Are the Nets Better than the Wolves? And Should they Be?

Nts TimberwolvesSo, a team wins its 10th game and steers clear of all-time infamy, and now all of a sudden they’re talking like world beaters. Well, not exactly, but if you followed the dialogue coming out of Monday’s surprise win against the San Antonio Spurs, there’s reason to believe the Nets have the 14-win Minnesota Timberwolves in their sights.

In Fred Kerber’s write-up in the New York Post, Brook Lopez said, “The way we’re playing, I think there’s a chance we can catch Minnesota.”  Meanwhile, in a breakdown for Fanhouse, Tom Ziller opines on the Nets chances of catching the Wolves:

Probably not: for the Nets to bottle this energy and win many more games on the way out would be surprising, and while most of the opponents over the Wolves’ last nine games aren’t cupcakes, six of the contest will be fought at the Target Center. But Minnesota has lost 16 straight, and the Nets are (dare we say?) hot. That it could happen is a huge indictment of the Wolves, who really weren’t supposed to be this bad.

For a vast majority of the season, the Nets have justifiably been tabbed the worst team in the league, despite the fact that many pundits and fans seemed perplexed as to how things got so bad in New Jersey. Yes, the Nets were clearly not a playoff team as currently constructed, but with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez playing like borderline all-stars, there was no reason for this team to resemble one of the worst in NBA history. With that said, statistically speaking, the Nets have played like a bottom feeder, and even comparing their numbers head-to-head with the Timberwolves, it’s difficult for me not to give the edge to Minnesota.

In terms of average point differential, Minnesota holds the edge there, -9.5 points per game vs. the Nets -9.7 points per game. At least both teams are under the double-digit negative point differential threshold, a stigma I worried would still potentially be attached to the Nets even if they got to 10 wins. Looking at the team’s Pythagorean records, according to basketball-reference, the Wolves have played like a 16-58 team, while the Nets are stuck at 15-59. In terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, the Nets are ranked 30th in offense and 26th in defense, while the Wolves are ranked 29th and 28th respectively.

Don’t get me wrong: the Nets and the Wolves are numerically close to each other in many key categories, but in nearly every case, Minnesota is in fact better. And with 9 games left and 4 games in the standings between them, it’s doubtful that the Nets will be able to catch them.

In their final 8 games, the Nets play 4 of them on the road, and 5 of them against potential playoff teams, if you count the Chicago Bulls, who currently reside in the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference.  The Wolves play 3 more games on the road and 4 of them against playoff teams, including one game at home against the Lakers. So even in terms of remaining schedule, I’m inclined to give the Wolves the edge without even considering a way for the Nets to get four games ahead of them in these final two weeks.

And the last thing to consider is should Nets fans even be rooting for the team to pull even with the Wolves. If both teams are tied with the worst record in the NBA come season’s end, a coin flip will determine who gets the most ping pong balls in the John Wall/Evan Turner draft lottery and if things break wrong for the Nets – and they certainly could – they could end up with the #5 pick in the draft this year, which would be a gut-wrenching development for this franchise. While I commend the players for getting excited about having the 9-win monkey off their backs, there also needs to be some acceptance that the Nets have been the worst team in the NBA this season, and a mini-run at the end of the season, should do little to change that fact.