.03 of the season down, .97 to go

In two games, the New Jersey Nets provided its “viewers” two essentially identical first quarters and two polar opposite final three quarters. In game one, the Nets fell behind 26-13 after one and by 21 in the second, only to claw their way back with smart transition defense and matchup advantages. In game two, the Nets fell behind by more than I care to reimagine and seemingly forgot that the natural goal of basketball is to find creative ways of putting that striped orange sphere in the suspended metal fixture.

It was a tale of six quarters, if you hate good tales.

No player studded to dudded faster than the one player you’d expect not to — point guard, highest-paid member of the franchise, and assistant to the assistant GM Deron Williams. Fresh off a sublime performance in Washington against one of the league’s best young point guards — 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists (or 9, depending on whom you ask) checking John Wall, Deron was powerless against apparent destroyer of worlds Jeff Teague and the remainder of Atlanta’s defense, shooting just 3-11 and missing all four of his shots at the rim. The Nets went from running competent, capable offenses just enough times to get by in Washington to completely abandoning any semblance of a playbook against Atlanta after six minutes. The fault there lands on the player relied upon to run the offense; in this case, it’s the best player the Nets have.

One unfortunate constant over these two games is the atrocity known as jump-shooting. Outside of the wide-open clincher created by D-Will in game one, Anthony Morrow looks nothing like the rainmaker we’ve seen in the past three years, rushing contested shots and clanging jumper after jumper. When he shoots, my arm immediately shoots up in the… well, shooting motion, but that reflex rarely ends with fist-pumps early on. After a decent game to open preseason, Morrow’s seen shooting nights of 0-10, 4-12 (salvaged by that fourth quarter spurt), and 1-5.

It’s not just Morrow walking the tightrope of shooting absurdity. Through two games, the Nets have played 480 minutes, 307 of them by players currently shooting under 30% from the field. The other Nets starter at the wing, Damion James, has brought the expected activity level but has made his predecessors and identical basketball twins Trenton Hassell and Quinton Ross proud with two baskets in 11 attempts over two games. The Nets brought in Shawne Williams on the strength of his 3-ball corner pocket, and through two games he’s 1-7 without a single make from beyond the arc. Recession Okur was brought in to shore up the front line but thus far looks more like a beached whale. Naturally, the rust only goes one way; the Nets allowed Washington & Atlanta to shoot 43.3% from beyond the arc. Mostly Atlanta, which is a bad sign if the Nets want to compete for anything but bouncing ping-pong balls.

The issues don’t stop there. The Nets have just 26 assists to 34 turnovers, which isn’t excusable in high school. Johan Petro is 4th on the Nets in minutes played thus far, simultaneously unavoidable, unbelievable, rage-inducing, mildly depressing, and a reminder that Johan Petro gets paid $3,250,000 this season to miss defensive rotations and flail 17-footers.{{1}}[[1]]I feel the urge to note that I feel bad just typing that sentence — Petro is legitimately a very nice guy and a humanitarian. But that only goes so far when Josh Smith is dunking on you.[[1]] Jordan Farmar resembles dust, and after ranking 5th on the 2011 Nets in minutes played has seemingly lost his role already to Sundiata Gaines, a younger, cheaper, more active player.

It’s not all bad. For Deron to hit rock bottom he had to start at rap top, and his performance against the Wizards personified Illmatic; the Nets just can’t afford too many Nastradamus efforts. Kris Humphries booed opposing fans with his performance in Washington, a 21-point, 16-rebound night that featured glimpses of what a D-Will-Hump partnership might foster. MarShon Brooks has begun his career of laughing in the faces of roughly 20 GM’s that thought an athletic freak with mature scoring prowess was worth passing on in a weak draft. Brooks dazzled his way both mildly expectedly offensively and wildly unexpectedly defensively into the only decent performance by a Nets player against Atlanta; his turnaround jumper was falling, his length affected shots and rebounds on both ends, and he tied Vladimir Radmanovic for the game-high in points, which is the weirdest ten words I’ve ever written.

Of course, this is merely a breakdown of two games, and the words here expand on the thought that this team looks like it was randomly assembled in two weeks during the process of training camp. Shawne Williams and Anthony Morrow have to make shots sometime, Deron Williams will be Deron Williams, Brook Lopez will come back, Johan Petro will get traded or stretch exception’d, and the Nets will plow along into the next stretch of the unknown. They’ll get there, I think. I hope.

But for now, I’m not particularly excited to provide visual charity (“watching” is too strong a word) to the Nets these next couple nights. If you think they were bad post-Washington against Atlanta, just wait for post-Orlando. And barring a brief stop in Cleveland, it doesn’t get easier: Indiana, Boston, Miami, Atlanta (again), Denver, and the L.A. Clippers all make pit stops in the Nets’ narrative by January 16th, many of them on the road. Making it past this stretch with a winning record may prove impossible without a sprinkle of magic.