When the Nets traded their two late draft picks in the NBA Draft last week a lot of people were left scratching their head. The Nets gave up a chance at getting a shooter or a point guard to trade and get a guy like Damion James. I think most Nets’ fans were reacting at the trade of the picks rather than James himself, and I was in the same boat.
After taking a few days to watch Damion James’ play, I gotta say, I understand why Avery Johnson said the Nets had him 12-13 on their big board. James brings toughness and attitude, which is exactly what the Nets lacked last year. In a chat a few days ago Rob Mahoney from TheTwoManGame (TrueHoop’s Mavericks Blog) told me James is a perfect Avery Johnson type player. He should know, in addition to covering the Mavericks (the team Avery Johnson had his first coaching stint with) he goes to Texas University so he has been able to see James in action up close.
After getting my hands on some of Texas’ games and watching them, I am totally convinced that Damion James will be able to contribute right away. More specifically, he will be able to help turn the Nets into a better team defensively. Here’s how:
Throughout the playoffs this year, we saw how important defending a shooter running off of screens. The Miami Heat did a poor job of it, and they allowed Ray Allen to go off, losing the series. The Lakers did a very good job of it (except for game two), and they were able to keep Allen in check which was part of the reason they were able to win the championship. Here is James doing the same thing defensively.
After watching Damion James work through screens off of the ball, I would totally be willing to have James on the court defending the opponent’s best shooter. Working through screens off the ball is sheer want to, and it seems like James wants to do it real bad. Look at where he makes is man (Xavier Henry) catch the ball, initially it is a good 35-40 feet away from the basket. He forces his man to give the ball up, but his job isn’t done. Henry goes to the post and then comes off of a downscreen set by Cole Aldrich. James is able to fight through it and contest Henry’s three pointer.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Nets were just plain awful when it came to transition defense. Damion James helps with transition defense, because he is long and athletic plus he seems to instinctively know where to be when running back on defense:
Here, James is about even with the basketball when the turnover takes place. Instead of trying to stop the ball (which is a natural reaction), Damion James runs to the middle of lane stops and turns to play defense. This allows him to get the block.
Doubling The Post
Finally, James is also pretty good when it comes to double teaming the post after the ball is entered:
Here, James defends the man who enters the ball down low. After the pass, James determines that Cole Aldrich isn’t going to give up the basketball. When he realizes this, he doubles hard, and that is what allows him to get the block.
Damion James might not be able to contribute on the offensive end right away (I personally think he will struggle with the NBA three point line early on during his rookie year), but you aren’t going to have to worry about him on the defensive end. On a team that was really soft last year defensively, that is almost just as important (and maybe more important) as drafting a scorer (like Jordan Crawford, who many Nets’ fans including myself wanted).
After watching James play, I think that Avery Johnson will take to this kid and give him an opportunity to earn a lot of playing time early. If he is able to play defense like he did in college, he is going to be on the court for the Nets, contributing.