It seems pretty dire right now for a Brooklyn Nets team that has the best record in the East, ahead of a 76ers team that’s on a three-game losing streak. And yet, it feels like all the wheels are about to fall off.
But, have no fear. I’m here to assure you that things will be just fine.
So what are we worried about? What’s keeping Nets fans up late at night? Well, three things:
- The defense
- The front-court depth
- The injuries
Let’s first take a look at the defensive woes: the Nets lead the NBA in ORtg at 118.5 and, yes, aren’t hardly the worst defensive team in the NBA with a DRtg of 113.8. (26th in the NBA).
Sure that’s the worst defensive rating in franchise history, but when you consider that the Nets defensive MO this season is to “score more points than the other guys,” it’s quite expected, no?
James Harden, who is out for the foreseeable future (we’ll get to that later) leads the team in defensive win shares with 1.4 wins contributed based on his defense - a team best .217 wins per 48.
What he brings on the defensive side of the ball is as much offensive anticipation as it is “defensive lockdowns.” Harden is very active with his hands, he uses his big body to disrupt much smaller guards, and is always thinking offense even when he’s on the defensive side of the ball - which in turn keeps his opponents always on their heels, whether it’s on a stop or a made basket.
Is Harden an elite defender? No. Do the Nets miss him on the defensive side of the ball? Yes.
Additionally, they’ve also been without the length and lane disruption that Kevin Durant brings on defense - the passing lanes, the transition defense... his length is such as asset.
The Nets are 14th in the league in opponent eFG% - that’s average, average is good.
So, Tom, you’re pointing out some pretty average data points and trying to assure me that everything on the defensive side of the ball is a-ok.
Yeah, I mean, this is the greatest scoring team in Nets history and arguably one of the top offensive teams of all time. Being average on defense is OK. No, they’re not the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, but they’re as good as (or better than?) the 2017-18 Warriors team that won the title.
Ok, whatever, but I’m still worried about the front court depth.
Good. You should be. Especially after the retirement of LaMarcus Aldridge and the disappearance of DeAndre Jordan.
But, let me flip it over to my guy Matt Brooks to run it down for you.
In a season in which Sean Marks swung for the fences and landed supernova offensive force James Harden, only to undergo a period of trial-and-error by 10-day contract (to eventually unearth effervescent forward Alize Johnson), to then parse through the buyout market and nail down some pretty glitzy names (hello, Blake Griffin!), the Nets have been searching for consistency, something to build on. The downpour of untimely injuries certainly hasn’t helped much of anything, and the ebbs and flows of young players rising and falling out of the rotation have only complicated matters for rookie head coach Steve Nash, just 17 games away from his inaugural playoff birth.
What I’m saying is: We have no idea what Brooklyn’s rotation will look like come the postseason, especially in the frontcourt. Sure, the Nets enjoy a talent advantage over most if not all of Brooklyn’s Eastern Conference rivals. But still, consistency and familiarity are a real thing. Reps are needed.
The implications of losing LaMarcus Aldridge are fairly straightforward; he was Brooklyn’s best high-volume spacing big that provided credible rim protection on the other end of the floor. Opponents shot 7.4 percent worse at the rim when LaMarcus Aldridge was hanging around, 97th percentile at his position. Tucked snuggly into a Kenny Atkinson-esque drop coverage, Aldridge was able to focus on his strengths (a seasoned defensive IQ and, um, being really freaking big) while shying away from his weaknesses, namely mobility.
Reps. Are. Needed.
Before we can go and say that the Nets front court is an issue, we need to see it be an issue first. Like a real, sustained, long-term issue.
Nicolas Claxton has been “good,” but he’s still very, very young and in need of playing through the moments. He needs time, but I may argue that he’s not so critical to the Nets success this season.
Why? Because of Blake Griffin.
Matty, what say you?
This leaves us with Blake Griffin, who may have the most to gain of any frontcourt player. Blake has been GOOD since slipping on one of the Nets’ polychromatic throwback uniforms, providing a sense of levelheadedness and a jack-of-all-trades skillset that the Nets have long desired. Blake has taken 2.3 three-pointers per game since landing Brooklyn, canning 38.1 percent of them, and you have to wonder if that volume creeps up with LaMarcus’ spacing capabilities now out of the picture. Aside from Jeff Green, who has quietly shifted over to the four, Griffin is now the only “center” on the roster that can score from beyond 3 feet. He’s a commodity in that sense, different from any of his frontcourt teammates. In a way, that necessitates him.
The Nets don’t need a traditional bang-em-up big in the middle. They need a floor stretcher like Griffin who can give Kyrie and Harden room to operate. Let them get to the line 10+ times per game, and be ready for those kick out threes; the ones that Blake has felt comfortable taking in these past few seasons.
Griffin and Jeff Green play a more substantial role in defining the Nets success this season.
Especially when you think about the playoffs when rotations tighten and you’re only talking about 2-3 guys off the bench that are making much of an impact.
OK, so we don’t need a traditional big; we can beat teams with our offense...but, damn, what about all the injuries.
Well, injuries are good for teams - it allows them to rest and give reps to young players... NO, you know what, you’re right...we’re screwed!
The injuries are bad. And I’m no doctor, but...hey, neither are you, right?
Which leaves me with this: The Nets have a sh*t ton of injuries; it’s not good. BUT, they have the best record in the EAST.
They still haven’t put it all together.
Will they be able to??? Weelllll.... that’s the main concern. But my advice to you is this: let’s cross that bridge when we get there. For now, let’s enjoy the ride.
The Brooklyn Nets will be just fine. Whether it’s this year or next...? They’ll be fine.
This sponsored post was published according to our guiding principles.