Down three starters, on the latter half of a back-to-back, and with the team going up against the undefeated Boston Celtics, Adam Silver threw the Brooklyn Nets to the wolves last night. They battled, scratched, clawed ... and lost. But on the heels of two thrilling victories, three straight wins, it’s difficult to be upset with their rally.
Cam Thomas once again took charge in the scoring department, coming through with 27 points while shooting 11-of-24 from the field. His efficiency has dipped over the past few games, but Neil Armstrong too had to come back to Earth at some point. (He’s still tied for 13th in points per game at 26.0.)
Infamous “shoulda-been” Nets Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did their thing, combining for 55 points. Tatum especially punished Brooklyn from deep, hitting from there six times on 10 attempts.
It’s still early, but bit by bit we’re learning more about this Nets team. Here’s a few things to gather from game number six.
Between LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Ed Davis, and a dash of Nerlens Noel, the Nets have been playing the field in terms of their backup center spot for years now. This summer though, they finally looked inward.
With the Nets signing primarily wings and ball-handlers, the team essentially decided its time for 29th overall pick Day’Ron Sharpe to put up. Last night, he did.
The former Tar Heel only logged 17 minutes, but they were all positive. He finished with 11 points while shooting 3-of-4 from the field. Sharpe, who turns 22 this month, grabbed a near team-high seven boards, three of which were at the offensive end.
While a 5-of-8 free throw shooting performance is nothing to write home about, you’ll take that from Sharpe as well, who’s struggled from the stripe in years past. The 21-year-old consistently wreaked havoc in the paint, which the Nets needed without Simmons on the floor. He also welcomed Kristaps Porzingis to this rivalry (if you can still call it that) with a jam you might want to watch a couple times over as you sip your coffee this morning.
Day'Ron Sharpe rolls and dunks all over Porzingis with the left hand: pic.twitter.com/w42oXF0Edl— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) November 5, 2023
Following a loss, it’s usually just the little things you can celebrate — and this is exactly that. We did not see a Day’Ron Sharpe masterclass, but we saw steps in the right direction. That, on the heels of a solid outing against Chicago as well, has to feel good for the fans, the coaching staff, and certainly Sharpe himself.
Ben Simmons Is (Still) More Important than You Think
The Nets still poured in a respectable 114 points last night in front of their home crowd, but they took a rockier road getting there than what we’ve seen in their past four games.
Without Simmons on the floor, getting those easy drive-and-kick sequences became a chore. In previous contests it came as a handout. The ball was hopping less and the offense looked stagnant at times.
Brooklyn registered as a top six offensive unit through their first five games. The Nets’ shooting from deep was the fuel for that machine. Also through those first five contests they shot 40.2% from range, good for the league’s second best mark in that time frame.
But last night. they shot just 32.7% from deep. The team missed its fair share of good looks, but the being the elite distributor that he his, its fair to conclude that part of that dip came in accordance with Ben10’s day off.
It’s easy to look at Simmons’ 7/10/7 averages to start the year and think of him as a complimentary piece rather than a supporting pillar of this rotation, but the former couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s the conductor here and it was clear the Nets missed him both from an eye test view and box score standpoint.
More Praise for Dorian-Finney Smith
Without DFS last night, who went 4-of-9 from downtown, Brooklyn’s aforementioned 3-point woes would have been more like a full-send leap off the Brooklyn Bridge rather than a short falloff.
We’ve been talking about Finney-Smith’s hot shooting, small ball options, all that good stuff from the jump this year. Since the former Mav struggled last season after coming over at the trade deadline, his bounce back months later has been widely celebrated.
But now, six games deep into a 48.9 3-point percentage on 7.5 attempts per game, he deserves even more applause. Shooters often experience hot and cold streaks, but this stretch from Finney-Smith is starting to look different. (Part of the improvement may also be the result of the most underappreciated “move” of the summer: surgery to straighten out the pinky finder on his shooting hand. Just try shooting with a displaced finger.)
Dorian Finney-Smith was cooking with fish grease in the 1st half:— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) November 4, 2023
4/4 from three
Brooklyn leads by one at the half despite an extended Chicago run. DFS is the main reason why. pic.twitter.com/BAtXL9sjn0
For players averaging seven or more attempts per game this year, only Devin Booker, Paul George, and Grant Williams are hitting at a higher clip. If he keeps that up the league office will have no choice but to send him to Indianapolis for the 3-point challenge this February.
It’s equally impressive that he’s doing all this while putting pressure on the rim and playing solid defense out of position as the team’s Claxton substitute. He’s doing everything Brooklyn is asking of him, and then some.
Maybe it really was all about getting that finger fixed this summer. I’ll give his surgeon a pat on the back as well.