of the ball. After scoring 145 points on Wednesday and winning, Brooklyn didn’t break a hundred on Friday and lost.
“Offensively, just getting into actions more. Getting into our sets, getting a rhythm, feel watching the ball, work for us, and getting us an opportunity to allow the defense to make tough decisions. Those are the two things we felt, saw on the tape, and will keep working at.”
As the 46-year-old rookie coach has emphasized since Day 1 of training camp, the Nets are a young and new team, lacking vital common experience. Their best player, the focus of their offense, didn’t play at all last season, his partner-in-crime played only 20. Four of the 17 players are new to the team and when the season began, another four hadn’t played since March 10.
When it comes to teaching and implementing the defensive principles in Nash and his coaching staff’s plan starts with one non-negotiable element.
“We expect effort. That should be non-negotiable,” Nash said about teaching defense. “It is really about being tuned to our assignments, our principles, our schemes, and we obviously took a step back against Atlanta so we have to continue to dig deep, get better, and we are going to face some teams in this league that is going to make it really hard on you and with a young team without that common experience, it is just important that we stick with it and not lose confidence in our schemes, freelance, or make it up. We just stick to it. We’ve had a lot of success when we stick to it.”
Caris LeVert explained how building a solid defense is the team’s job 1 ... Brooklyn grit. He believes once the defense comes together, the rest will come easier.
“It is definitely tough to build it but that is our job right now,” LeVert said about building the defense in limited time. “That is what we are called to do. We watched a lot of film as a group and individually so that is definitely a vocal point right now that we are looking at each and every day because we know that the offense is going to be there, especially with a new team. New guys out there, still figuring out chemistry so we know that defense is going to get us over the top. As a collective unit, we all just have to be better.”
When asked about the value of defense in today’s NBA league, which values scoring much more than defense, LeVert provided an interesting take. He believes not only is the Nets roster, from top to bottom, capable of playing defense but he thinks someone who can play defense in the right spot, the right way, brings more value than someone with offensive deficiencies.
“I feel like not a lot of people think of defense as a skill. I think people think of defense as effort, trying hard on that end of the floor, and thinking,” LeVert said. “I think one through fifteen, we are all pretty good athletes and everyone is capable of playing defense. I think that’s why guys that are ‘defenders’ aren’t necessarily highly valued because this is a scoring league. Scoring is what’s pretty and what people value in this league. We feel like if we can teach someone to play defense if you can teach in the right spot then that is much more valued than a guy that can’t necessarily score so well.”
He also gave a shoutout to Bruce Brown, who started 99 games in Detroit the last two seasons, but hasn’t played anything but garbage time ... so far.
“I think Bruce (Brown) is someone who comes in and works hard every day,” said LeVert. “A true professional. I think he’s someone who can help us.”
Now that we’ve talked about what went down inside the walls of the HSS Training Center Saturday, let’s pair together some film.
The biggest defensive sticking point for Nets going forward, at least according to Nash, will be defending with ample focus in fast-break situations.
“Getting back turning and facing in transition. Getting matched up, talking through the matchups, knowing what is a switch, and knowing what’s a pursue-over,” Nash said about defensive principles. “Being in the right positions and support.
A great example: After this first-quarter make, Brooklyn jogs back on defense during the first of the two Atlanta games. Trae Young, an ever-evolving facilitator, is more than happy to take advantage of Brooklyn’s languid transition approach, whizzing an outlet pass to Cam Reddish at the wing. Notice Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Joe Harris sprinting to the same spot on the floor––a spot that appears to be empty, might I add. Kevin Durant is aligned with John Collins; DeAndre Jordan with Clint Capela. It’s on one of TLC or Joey Buckets to guard the transition shooter (Reddish) leaking out ahead.
“We slipped a little bit,” explained Nash. “Going into Atlanta, we were the No. 1 in the league [defensively] and obviously, they were sensational offensively and we were poor in the first game and in the second game, the defense wasn’t too bad in the half court but it was transition that killed us.
“Getting back to principles, recognizing that we are a group that is new. We are a new group recognizing each other and where we can say ‘hey hey hey, this is what we are in. This is what we are in and what we are doing.’ Not going off script or trying to react. Trying to be proactive with our principles so some of that just takes time. It’s a process and we are going to have to stick with it.”
