When the Nets run through their progressions, things go well. When they don’t, they take a turn for the worse.
Here’s one example of running through their progressions:
This play, off an offensive rebound by Humphries, starts with MarShon Brooks at the top of the key, thumbing down to Jordan Farmar. This sends Farmar on a curl to set a screen for Anthony Morrow:
It isn’t a particularly strong screen, but it sends Gary Forbes slightly off course, forcing Johan Petro’s defender Linas Kleiza to show above Petro:
As soon as Kleiza shows, Petro immediately cuts to the basket, and Brooks fakes a look to Morrow and finds Petro for the easy dunk. Brooks’ fake to Morrow and immediate fire to Petro at the basket makes me think that the play was designed for Petro to score, or at least for Brooks and Petro to read if Petro’s defender tries to cut off Morrow’s lane to the three-point line.
This was one of the few plays that “worked” offensively last night for New Jersey, mostly because the rest of their plays didn’t go anywhere or didn’t have multiple reads. So much of the offense these days seems centered around “pick-and-roll, hope the defense screws up, throw out for spot-up shooters, rinse, lather, repeat.” That’s a potentially effective offense, but when it’s the playbook’s majority, it’s relatively stoppable.
The Nets couldn’t get much working off pick-and-roll action, as their spot-up shooters often came up off-balance around curls or rushing shots late in the shot clock. When the pick-and-roll broke down and no shooters were found, the Nets resorted to isolations, which just isn’t an effective way to score.
By my count, 11 of the Nets’ 15 turnovers were unforced errors; balls lost out of bounds, traveling calls, offensive fouls where the defense wasn’t set up for a charge, passes to no man’s land, dribbles gone awry, et al. The Raptors are the second-worst team in the league at causing turnovers, but all they needed to do tonight was react when the Nets gave it away.
The long two-pointer is the least efficient shot in the game: it’s the easiest to find, but both rarely draws fouls and offers you the same amount of points that a shot near the rim allows. When a team can’t find shots at the rim, there’s nowhere to go but out. The Raptors got shots both inside and outside, while the Nets couldn’t shoot from anywhere.
On the inside, the Nets scored just two dunks (both from Johan Petro off assists from MarShon Brooks), and shot an abysmal 6-15 on layups. Outside, as mentioned, the Nets rarely shot in balance or with space, while the Raptors got consistent clean looks from midrange due to botched rotations and poor defensive planning. DeMar DeRozan isn’t the most effective shooter, but shooting becomes target practice when there’s either no defense or a defender three inches your junior in your vicinity.
Tunnel vision defense is basketball rabies. It’s an uncontrollable impulse, one that spreads through a defense, by way of non-communication and over-excitedness, much like a virus through the bloodstream; once one player’s found his way out of position, another must rotate to guard two players, then another player must help him out, and before anyone knows what happened, five players are out of balance as one with an opposing jersey puts an orange sphere through a red cylinder.
The Nets are full of antsiness. Sundiata Gaines sees a strip possibility and just can’t avoid trying to make something happen, even if that means leaving his man for an open 3. Shelden Williams knows the Nets are in a zone and he rushes to his spot, even if that abandons the entire left side. Johan Petro hedges too high on a screen, ignorant that only shooting guard MarShon Brooks can rotate to cover power forward Ed Davis. Shawne Williams knows that Amir Johnson is Kris Humphries’ man, and leaves him when his assignment crosses the plane, even though Humphries is nowhere close to Johnson and he gets a completely uncontested dunk.
The Nets have shown signs of avoiding TVD in scattered moments throughout the season, and sometimes put it together or ride Deron Williams for just long enough to eke out a victory. But the Nets are still lost defensively more often than not, and it appears systemic rather than individual.