Donovan Mitchell cooked like a prime Auguste Gusteau. He led all scorers with 45 points on 50% shooting from the field. Almost everyone from the Nets, with the exception of Cam Thomas, looked like Linguini before he met Remy.
Brooklyn’s now teetering on a staircase leading to East’s basement, tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the conference’s final Play-In spot. They’ve lost 13 of their last 17 games and two of those dubs were essentially handouts having come against a historically bad Detroit Pistons team.
Needless to say, Nets World, quite literally after this loss abroad, is going through it tonight. Here’s three takeaways from the team’s latest mess.
Is this the End of Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn?
The Brooklyn Nets have to be thinking about the future now more than ever with their team looking lottery-bound (yes, even if they don’t own their picks). Their starting point guard is 30 years old. He’s also on an expiring deal. See where I’m headed with this?
But even with all those factors, there’s a larger sign pointing to why Dinwiddie might fall onto the trade block: his playing time. It’s easy to overlook with so many other negatives surrounding the Nets right now, but Dinwiddie’s failed to finish both of Brooklyn’s past two games.
Against the Trail Blazers, where the Nets were in position to win, Spence never played past the 8:51 mark in the fourth quarter. Today, he barely appeared in the second half at all, playing the third quarter’s opening three and a half minutes before Jacque Vaughn super glued him to the bench.
It’s not hard to figure out why Vaughn has him on the shelf. Though he’s still “that guy” when it comes to throwing up grenade threes as the shot clock runs down, Dinwiddie’s rim penetration from years past is nothing other than a distant memory at this point.
This inability to get downhill makes the entire team bleed. Brooklyn’s offense cannot generate any looks for their bevy of wings without any drive and kick actions. The Nets are just spamming dribble handoffs as a result. When that goes nowhere, they more often than not leave Mikal Bridges, who is frankly at his best cutting or spacing off-ball, facilitating or trying to score on an island. Dinwiddie’s defense at the point of attack has been porous all season as well.
But even with Dinwiddie’s shortcomings, even with extensive pressure to start Thomas over him, the Nets have looked to feature him as a focal point with this team — up until now. After noting his minutes over the past few games and looking back at his age/contract, everything makes me feel like one of the best “Brooklyn” Nets of all time could soon be out the door.
Setbacks of the Switch
It’s been an odd past few weeks for the Nets at the defensive end. Playing the drop early on, they fell into 3-point hell with their opponents hitting from deep at an astonishing rate. They opted to switch more vs the Thunder which worked and even led to a rare victory — something that feels like asking for a miracle right now.
Next against the Portland Trail Blazers, they frequently blitzed ball-handlers, mainly Anfernee Simons. With Anferno still getting his and his Rip City sidekicks also spraying Brooklyn off the double, the move still has me scratching my head almost a week later.
But today, they returned to the switch, rending the results you’d expect: a poor shooting performance from the Cavs. Working to keep a defender in a shooter/ball-handler’s face at all times, the Nets suffocated Cleveland, forcing them into .390/.295 splits.
If Brooklyn’s offense displayed any direction, cohesion, or brain activity of any kind outside of what Thomas created, they might have won this game. But for as horrible as Brooklyn’s offense especially early on was, their rebounding also paved the way for a Cleveland victory. The Cavs only posted a +6 rebounding victory over the Nets, but pulled down 12 at the offensive end leading to 18 second chance points.
If you watched the Nets last year, you know rebounding comes at the expense of the switch. Bigs are taken out of position to secure the rock as they dart around the court. Day’Ron Sharpe, the team’s leader in rebound percentage this year, missing his first game all year did not help either.
Still, Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland’s 6’3” shooting guard out-rebounded every single player on the Nets tonight. Those 18 second chance points also represent Cleveland’s win margin two times over. Jacque Vaughn picked his poison here, but should not have lived with it as long as he did.
Without Mitchell on the floor, the drop should have returned. I would have liked to see the team mix in some zone looks given Cleveland’s poor shooting from the jump occasionally as well. I watched Syracuse Basketball ruin itself for years on end playing the 2-3, so if anyone can request some zone, it’s me. But ultimately, this resembles another example of Brooklyn not being fluid enough with its game plan.
Cam Thomas Saving Us from Archaic Offensive Numbers
Cam Thomas has surely had his fair share of duds this year. I won’t pretend like he didn’t miss 18 shots in a row last week. But after watching today, especially that first quarter, I’m genuinely curious what the people who want to see Thomas warm the bench or get shipped off somewhere are thinking right now.
Before he checked into the game, Brooklyn had tallied a whopping five points in nearly eight minutes played, shooting 2-of-11 from the field. Thomas then added a quick 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter’s final 4:12. Yes, he doubled the scoring of Brooklyn’s entire starting five in a fraction of the minutes played.
His passing and defense remain a work in progress, but with what Brooklyn’s working with right now, keeping him off the floor is jumping in a pool with dumbbells tied to your feet when you already don’t know how to swim.
Nobody else on this team is capable of creating their own shot, at least not right now with Bridges going through a lengthy cold stretch. With Dinwiddie also unable to get downhill and put pressure on the rim to either open things up for shooters or Claxton in the dunker spot, Thomas is the only thing keeping this team from scoring 80-90 points right now.
I fundamentally disagree with the crowd that thinks Thomas needs to ride the bench more until he learns how to pass and defend at a higher level. You need to play your guys to develop them, and for the first time in four years, the Nets have nothing to lose given that they look like one of the league’s worst teams right now. Let the kid play.