With the NBA season soon coming and the back to school stench in the air, it seems only natural to check out how the Nets are preparing. In an imaginary world where NBA players attend basketball prep school, here’s some courses & required reading we suggest.
Prerequisite reading:If you aren't sick of Nets are Scorching Joe Johnson coverage by now, then you probably never will be. (Woo!) If there's one thing we've learned about Johnson since July 3rd, it's that he's is a pretty chill guy. His mild-mannered demeanor, his rare smile, his "Yeah, I'm a little nervous to throw out the first pitch at the Yankee game tonight" attitude. Joe isn't the glasses-with-no-lenses type. He isn't a finger-waving, rim-hanging showboater. He's just Joe Johnson. Flashless Joe Johnson.
But it doesn't have to be like that. His swaggerless swagger could use some swagger. All the all-time greats had it, and despite what some people may say about him and his huge contract, he is a great basketball player. If there was ever a time for him to cross over into the next level of basketball heights, it's now, playing on arguably the best roster he's ever played with. For Joe Johnson, I'm going to assign one of my favorite basketball books, with a title as boring as his name: The Book of Basketball by Grantland's Bill Simmons. The book itself is a mammoth and full of obnoxious basketball stats. But one section in particular will help: Simmons' 96 Greatest Players of All Time. The basketball pyramid. In the pyramid, he'll read not just a list of great players, but analysis, accolades and all the reasons that make them a member of the 96 Great. It's no surprise that while he is a great player, Johnson is not one of the 96. At this point in his career, barring a borderline maniacal run, it is highly unlikely he'll get there. But it wouldn't hurt to study up on the legends and do what allowed them to excel.
Film studies: Basketball culture in Phoenix, 2005. My freshman year of college, my Introduction to Fiction professor taught us how to write short stories using his own book. First, we read the book and dissected each story. We told him what worked in each story and what sucked about each story. My sophomore year, the same professor taught us how to write a novel using his own novel. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I'm assigning Joe Johnson something similar. Once, he was on a dominant team. For a single NBA season, he was on top of the world. The year I'm referring to, of course, is the 2005 Phoenix Suns.
There are an awful lot of similarities between that 2005 Suns team and this 2012 Nets team. Both are run by a pass-first point guard that can score (Steve Nash/Deron Williams). Both have big men known for their scoring as much as they are known for their underwhelming rebounding (Amar'e Stoudamire/Brook Lopez). Both have high energy, high rebounding, high hustle, all-around forwards (Shawn Marion/Gerald Wallace/Kris Humphries). One finished with 62 wins.
I'm not going to sit here and say, "Do what you did your last year in Phoenix and you will have a season as good as you did back then." That would be foolish and unrealistic. But I don't think it's unreasonable to look at both of these rosters, see the similarities, and figure out what works. The Nets are not a defensive powerhousem and it would be silly for Coach Avery Johnson to think otherwise. By playing this Nets team to its strengths, something great could happen.
For the first time in six seasons, Johnson is playing on one of the best offensive teams in the league. Between Johnson, Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, that's four players who could score 20 points on any given night. Add in bench players Mirza Teletovic, CJ Watson, and MarShon Brooks, and this Nets team is full of fast, athletic scorers who complement Johnson, like the starters and role players on the 2005 Suns. His talent blends in. Can this Nets team score enough and are they fast enough to run the floor and play consistent offense, even if it means the defense suffers? Absolutely. The Suns averaged 108 points per game last year, ranking first, and gave up 102 points per game, ranking 28th. They won 62 games. It can be done again, and this is the team to do it.
So watch that team. Remember what it was like to play with that team. Remember the role. Study the film and figure out a way to sell Coach Avery Johnson on switching his defensive focus to a run-and-gun uptempo offense. Think about those D-Will oops, those Brook Lopez dunks, those Gerald Wallace... antics, those silky Joe Johnson jumpers. This will be Joe Johnson's dream season. (Actual video starts at 1:17)
Elective: 1%er Ethics. Course description: Does the media think you are making too much money? Are you being ruthlessly, verbally attacked on social media over the contract that was offered to you by inept general managers? Unsure how to fully prove you are (Insert Name), and not (Insert Name With a Lucrative Deal)? Here, you will learn how to put the critics away and fully enjoy the money you earn. Learn how to live up to your values and make the most out of your role on your team. (Prerequisite: Must live in Brooklyn and have bought an expensive baller pad so a big dent of your money is already gone.)
Class list also includes Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
Student notes: Joe Johnson is an above average shooting guard, highly regarded among his peers. Johnson is a 17.8 point per game scorer for his career at a 44.4% field goal percentage. Johnson could use some improvement as a consistent lockdown defender, and cutting down unwarranted isos. A change of scenery, to Brooklyn, could help with this. Entering his 12th year in the league, this is great time to witness a revitalization of an already great player.