Avery Johnson preached his defensive system strongly in New Jersey & Brooklyn, but the team never seemed to fully coalesce with Johnson’s desires on the defensive end. Though there were some moments of promise, particularly from Brook Lopez, more often than not the Nets would be overmatched by high-octane offenses, even when their talent suggested they could do better.
Whether the team responds more strongly to P.J. Carlesimo’s teachings, whether his system (which can’t be too different — the team’s barely practiced with him) is simply better, or whether it’s an act of randomness, the Nets seem to have a stronger grasp on team defense and stopping points in high-efficiency areas.
The difference in points allowed per 100 possessions isn’t drastic — 104.0 under Johnson, and 102.2 under Carlesimo, the difference roughly between the 13th-best NBA defense and the 21st — but the principles are a little stronger.
Here’s one example. Against the New York Knicks on December 19th, the Nets were routinely torn apart by Tyson Chandler in the pick-and-roll; concerned with the Knicks’ outside shooting, the Nets’ perimeter defenders pinned themselves to the outside shooters, leaving the lane wide open for Chandler to get dunks galore.
Monday afternoon, however, was different: the Nets had directives from Carlesimo to drop into the paint immediately once the pick-and-roll action began moving, and even with one warm body there, the Knicks couldn’t get free.
Here’s an example:
I know the action’s above him near the top of the key, but keep an eye on Johnson here: every time Chandler so much as threatens to dive into the paint, he’s halfway across to cut off the lane. It doesn’t hurt that poor shooter and injury returnee Iman Shumpert is in the corner, but the Nets showed this principle no matter who the three-point shooter was. They gave up a few open looks from deep, but recovered quickly to contest the corner three — the most effective spot. The Knicks shot just 1-7 from the corner. (note: NBA.com’s stats tool lists the Knicks as 2-10 from the corners, but a few three-point attempts were misplotted.)
Also worth noting that Deron Williams also collapsed on Anthony & Chandler here. Watch at the second freeze, Williams is almost directly cutting off Chandler’s lane single-handedly, but bounces back out just in case Anthony swings the ball back. (He doesn’t.)
Another example from the same game is something so incredibly simple I almost feel silly getting excited about it, but it’s an example of Brook Lopez’s improving defensive instincts & awareness. Deron Williams gets switched onto Carmelo Anthony, and with Williams fronting him, Anthony immediately tries to get a good look towards the basket. Except as soon as the pass is thrown, Lopez is already on the move:
Anthony, who assumed he had an open look, made the decision to catch and shoot, but by the time the shot was up Lopez had already covered the ground. Encouragingly, Gerald Wallace dropped down as soon as Lopez moved, putting a body into Tyson Chandler with good box-out position.
It’s little things — but little things add up.