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Brooklyn Nets young bigs, pushing the paint, give team new advantage

Jacque Vaughn wants more scoring in the paint and the Nets are starting to deliver.

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For sometime now, Jacque Vaughn has been pressing his team to get down and dirty, complement their 3-point shooting with owning the paint and it’s starting to pay dividends,

“We’ve really been stressing trying to get the ball into the paint offensively and it was one of those nights where there was a concerted effort for us to drive the basketball,” Vaughn said after Friday night’s home win over Washington. “There really was an effort for us to crash on the offensive end of the floor and rebound the basketball, which paid huge dividends for us.

“When you can get that many points in the paint, it really just gives you a chance to gain control of the game.”

The Wizards, of course, are not among the NBA’s toughest defenses, currently sitting at 29th in the league. Only the hapless Pistons rank below them. But the Nets scored 76 underneath the basket Friday night, third best in the NBA, nearly 30 more than their season average and more than 30 more than last year. They’re also third in the league over the last three games at 60.7 PITP, a huge leap over than season rank of 18th.

And the Nets are embracing the idea.

“We have size and good things happen when you hit the paint,” Bridges said. “So, I think we were just trying to drive and either be at the rim or kick out. just knowing that good things happen when we touch that paint.”

Despite all the concerns about the Nets bigs before the season began — with fans complaining that after Nic Claxton, there was no real depth. Day’Ron Sharpe wasn’t reliable and Harry Giles III hadn’t played in nearly two years. The Nets, according to the concerns, would be forced to go small ball. But Sharpe in particular, has stepped up.

Vaughn admitted he pressed Sharpe in preseason to improve on his “professionalism and consistency” so he could know “what I am going to get from him on a nightly basis.”

The 6’10” big has taken to the challenge. On Friday, he scored 15 points and grabbed 11 boards, even showed off his passing prowess with four assists in only 20 minutes. It was his third double-double in the season. Over the last three games, he’s averaging 9.3 points, 9.0 boards and shooting 60.0% from the field.

Sharpe talked about his pride in rebounding post-game, saying that “nobody can really stop me” on the boards.” He also mentioned how he and Claxton — who finished with 13 points and 15 boards — can complement each other.

“Me and Nic have been together for the last three years. So we got that chemistry together,” said Sharpe. “Some things he sees out there, he’s telling me I need to do, I’m listening. Some things I see when I’m on the sidelines, he’s like, ‘I got you.’ We complement each other just like that.

“But I’m just playing my game, just playing hard, relentless on the boards. Whenever I just feel like I get a lot of offensive rebounds, I just know I’m gonna have a good game. I feel like that’s my motor for me to get me going.”

Bridges agreed.

“You know how [valuable] bigs are in the league, especially for your team,” Bridges said after the Nets totaled 76 points in the paint against the Wizards. “Having those guys anchor defensively helps so much to what we’re doing offensively and being dogs on our offensive boards and defensive boards, and then, punishing mismatches.

“Them just doing what they’re doing, like just rolling hard, defending, rebounding, that’s always what we need from them every day.”

We may see another big finally get minutes on the Nets west coast trip. Harry Giles III once again played well in garbage time Friday. In five minutes, he took six shots, scored eight points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot.

“Harry hasn’t played because we have Day’Ron and Nic,” Vaughn said of Giles, immensely popular with his teammates. “Besides that, Harry would play. He’s good enough to play. He’s good enough to be in the game.

“You give him an extreme amount of credit. I mean, you really don’t know the work that he does on a daily basis. … Every day, he comes in and does his work and with a smile on his face and ready to dap everybody up at the beginning of the game [and] at the end of the game. He’s been a joy to have in our locker room. If it wasn’t for Day’Ron and Nic, Harry would be playing.”