Over their last ten games, the Brooklyn Nets are fourth-to-last in the NBA in offensive rating. That generously includes the Charlotte Hornets, whose offensive rating over the same time frame is below the league average...of the 1999-2000 season. Even by NBA standards at the turn of the century, the Hornets can’t score the ball. So, while every victory counts, I don’t know how much pride Brooklyn can take in being only the fourth-worst offense in the month of March.
We knew this team would struggle to score when they were re-assembled at the deadline, and would experience consistent droughts on that end, given their lack of pure bucket-getters. There’s also the matter of putting pressure on the paint, which not many Nets do regularly. Spencer Dinwiddie burst onto the scene during his first go-round in Brooklyn because he could do just that, but he’s traded in some of his straight-line explosiveness for deep shooting ability post-ACL. It’s not that he doesn’t generate any rim pressure now, but he’s forced to carry far too much of the load for this Nets offense. Mikal Bridges is scoring the ball, but he doesn’t exactly throw entire defenses in the blender, as I outlined here.
But this was what Sean Marks & co. accepted when they settled on the return packages they did. Obviously it was a major offensive downgrade, but by this much? Especially with Bridges looking like he’s taking a real leap? That can’t be right. Is Brooklyn is just in the throes of a team-wide cold stretch from deep? Eh. They’re only shooting 0.4% worse from beyond the arc than league average in March. Maybe you think they’re a better shooting team than that, and they might be in the long run, but league-average percentages shouldn’t tank their offense.
No, this iteration of the Brooklyn Nets will never be a great or elite offense. It might be an uphill battle to get them to “good” territory. But to do that, they have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
Brooklyn’s lack of offensive playmakers stands out even on paper, but I didn’t think the team-wide passing would be so rocky, and that’s what’s killing them right now. This Nets team isn’t talented enough to leave food on the table, to not take capitalize on potential advantages they create. But that’s what’s happening right now. Forget the drivers of the offense, Dinwiddie and Bridges; they’re both dealing with expanded roles, and are struggling in fairly predictable ways. I’ll get to them, but it’s the role players that haven’t been making quality reads, save for Royce O’Neale:
Simply put, Brooklyn’s role players are being put in advantageous situations without capitalizing on them. Obviously, this is never a good thing, but for a team that doesn’t have a go-to guy that can bail them out of any situation, this lack of court-reading is really killing the Nets’ offense.
The mistakes range from understandable to infuriating. Cam Johnson can be expected to miss some reads as he grows into a secondary ball-handler, rather than a “don’t dribble” guy. But when defenses send two to the ball, that has to be an automatic trigger in any ball-handler’s brain to look at the advantaged side. This is especially true for Cam Thomas: It would go a long way in his case for more playing time. Seth Curry and Joe Harris have been in the NBA for too long, with roles too defined, to react poorly to obvious situations, like, say, a double team or a wide open lane to the basket.
Dinwiddie and Bridges have a different set of problems. And no, this isn’t just limited to the Twilight Zone events that are Dinwiddie’s alley-oop attempts. Bridges has made some nice reads off the dribble, particularly the deeper he gets in the lane. Dinwiddie has oscillated, in his return to the role of primary ball-handler, between excellent and maddening in his decision-making.
But neither skip the ball to the opposite side of the floor when it is a high-level read. Put simply: Defenses can load up against these two without fear that the ball will sail over their head and find an open man on the other side of the court. This wouldn’t be the worst problem to have, except Bridges and Dinwiddie are Brooklyn’s lead ball-handlers, running the vast majority of the NBA’s predominant action: the pick-and-roll. Right now, the two guys running the show aren’t making hugely positive passing reads, and the supporting cast is hardly making any positive reads. No offense in the world can expect to be a well-oiled machine with this being the case:
There, Nic Claxton comes open on the slip, but Dinwiddie doesn’t hit him or the man in the corner, who Gordon Hayward came off of in help. Oh well, that would have been a tough one; at least Clax is still open when Cam Johnson touches the ball. Unfortunately, Johnson doesn’t recognize the situation either, missing Clax under the rim. The Nets end up with Dorian Finney-Smith taking a tough, moving 3-pointer.
How about the same read to the opposite corner,, but an easier version of it:
Meanwhile, Mikal Bridges:
1: Misses the open skip-pass. 2: Is doubled, hits the least threatening, easiest option. 3: Makes the right read, on time, but the pass is deflected. 4: Makes the right read, but the pass is so loopy it allows the defender to recover.
These are the growing pains of assuming more responsibility. Sometimes the reads aren’t there, sometimes they are there but they’re late, or poorly executed. Occasionally, there are flashes, which are truly exciting and the fanbase should take note of. But they’re not frequent enough right now to drive good offense.
The roster is what it is. The bucket-getters are who they are (or are not). So are the downhill drivers. But if there’s an area for potential improvement, it's floor-reading passing. It has to be better if Brooklyn doesn’t want to either get bounced in the play-in or play four embarrassing playoff games where they struggle to crack 100. The role players should be expected to do better. So should Dinwiddie, although his job is immeasurably tougher. Bridges may have it in him, though perhaps not this season. He’s talked about improving his ball-handling as a priority.
Yes, the Nets are in a tough spot, offensively. But it’s only going to get tougher if they keep shooting themselves in the foot. Not taking advantage of every opportunity defenses give them isn’t an option. If and how the team-wide passing improves down the stretch run may be the most crucial indicator of how competitive the Brooklyn Nets can be in the post-season.