The Nets made colossal moves this summer expected to alter the Eastern Conference landscape, acquiring future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics and transforming their lineup into a potential championship contender.
So far, that hasn’t worked out. The Nets are 5-14, having dropped nine of their last eleven games. They haven’t won a game at Barclays Center in over a month. Their oldest players (Jason Terry excluded) are, ironically, some of their healthiest: Kevin Garnett hasn’t missed a game for injury yet, and Paul Pierce went down after Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. They’re scratching the bottom of the Eastern Conference post while those Celtics, who allegedly made that trade to dive into rebuilding mode, lead the Atlantic Division.
Acquiring Garnett and Pierce was supposed to open the floor up for more easy looks from high-percentage areas. Pierce’s three-point shooting above the break and Garnett’s threat from midrange would space the floor in a way Evans and Wallace just couldn’t last season, and their presence would end the “three-on-five” offense that doomed the Nets against the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs last season.
But the spacing hasn’t paid dividends. 29 percent of the team’s shot attempts have come in the restricted area, down from last year, and just 6 percent have come from the corner. The Nets also rank in the bottom third of the NBA in converting looks from these two areas. That means that only four teams in the NBA get a fewer percentage of their field goals from in the restricted area or from the corners — the Sacramento Kings, the Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have a combined record of 19-54. The Cavaliers and Bucks have the two worst offenses in the league, respectively, and the Knicks only improved their efficiency thanks to a flurry of three-pointers against these Brooklyn Nets and the Orlando Magic in the last two days.
With Evans on the floor as a starter last season, the Nets averaged 107.3 points per 100 possessions, a number that would rank as a top-five offense this season. With Garnett on the floor, the Nets have scored just 94 points per 100 possessions, which would be the league’s worst scoring team. The difference between Wallace last season and Pierce in Brooklyn isn’t much different — with Wallace on the floor in 2012-13, the Nets scored 105.5 points per 100 possessions; switch Wallace with Pierce, and the 2013-14 Nets score 97.7 points per 100.
Garnett and Evans have a strong mutual respect for one another. Evans was originally included in the trade to acquire Garnett, which would have sent him to Boston. But Garnett admitted before the season that he would not have agreed to join the Nets had that been the case. “(For me to come to Brooklyn) Reggie Evans had to be on the roster,” he said on media day, calling himself a “super-fan” of his teammate.. Evans similarly espoused about Garnett, saying that the two had a strong mutual respect for one another, and that he had no issues taking a backseat in the rotation for a player of Garnett’s caliber.
But on the floor this season, Garnett may wish he was more like Evans. Garnett was supposed to stretch the floor in a way Evans never could, while still maintaining an offensive efficiency well above the anemic Reggie.
Except it hasn’t worked out anywhere close to that.