It’s been a roller coaster of a season for the Brooklyn Nets. What’s been driving the team’s recent struggles on the offensive end?
It’s been a tale of three seasons for the Brooklyn Nets. It’s worth exploring the team’s evolution from October to the present day and how this has translated to on-court results.
Kenny Atkinson’s squad got off to a slow start, going 4-7 in the first 11 games. The team ranked 20th overall in net rating over this stretch (-2.4), per NBA.com, 12th offensively and 25th defensively. Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving played only the first 9 and 11 games respectively, and neither has returned from injury since (LeVert is close).
(Credit to NBA.com for statistics)
Part 1: October 23rd – November 14th
Part 1 Record: 4-7
Part 1 Net Rating: -2.4, 20th (12th offensively, 25th defensively)
Despite the injuries, the Nets played admirably in “part two” of the season, posting a record of 9-3 over the next 12 games. Although the offense predictably dropped off without Irving and LeVert, the improved defense more than made up for it (dove into this here).
Part 2: November 16th – December 8th
Part 2 Record: 9-3
Part 2 Net Rating: 1.8, 13th (16th offensively, 13th defensively)
Things have gotten tougher as of late, however, as Brooklyn has gone only 3-7 in its last ten contests (currently 7th in Eastern Conference). It’s possible that Brooklyn simply benefited from a soft schedule in its “part two” stretch, and that these current struggles were inevitable as the slate of games intensified. The Nets are now 12-10 In the 22 games Kyrie Irving has been out with an injury (16-17 overall).
Despite the lackluster play, Brooklyn’s defense has continued to get better. A further decline on the offensive end, however, has been even more significant, driving the team’s subpar performance. It’s notable that throughout the season, the Nets have gone from a team that ranked 12th offensively and 25th defensively to ranking 28th offensively and 4th defensively over the last ten games.
Part 3 Record: 3-7
Part 3 Net Rating: -3.0, 20th (28th offensively, 4th defensively)
Brooklyn has had struggles beyond the arc all season, but things have turned especially ugly lately. The Nets are shooting a 29th-best 29.2 percent on 3-pointers over the past ten games, versus 33.3 percent (28th) on the season as a whole. The frigid shooting can be illustrated through the team’s four highest volume 3-point threats.
Spencer Dinwiddie: Over the last ten games, Dinwiddie is shooting 27.5 percent on 7.7 threes per game, versus 29.9 percent on the season.
Garrett Temple: Temple is shooting 23.9 percent on 7.4 threes per game, versus 32.2 on the season.
Taurean Prince: Prince is shooting 28.1 percent on 6.4 threes per game, versus 36.5 percent on the season.
Joe Harris: Harris is shooting 34.4 percent on 6.1 threes per game, versus 42.2 percent on the season.
It’s worth noting that the shooting drop-off doesn’t seem to be driven by declining shot quality. Over the last ten games, 19.8 percent of the team’s 3-point attempts have been defined as “open” by NBA.com, the highest rate in the league. The Nets are only hitting 29.5 percent of these attempts, however (26th-best), versus 32.8 percent on the season.
Brooklyn has continued to shoot threes with high frequency, so the cold-shooting has been especially detrimental for the offense. Its 41.2 percent 3-point attempt rate over the last ten games ranks fourth-highest overall (also 41.2 percent on the season as a whole).
It’s worth mentioning one other area that’s fallen off in this recent stretch as well: Offensive rebounding. The Nets are seventh in offensive rebounding rate on the season (28.4 percent) but only 20th over the last ten games (26.4 percent). Notable offensive rebounders in Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan have both been pretty healthy (33 and 30 games played respectively), so the reasons for this are unclear.
Even if the improved defense hasn’t translated to wins, it’s worth exploring what’s been going on on this end of the floor. As always, it’s difficult to identify how much defense is driving its opponent shooting percentages and how much of it is simply “luck.”
Over the last ten games, opponents are making only 52.8 percent of their shots within six feet of the basket against the Nets (second in NBA) versus third on the season as a whole (56.0 percent). Additionally, opponents have made only 33.6 percent of their 3-pointers over the same stretch (10th-best), versus 35.4 percent on the season (15th-best).
A lot of the defensive improvement (and offensive struggles) can likely be attributed to the “defensive-first” players seeing more minutes in the absence of Irving and LeVert: David Nwaba, Theo Pinson, Rodions Kurucs and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. The advanced stats have looked favorably upon these players on the defensive end, but none have fared well by these metrics offensively.
Unsurprisingly, the whispers that the Nets might be better without Kyrie Irving appear to be inaccurate. Whether the team’s hot stretch was driven by a weak schedule or something else, it wasn’t sustainable.
Even with Kyrie, there’s a ceiling for this Brooklyn squad. If the Nets want to stay in the playoff picture, it’s going to need the offensive boost both Irving and LeVert can bring. Perhaps their returns would compromise some of the strong defensive play as of late, but at this point, it seems the trade-off would surely be worth it.