The Brooklyn Nets have taken a billowing roller coaster ride. This fortified squad, injected with the likes of Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche and a healthy Brook Lopez, has gone from the top of the Eastern Conference to rock bottom and back to the top again. Or, somewhere near that point.
The Nets went a nifty 11-4 in November to start the season. The addition of Johnson seemed to be genius, while Lopez and Blatche held down a capable front line, which also included Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace.
Seemingly everything that could’ve gone right did go right. And I’m not just singling out individual performances either. The Nets held their opponents to just a tick more than 90 points per game (lowest of any month thus far) and shared the ball at a high clip on offense (21.7 assists per game). All of these positive endeavors led to a pair of five-game winning streaks, and a place among the Eastern Conference’s elite group of teams.
So it would only be fitting that the Nets would begin December by establishing another five-game winning streak, right?
instead, this cast of savvy veterans and young guns dropped five consecutive contests. They allowed abundances of points (97.0), the team’s chemistry was wobbly and all the facets of the game that propelled them to such a strong start vanished within the flip of the calendar. Plus, this string of losses would be a depressing snippet into the future, as they went a mere 5-11 in December.
Remember the 90.4 points the Nets allowed per game in November? Well, that number took a major upswing to 98.2 in December. Remember the 21.7 assists per game they were dishing out in November? That number sunk to 18, and in result, they averaged three points less per game.
It was just a bad month of basketball. They weren’t sharing the ball as smoothly, turning the ball over at a high rate and failing to win rebounding battles despite a pretty sturdy front line. Those three main factors combined with all the tiny factors equaled a disappointing month.
So, if the Nets are following a broad, yet interesting pattern, January should be their month, right? Right.
In January, the Nets are back to their successful ways. They’re allowing just 92.2 points a night, forcing 14 turnovers a game and scoring more than 107 points per game– the highest output in the NBA this month.
In other words, they’ve been even better than they were in November. Their 7-0 record in January can speak to that point. Also, interim coach P.J. Carlesimo can speak to that point, as the Nets are 9-1 under what was assumed to be a stop-gap until someone with a bigger name arrived.
The real question, though, is whether or not the Nets will continue to turn the switch on and off. Is this January the real thing or is there another collapse lurking just around the corner?
To be sure, that is an immense question, but we can start by eliminating something relatively important–whether they’re winning or losing, Deron Williams will not be the quandary if they struggle. Pundits did target him the source of the Nets’ woes last month–which is to be expected considering he’s at the helm–but he isn’t the make-or-break piece in this puzzle.
Williams has been solid through the highs and lows of Brooklyn’s two five-game winning streaks and miniature losing streaks. For instance, he averaged 20.4 points during the Nets’ five-game losing streak that spanned over roughly the first week of December. In retrospect, he’s averaging 19.5 points during their current six-game winning streak. His scoring output has differed only slightly, but Brooklyn’s success, on the other hand, has been entirely dissimilar.
Moreover, the Nets can win even if Williams isn’t scoring in bunches. During Brooklyn’s other five-game winning streak in late November, he averaged just 12.2 points. Still, however, the Nets were winning.
So what’s the formula to the Nets’ success?
Less perimeter shots and more interior production. Yes, it’s not a unique approach by any means, but the results don’t favor the Nets when they rely too much on perimeter shooting to score. Plus, this type of approach combined with consistent defense is sustainable, while 3-point shooting and constant isolation schemes generally fade over a longer period of time–kind of like the New York Knicks.
As their record speaks, the Nets are indeed pounding the paint and pestering their opponents on defense. Their opponents are shooting just 29.4 percent on 3-pointers in the corners, which attests to effective closeouts and cohesive rotations. Remember, the corner 3 is the most dangerous shot in basketball and the Nets have practically stripped that weapon from their opponents.
Additionally, Brooklyn’s opponents aren’t easily getting into the paint. They’ve allowed just 54 attempts in the five- to nine-foot range in January. And on those 54 attempts, their opponents are shooting just 35.2 percent. Basically, the opposition will live or die in the mid-range game, which would favor the Nets significantly.
The Nets don’t have to play perfect basketball to hold onto a top-five seed. But consistency will be key and doing the gritty work will aid that process.
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