The Nets have now won four straight (longest streak in the league) five of the last six and seven of the last night. They are finally back over .500 and fans have moved from being squeamish about the team’s future to skeptical. They’re not quite over the hump after the events of the first quarter of the season and so need a little more time to become optimists.
The biggest difference of course between their 2-6 start and now is Jacque Vaughn is now the head coach in Brooklyn. As Brian Lewis writes Saturday:
The Nets team that stormed into December is a totally different one than the despondent, dysfunctional one that limped into November.
The personnel didn’t change, but their passion and sense of purpose did.
And for that, many players credit the man guiding it, Jacque Vaughn, with having successfully lifted the attitude and atmosphere around Brooklyn in his first month in charge.
Vaughn has now been on the job for a month, his first four games as interim head coach, then after an (ill-advised) flirtation with Ime Udoka, the rest as the head guy on a two-year contract. He is now 11-6. Steve Nash was 2-5 before being dumped.
“They’re in the process of establishing that identity,” Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. told Lewis . “You’re seeing that on the defensive end. I don’t know how much is different, but a little bit more buy-in, a little bit more commitment. You can tell there’s more intent.
“They’ve done a terrific job; top 10 since Nov. 1 on both sides of the ball. Got to give Jacque and his staff a lot of credit. It shifted. They’re a different team.”
Nick Nurse of the Raptors had a similar assessment.
“The spirit and the togetherness seems to be on the uptick,” Nurse said. “The defense, obviously, some of the numbers have shown that it’s been very good. I heard the Nets are top 5 or something since he took over. That would be big. Anytime you’re top 5 in defense for any stretch of games it’s a plus.”
Indeed, the defensive numbers are what stands out, as Lewis and other pundits have noted.
When Vaughn replaced departed coach Steve Nash — whom Kevin Durant had tried to get fired over the summer — Brooklyn was 29th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive rating (119.1) and 28th in net rating (minus-6.5).
Since? Tenth in offense (113.1), fourth in defense (108.5) and fifth in net rating (plus-4.6) after Friday’s tilt vs. Toronto. Oh, and tied for second in wins.
Friday night, the Nets built a big lead on their defense. They did score a season high 41 points, but they allowed only 17 to a team with a lot of firepower.
Joe Harris told Lewis why he thinks Vaughn’s voice is getting through more than Nash’s for whatever reason.
“He does a really good job of just simplifying stuff,” Harris said. “When we go through our pregame prep, I feel like everybody [is clear]. He just has an open dialogue with everybody. He wants to hear guys’ opinions on different stuff.
“Collectively, you just feel really well-prepared. That’s JV in a nutshell. That’s how I felt playing for him when he took over for Kenny [Atkinson] and in the bubble. I feel like we were always really well-prepared going into every single game.”
Vaughn has credited his coaching staff for a lot of improvement. He kept the same group and the Nets haven’t replaced him on the bench, And he likes to keep things simple. No drama.
“I try to keep things simple, [and] really be specific on how we can get better,” said Vaughn. “That communication happens. [The starter] gets his mind ready and he knows he’s going to play.
“’Patty [Mills], you may play. Markieff [Morris], you may play.’ So, overall, just being more matter-of-fact with this group and not giving them excuses. Not like ‘OK, somebody’s out, somebody’s in, we’re searching for excuses.’ No excuses. Put on your jersey, come to play. I’m going to coach my tail off as much as I can, give you as much energy as I can. Give to the group. Don’t be a taker: Be a giver.”
He is not above experimenting. It’s not uncommon that a player who racked up a DNP in the previous game gets minutes early in the next one. Then, there’ accountability.
“He just holds everybody accountable, honestly,” Harris told The Post. “He challenges everybody in here to be the best version of themselves with whatever’s going to help the team out.”
Now with 17 games under his belt, the Vaughn sample is no longer small, but there is a long way to go. Early on in his time as head coach, the Nets got lucky with the 76ers, Grizzlies Raptors and Blazers were all missing their stars when it came time to face Brooklyn. The Nets won three of them, losing to Philly in what many saw was their worst loss of the season. There were also head-scratching losses to Sacramento where the Nets set a record for defensive ineptitude and Indiana. In many of the wins, it seemed they lacked the killer instinct.
Of late though, they have navigated a lot of rough waters, losing Ben Simmons for at least another game, losing Irving for eight. Supersub Yuta Watanabe is out as well. Although Harris was in the lineup, he was until the last two games ineffective from deep. Yes, as Vaughn admits, Kevin Durant is playing far too many minutes.
He spoke about a lot of those challenges in the latest edition of the “Brooklyn Bridge,” the Nets magazine...
Overall, Vaughn is now 17-9 in his two stretches as Nets head coach, interim and permanent, “bubble” and this season as well. He has a long way before his career numbers as a head coach can hit the .500 mark. He was head coach in Orlando during a rebuild and essentially getting stuck with the bill, being fired after a 58-158 record.
“It’s part of my journey,” Vaughn said of his Orlando experience. “I was a pretty young head coach, 37. I’m closer to 50 [now] than I am to 37, so I’ve learned a lot through the course of the years.
“I’m a coachable individual, hopefully, and even with you [media] guys, the growth — I’m different at these things than I was 10 years, 15 years ago, so it’s good to see somebody grow as individuals. You can’t get too old for that.”
The work will be the test. Nets fans are supportive. It’s not quite a honeymoon unless your idea of a post-nuptial vacation includes almost constant controversy but it is at this point, a nice respite, something to build on.
- How Jacque Vaughn is using the lessons of Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers to bring a sense of harmony to the rejuvenated Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- With emphasis on defense, Jacque Vaughn has Nets playing as a unit - Laura Albanese - Newsday