A year ago, with a sense that the series was slipping away, Jason Kidd made a bold decision and replaced Shaun Livingston with Alan Anderson in the starting lineup. That move changed the complexion of the series against Toronto. Heading into a pivotal Game 3, perhaps it’s time for Lionel Hollins to make a bold decision of his own.
The point guard is vital to a team’s success: he is the leader, facilitator, and extension of the coach on the court who sets the tone. It may only be two games, but to me I have seen enough to decide that the Nets’ best chances of getting back into this series is by replacing their franchise point guard Deron Williams with backup Jarrett Jack.
I know what you’re all thinking: the Nets are a better basketball team when Williams is running the show. The numbers from the regular season support that claim. But this isn’t the regular season: the stakes are higher, the spotlight is brighter, and after two games, the Nets are a more confident team with Jack on the floor. Some things, like confidence and moxie, simply cannot be quantified.
Jack ranked amongst the worst in plus-minus (-314) during the 82-game season. But after two games in this postseason, Jack is +11 (+2 and + 9 in Games 1 and 2, respectively), whereas Williams is -18 (-7 and -11).
The statistical disparity doesn’t end there. Consider the following production from Jack, and lack thereof from Williams, over the first two games:
Williams has a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Jack, but a 2-to-1 ratio is hardly elite.1
With Williams starting, the Nets have come out flat in both games, falling behind early by double digits. When you are an overmatched 8th seeded team that struggled to even qualify for the postseason, you cannot afford to climb out of these early deficits against a 60-win juggernaut on their home court.
Williams’s early mistakes have swung momentum in Atlanta’s favor. Down 7-2 early, a lazy pass stolen by Jeff Teague led to a fast-break alley-oop dunk by Paul Millsap. The game teetered on the brink. It was Williams who lost DeMarre Carroll on a backdoor cut with under a minute left and the Nets trailing by a single point, which sucked the life out of the Nets’ comeback bid.
Jack may play with a reckless abandon, and his poor decision-making comes from too much confidence in himself. It’s the gunslinger mentality. Conversely, Williams plays tentative, like he is afraid to make a mistake. When the floor general plays passive, how can the team dictate tone?
The last time Jack was in the postseason was as a member of the 2013 Golden State Warriors. He played an instrumental role in their first-round upset of the third-seeded Denver Nuggets. Consider his production over those 12 games, which also includes Golden State’s second-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs:
But Williams is mired in a two-year playoff funk. What’s amazing is that his 1-for-7, 2-point output on Wednesday was not his worst playoff moment: that distinction occurred a year ago, when he went scoreless on nine shot attempts during Game 2 of the second round against the Miami Heat.
Williams will continue to say the right things about needing to play better and being more aggressive, but actions speak louder than words. When you say one thing and the results don’t change, those words lose their value.
Part of his demise is physical, but there’s no denying the mental component. YES Network’s color-commentator Donny Marshall echoed ESPN’s Jay Williams when he said that Williams was “not engaged” in the game. With the criticism pouring in, Williams continues to validate Paul Pierce’s claims by struggling under the intense scrutiny.
With the stakes high and the margin of error so slim, the Nets cannot afford to be led by a point guard with shaky confidence. Lionel Hollins may have no choice but to give the lion’s share of the minutes to the player who looks like he wants the ball in his hands, eager to take over the game. Jack may be limited, but if the Nets are going down in this series, then I’d rather see them go down swinging.
It’s crazy that it has come to this point. But what good is it to stay on a sinking ship at the most crucial time? You may recall former Yankees manager Joe Torre did something similar when he dropped Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order during the 2006 MLB playoffs, when it was obvious that the Yankee third baseman had lost his confidence.
It’s a difficult decision to make, but the Nets cannot afford to get out of the gate slowly on Saturday. They need that spark that will play with an edge, inspire his teammates, and ignite the home crowd. It’s time that Brooklyn became New Jack City.