If your New Year’s resolution involved watching your favorite team play competent basketball, I have bad news for you. The Brooklyn Nets turned in perhaps their worst performance this season, falling to the New Orleans Pelicans by a 112-85 score. They never led and trailed by as many as 32 during the contest.
In the Brooklyn Nets civil war over whether Cam Thomas or Spencer Dinwiddie should start, fans on each side saw their guns turn into twizzlers as they went a combined 0-17. That’s hard to do in the NBA. Their defense never made it to the bayou in any facet and the team hustled as if they were still hungover from the holidays.
I’m running out of ways to say “burn the tap and move on” with Brooklyn now turning in embarrassing performances one after the other. But last night’s affair deserves total annihilation from our memory banks more than anything else this year. Before that process starts, here’s three things to takeaway.
Same Old Nets
Brooklyn’s prior two games have been like remake movies of each other. Different guys on the court, in different locations, but the same story happening again and again. Last night, the Nets made another film of sorts, once again telling a tale of poor perimeter defense, dreadful half court offense, and a nonexistent transition game.
Let’s start beyond the arc. The Nets entered last night’s game with their opponents shooting 42.9% from downtown in their past 10 games, good for the second worst mark in the league. Their feeble point of attack defense warrants the most blame, as drive and kick sequences come easy for opposing teams. Brooklyn’s shown a lack of hustle in their closeouts by my eyes after those actions get underway as well.
Somehow, it got even worse for the Nets last night. They allowed the Pelicans to start the game 8-of-12 from deep. That boosted New Orleans to a 59-34 halftime lead, essentially ending the game two buzzers early. Adding further insult to injury, the Pels also came into last night averaging the fifth fewest threes made per game. So the Nets not only allowed themselves to get sprayed from deep, they did so against amateurs in that department.
At the other end, the Nets looked like that of a team with little to no experience playing beside each other. With an occasional off ball screen to free up Cameron Johnson from three, the Nets spent a majority of their offensive possessions taking turns hoisting up poor looks at the end of the shot clock.
Their pick-and-roll generated little to no space as New Orleans defenders showed little respect to Brooklyn’s ability to drive the ball (rightfully so). That lacking pressure on the rim then made it difficult for the Nets to generate their own looks from three, as the team shot a dreadful 25.6% from outside.
Cam Thomas, coming off the bench yet again, never found his groove. He never found anything actually, coming away with an zero point, 0-11 dud. Spencer Dinwiddie joined him in the scoreless department, going 0-6 from the field. The Dennis Smith Jr. x Day’Ron Sharpe pick-and-roll never got going either. The list goes on an on.
And finally, the Nets rarely looked to turn New Orleans over and generate points after. The Nets did force the Pelicans into 16 giveaways, but only generated two transition points. I must’ve said it a hundred times, but with Brooklyn’s offense unable to carry itself in the half court, getting free for transition opportunities is a must for this team. When a must doesn’t happen, you get scores like the one we saw last night.
While issues such as these spell trouble for any team, the fact that the same ones have persisted for the Nets and even gotten worse over the past few games warrants major concern. The team either lacks the awareness to realize these flaws and address them, or simply does not have enough fight in them to do something about it. I cannot decide which one is worse.
Cameron Johnson Still Doing his Part
Like Day’Ron Sharpe before him, Cameron Johnson’s stellar play over the past two weeks continues to fly under the radar in large part due to the team underperforming.
Without him hitting shots last night, the Nets likely put up something near a record low final score. CJ added 17 points while shooting 5-of-9 from deep. It was the fifth time in his last seven games where he’s shot 50% or better from deep on five or more attempts.
The Nets continue to look his way on out of timeout plays, springing him free for triples with a variety of off ball screens. In a point in the season where Brooklyn’s shot selection has left you scratching your head day after day, the fifth year forward provides some relief.
When the Nets had prime Joe Harris, I recall never being upset when a possession ended with him shooting the ball. I’m pleased to say that feeling has returned with Johnson. Now, all the team has to do is find a way to stop doing literally everything else wrong.
Something’s Gotta Give
While Brooklyn’s front office has been noticeably patient handling its assets since last year’s trade deadline, its hard to imagine they’ll sit tight any longer.
Contrary to what some fans might think, Sean Marks and Joe Tsai are competitive people. You have to be cut from that vine to end up as a billionaire international businessman or NBA player turned general manager. At the same time, anyone with any shred of competitive spirit in their DNA would feel sick watching this team go nowhere much longer.
Without control over their picks but dealing with the aftermath of a multi-star exodus, the Nets have played an in-between game for some time now. They’ve yet fully rebuild, but also avoided going anywhere close to “all in.”
With this team possessing so many assets, and with that so many potential directions to take the team in, that felt like a fair strategy — up until now. Whatever is going on with the Nets, it cannot continue. Brooklyn looks like a lottery-bound team right now, but one unable to reap the benefits of their occupation.
It’s become clear over the past few weeks that the Nets cannot hold onto all their cards forever. They need to pivot one way or the other because this “compromise” product we’re looking at now only hurts both the immediate and long term future for the team.
Blowing up the entire roster for more picks or trading assets for reinforcements resembles two diverging paths the Nets will need to chose between. I’m not here to argue which one the Nets should take, as we’ll be here all day, but a few steps down either one will need to be taken as the losses begin to pile up.