It’s been a sudden, steep, and cold decline in the pitch black for the Brooklyn Nets since their triumphant victory over the Walmart version of their “Big 3” in Phoenix two weeks ago. Last night, it became clear that this plummeting may continue after losing to the lowly Washington Wizards.
Kicking off their road trip with a supposed layup game, the Nets threw the ball off the backboard in the capital. They lost by a 110-104 final score, struggling in nearly all facets of the game, but especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Jacque Vaughn’s rotations looked like he came up with them on the fly. They players simply could buy a shot. They somehow pissed fans off even more than they did a few nights ago when they trotted out their G-League team vs the Milwaukee Bucks.
Last evening was another sobering game for anyone expecting the Nets to be anything other than a Play-In team. Given the upcoming losses they’re likely to endure and their bevy of tradable pieces, this might be the beginning of the end for these Nets. Here’s my autopsy.
What Even is a Turnover?
Someone needs to take a megaphone, hold it next to everyone on this team’s ears, and scream, “you need to force more turnovers,” into it.
A bit extreme? Utterly ridiculous? Sure. But so is being the least pesky team in the league through December when 1.) You have the personnel to be one of the best and 2.) Your offense is starving for help via the fast break.
Brooklyn currently averages the fewest opponent turnovers per game in the league. Last night vs a Washington team averaging the seventh most giveaways per game this month, they turned them over a meager seven times.
It’s as if the Nets are focused on maintaining social distancing with their opponents rather than playing defense. Newsflash guys, 2020 will be four years ago in a few days. There aren’t any laws in place stopping you from getting up in someone’s grill. There aren’t any five foot diameter circles painted around the hardwood.
With exception to Dennis Smith Jr. and sometimes Royce O’Neale, nobody is putting enough pressure on the ball. Then, whenever a loose ball is up for grabs, they Nets look polite rather than assertive. They let their opponents pick the rock up, dust it off, and let them get back into rhythm. You’re not watching a competitive basketball team, you’re watching a tea party.
Forcing turnovers isn’t as important as basketball mainstays like rebounding or 3-point shooting. However, with the Nets half court offense moving like molasses this year, it should be a focal point. But alas, they continue to treat it like kids treat socks on Christmas morning.
The Wizards resemble one of the worst defensive teams in league history. If the season ended today, they’d be averaging the second most opponent points per game for a team all-time. Last night, the Nets proceeded to shoot 42.1 percent against them and barely broke triple digits.
Their offense is a problem — a major one that probably will not be fixed until they upgrade at point guard. However, the Nets can put up points fast when they get out in transition, as things open up for their excess of wings and Nic Claxton can threaten as a rim runner given his unmatched speed at the position.
It’s rare to have a glaring problem, where there’s a clear way to fix it, and the you also have the tools to fix it. The Nets not recognizing this is borderline insane.
Number One Options Need to Act like It
A lot of discussion took place this week regarding Brooklyn’s starting five, which sticks out like a sore thumb as one of the league’s worst in terms of net rating. Switching things up in some capacity felt inevitable. Vaughn alluded to it multiple teams leading into last night as well.
The bough broke last night when the Nets opted to start Dorian Finney-Smith and put Cam Thomas back on the bench. While I would have preferred to see Dinwiddie sit and Thomas start given this team’s need to develop young talent rather than 30-year olds on expiring deals, I still advocated for some sort of change after the Detroit game.
Dinwiddie did not do enough to support his coach’s decision last night. He was the orchestrator of a Brooklyn offense that was out of tune all night. He did not get downhill nearly enough to initiate drive-and-kick actions. His nonexistent rim pressure made guarding the perimeter something even Patty Mills could have accomplished last night.
Dinwiddie focused on hunting for fouls rather than finding organic buckets as well. Then, when he failed to draw a whistle, he focused on arguing with the refs rather than running back to defend on far too many occasions.
That all boiled into a 17-point and six assist outing for him last night where he shot 5-16 from the field. I’ll applaud his eight rebounds however, which ranks as his second most for a game all season.
Regardless, Dinwiddie needs to turn it up if the Nets have any chance at righting this ship. Over this seven game slide, he’s shooting 36.6% from the field and 28.3% from deep. Those are not just losing numbers, they’re Killian Hayes numbers.
Beside him in that boat is Mikal Bridges, who finished with 19 points and five rebounds on 6-14 shooting last night. Not terrible, but if that’s your best player, odds are you’re not a competitive team. Over his last seven, he’s shooting 38.2 percent from the field and 22.6 percent from three. Everyone goes through bad stretches, but again, that cannot come from your number one guy.
Everyone on the Nets needs to be better, except for maybe one guy who I’ll get into next. It’s difficult to not throw blame at everyone when you lose to a five win team. However, Dinwiddie and Bridges lie at the core of this skid.
It’s not all their fault though. In fact, I’d argue that it’s on the front office for expecting them to play as number one options, when in reality, they resemble more of top tier ancillary players. But that’s a larger problem for another day.
Day’Ron Sharpe Remains That Guy
Believe it or not, positives do exist even in losses to the Washington Wizards. Last night’s came in the shape of Day’Ron Sharpe, who’s shined again even on an uncharacteristically bad night for Brooklyn’s bench.
The third year big finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, and three assists while shooting 5-of-7 from the field. He only played 18 minutes, but again played that strong, quick punch for the Nets at the 5 better than anyone else has for the team in a long time.
His positioning down low remains something to marvel at. His North Carolina native chemistry with Dennis Smith Jr. off the pick-and-roll has been especially notable. He’s flashed some impressive court vision of his own over the past two weeks as well.
Day'Ron Sharpe: Point Center— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 30, 2023
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I’ve seen some chatter on the site formerly known as Twitter about him taking more minutes from Claxton or dare I say, even starting at the 5. While I’m not ready to have that conversation, the fact that there’s a little chatter there pertaining to it should come as further proof that this leap from him is real.