So, about that process: Below, Rajon Rondo pushes the pace. Caris LeVert picks up Kevin Huerter, cutting underneath the baseline; Landry Shamet stops ball; Jarrett Allen assists in halting Rondo’s dribble while keeping an eye on John Collins (Atlanta’s five with this specific lineup).
And then Bogdan Bogdanovic, meanwhile, is left wide-freaking-open. Kevin Durant and Taurean Prince have their heads turned, watching the ball while guarding space instead of players, and Rondo capitalizes by swinging to Bogdanovic. Here, one of Prince or Durant needs to make sure both corners are accounted for.
But transition defense hasn’t been Brooklyn’s only weak spot.
“Rebounding is going to be a process all year for us,” Nash noted about other defensive improvements. “It’s not a natural inclination for our lineups to be a strong at rebounding. We are going to have to gang rebound, make some habits, and be greedy down there.”
“I don’t know if we are built as a rebounding roster,” Nash said. “We have other attributes. Not every team or every championship team has to be the top-10 rebounding team. We have to be hungry. We have to recognize that it isn’t a natural thing for us to go out and dominate the boards every night and we have to gang rebound and do it in numbers.”
If Nash wants “hunger,” then how would you describe the possession below? Satiated? Stuffed beyond belief? Gluttonous?
After Jeff Teague misses a floater during the Christmas Day game in Boston, neither one of Caris LeVert nor Taurean Prince puts a body on Tristan Thompson on the glass (in fact, that duo refrains from even getting in rebounding position altogether). Instead, they stand and survey the show as Thompson powers home a dunk.
Caris LeVert, meanwhile, highlighted a different aspect of Brooklyn’s defense that was lackluster.
“I think for us, it’s more about communication than anything else,” LeVert said. “I feel like communication can get you over a lot of things, especially when we are out there switching on screens, off-the-ball and on-the-ball, and then we have so many guys that are like size with length and things like that. Just communication will get us over the top in this period we are still learning each other.”
The clip below from the second of the two Atlanta games epitomizes that long-term learning process. John Collins initiates a dribble-handoff with De’Andre Hunter. Kyrie Irving, originally guarding Hunter, decides to help off Hunter after Collins performs an early “slip” screen. Unfortunately, Kevin Durant does the same by guarding Collins as well on the roll. De’Andre Hunter practically shrugs his shoulders in confusion and walks into the open three.
This isn’t the first time the Nets have had issues with over-helping. We detailed this phenomenon early this week here based on the comments that Kevin Durant made directly after the narrow victory over the Hawks. By the sounds of it, Caris LeVert is in the same boat as KD about Brooklyn’s overeagerness as helpers.
“I think it’s moreover helping,” LeVert said about the defense. “I think we are trying hard to be in the right spots but I think sometimes we are switching when we aren’t supposed to. We are overhelping. We are helping more on shooters than we are supposed to. Closing out harder on non-shooters than we are supposed to so it's more of a thinking thing right now and feeling each other out defensively more than just playing hard. I think we are playing hard on that end - we are just not playing as smart as we could.”
Looking ahead, the Nets host Russell Westbrook and the Washington Wizards on Sunday. Unlike their preseason matchup, the Wizards will have a much more loaded roster offensively.
Nash views Washington as a strong offensive team that plays physical. The Nets head coach sees the matchup as a similar test to Atlanta but wants his team to be clear on communication.
“They have a very capable offensive team with Russ and Beal but they also got a lot of shooters around them,” Nash said. “Got a stretch 5 (Thomas Bryant) and they are a physical team as well so we will have our hands full again. This is great. We are getting all these tests early and we will have to be very clear with one another about how we communicate and how we approach this game because they are going to cause problems for us like Atlanta did.”
As for LeVert, he views the Nets game against the Wizards as a game to get the right end of things going and expressed how the Nets are hungry as a unit to get things rolling smoothly.
“I think we are all hungry to get better as a unit and I think the beauty of it is that we have another game tomorrow,” LeVert said looking ahead. “Each day is a new day and a new opportunity to get better. A new opportunity to go out there and do what we are supposed to do on both ends. I think tomorrow will be a step in the right direction. Today already was and I think tomorrow will be to get out there and get on the right end of things.”
- Steve Nash: Nets have to trust defensive principles - Peter Botte - New York Post
- The Nets have slipped on defense: ‘It’s definitely tough to build it, but that’s our job right now’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets struggling to build a title contender on the fly - Greg Logan - Newsday