With the Brooklyn Nets in free-fall to open the season, coaches and players alike have been scrambling for answers to their woes. But other than in garbage time, one player hasn't gotten his shot: second-year forward and 28-year-old Mirza Teletovic.
Teletovic was a major acquisition for Brooklyn in the 2012 offseason, as the team secured one of Europe's best scorers and long-range shooters for three years using the mini mid-level exception. The Bosnian bomber was expected to back up Kris Humphries as a stretch 4, forcing bigger defenders to leave the paint and contest his shots. But Teletovic struggled in his first season with the adjustment to NBA basketball, racking up 23 DNP-CD's (did not play-coach's decision), missing shots and schemes alike. "There’s a lot of different words that you wouldn’t understand basketball-wise, but now you pick it up because you know it from last year," Teletovic told The Brooklyn Game.
Even with the reduced time, Teletovic finds his second year easier than his first. He's more accustomed to the hustle of New York City than his first season. "New York kind of expects for me to live fast because everything’s going very fast, there’s a lot of traffic, but you get used to it," Teletovic says of the transition. "[Bosnia] is kind of slow, easy, You can do anything anytime you want. But here, you have to be on time, like, every time.”
But Teletovic hasn't needed to be on time as much lately. As the team deals with injuries to major rotation players, Teletovic has struggled to see the floor. He's racked up five DNP-CD's in 12 games, playing only sparse time (68 minutes) in his seven games, nearly all in the second half or garbage time. Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Teletovic was the only active Nets player to sit the entire game.
Even his games with significant playing time came with caveats; Teletovic played 15 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves in garbage time long after the game was decided, and played 14 minutes against the Detroit Pistons Tuesday as coach Jason Kidd benched his starters to send them a message.
Excluding Andray Blatche (who should be nicknamed The Waveform), Teletovic may be the team's most up-and-down player. If SportVU records how many shots a player takes per second of touching the ball, Teletovic must be at or near the top; nearly half of his shots came as a spot-up shooter according to Synergy Sports, and the Nets are similarly content to use Teletovic as a screener in pick-and-pop situations. But when Teletovic isn't hitting shots, his value plummets, and when he misses, he misses badly. In his two seasons, he's attempted more shots (215) than he's scored points (211).
The inconsistent time on the floor is tough for Teletovic, who led Euroleague in scoring prior to joining the Nets in 2012, and would have led Eurobasket in scoring this offseason had he played enough games to qualify. "If you don’t play and then you go back into the game again, you’re totally out of rhythm and totally out of control," Teletovic said. "You can practice as much as you want, but it’s not game shape. Game shape is game shape, you know? When you play, you get in game shape. I try, when I get in the first couple of minutes, just to play defense, get some rebounds just to feel the ball and then after that I try to do something.”
"I’m always positive and always try to stay positive," Teletovic continued. "I always cheer for guys. I try to get a positive thing out of it, but sometimes it’s just tough that I can’t help. In certain moments, I feel like I can help. It also depends ... are you in game shape or not? How fast can you react? Because we need it right there, right there in the moment. You have to come out, let’s say, the third, fourth quarter and you’ve been sitting already for hours, and you have to get in the game and right away react. Sometimes it’s tough. Sometimes you feel good and you make shots and you change the whole game.”He brings up preseason, when he got more playing time. In a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Teletovic hit five three-pointers and scored a team-high 21 points en route to a 127-97 blowout victory. "In preseason I was doing very good, I was doing a lot more things; attack the basket, drive the ball, get more rebounds, stuff like that," Teletovic recalls. "It’s definitely a question: if you get more minutes, you get more comfortable.”
It's a cyclical paradox: to get more playing time, Teletovic needs to play better. But for Teletovic to play better, he needs more playing time.
I asked Teletovic if, two seasons in, he thinks he has a role on this team. "I don’t know," he admits. "I just hope for the best, man. Just when I get in, I kind of have a role, it’s to space the floor, but it’s tough, you know? Right now, for the time that I’ve played, it just takes time to develop your role and to know what you need to do.”
The Nets are scrambling to find a solution after their early mess. Injuries have kept Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Jason Terry out for significant time. Only four players played in all of the team's first 13 games. But Teletovic, the team's second-highest paid player, is third-to-last on the team in minutes played, ahead of the injured Andrei Kirilenko and the LeBron-of-The-D-League Tornike Shengelia.
When talking about taking a look at his backups with his stars out, Kidd was non-committal. "The luxury of injuries is you get to look at everybody," Kidd said at Monday's practice. "So that's how we're approaching it."
If Teletovic can't get a chance now in Brooklyn, it's hard to imagine when he might.