AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
We’ve all heard the slogan the past few months: It’s all new.
Too bad a lot of the “new” was seemingly lost at the Beijing airport and missed this morning’s preseason game against the Houston Rockets, a 91-81 loss for the Nets, who got as close as a point in the second half, but were essentially overmatched for a vast majority of the game. Maybe this is a brash assumption on my part, but that’s my only defense of how most of the team’s new guys performed.
For the record, our four “old” guys, Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Terrence Williams and Kris Humphries combined for 63 points. And Humphries (2 points in 15 minutes was mostly a non-factor). The rest of the team scored 18.
Naturally, it’s only preseason, but it’s also a little disconcerting that the only guys who showed up to play today are players who have very little to prove in October. Brook Lopez (22 points and 7 rebounds on 8-15 shooting) looked to be in mid-season form, scoring on a variety of moves including up and unders on Yao Ming, mid-range jumpers and even a dribble drive lay-in with about 4:48 to go in the third quarter. PS – I love when Lopez busts out that little drive. It seems to unravel in slow motion, but when he goes for it, he almost always seems to get two points out of it. Lopez also continued to get to the foul line (6-8). Yes, he still looks awkward during double teams, falling for the same trap on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, but perhaps with better outside shooting around him, this issue will become moot this season – IF the shooters can actually shoot.
That sound you heard was all of our eyes shifting to Anthony Morrow (3 points, 1-4 shooting). Morrow was brought with one purpose in mind – outside shooting. And while I’ve watched enough spring training baseball to know that a home run hitter doesn’t always have his stroke until the season starts, Morrow wasn’t even close with some of his misses today, including an airball from about 13 feet out with 5:37 to go in the first quarter.
The same goes for Travis Outlaw (7 points, 3-9 shooting, 6 rebounds), who may not have the shooter’s pedigree of Morrow, but was also brought in primarily to help provide some space for Brook in the post. Outlaw was largely unproductive on both ends of the floor in the first half, shooting 0-4 and missing a few defensive assignments. Something that caught my eye was Outlaw’s lateral movement – or lack thereof. Yes, Kevin Martin is a great scorer, but Outlaw looked plain sluggish in the first half sticking with him on some plays. He at least picked it up a bit in the third quarter, shooting 2-3 and making a pretty athletic block on a Martin jumper, but overall it was another disappointing game it what has been a generally disappointing preseason for Outlaw.
It goes from bad to worse when you consider the performances of two other “new” guys – Derrick Favors and Johan Petro. First Favors (0 points, 5 rebounds). As Devin told us earlier, this is nothing to freak out about, but it’s clear that this kid is not going to be good to go for the season opener. While this would be less consequential if Troy Murphy wasn’t out indefinitely to start the season, Favors is going to be forced into some playing time just by the sheer fact that the Nets have so little depth at the PF position. Humphries is serviceable for 10-15 minutes a game tops, and who knows how much Joe Smith has left in his tank after 15 years in the NBA. So the pressure falls on Favors, like it or not. Trying to spin things into a positive, I thought a lot of Favors issues earlier today were byproducts of him being tentative. On the defensive end, he looks like he’s bit spooked by his summer league and early preseason foul issues, so he’s not getting enough of a body in the post. On the offensive end, he’s just not experienced enough to create his own shot, settling too much for fadeaways and contested jumpers. While Favors is on the floor, the Nets haven’t looked too terribly active on the fast break, which costs him some points there. He also looks a little jumpy on tip/garbage bucket opportunities. This will come in time, time that Avery Johnson seems inclined (and based on injuries, now forced) to give Favors.
Petro’s issues (0 points, 1 rebound in 7 minutes), while frustrating, are less consequential. Yes, Petro completely missed the rim on his one shot, a hook shot a few feet out in the first quarter. He doesn’t look terrible defensively though I’m still trying to wrap my head around why the front office decided to bring this guy in for the price they did. His contract is certainly not an albatross, but he hasn’t done much in the past that’s inspiring, and what little I’ve seen of him in the preseason has left me non-plussed. If Murphy can get healthy, the Nets may not even need Petro off the bench, but again, for now, there are few other options.
At the risk of alienating all of our readers, let me try and wrap things on a positive note. Terrence Williams (20 points, 8 boards on 9-20 shooting) looked impressive, if maybe a little too shot happy on offense. Yes, Virginia, that’s a jump shot for Mr. Twill, 4-8 from outside of 10 feet. He’s still at his best when he’s using that explosive first step to blow by defenders, but anything that makes Williams even MORE versatile is a good thing. Still, with just 1 assist, I think Avery needs to remind TWill that he’s at his best when he’s a distributor. When TWill is effectively running an offense and not thinking about finding his own shot, he’s a triple-double waiting for happen. Otherwise, he puts up a stat line like he did today – great, but not gaudy. I don’t think it behooves the Nets for TWill to be taking 20 shots a game, despite how the rest of the offense is performing.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
Devin Harris (19 points, 7 assists, 5 steals, 5-13 shooting) probably put together his most solid effort of the preseason. For a guy who gets ragged on for being too soft injury-wise, I was totally wowed when he stepped in the lane in the third quarter and drew a charge on Yao Ming. That couldn’t have felt great. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t get too excited by the 5 steals, as many of them were of the unforced variety in the first quarter. Still, Harris is one of the fastest players alive with the ball, so anyway he gets his hand on a loose ball are good by me.
So what’s going on with Damion James? He earned a DNP Coach’s Decision today and it doesn’t make much sense to me. If he’s a little too green for minutes at this point, shouldn’t he get his feet wet in the preseason over a guy like Stephen Graham, who might have been the hero against Philly on Saturday but certainly has little to no future to speak of in the NBA? James was impressive in the Summer League, so I have no explanation outside of injury as to why he’s not playing. I hope this changes and changes fast.
I am starting to see the value of Joe Smith as a bench player on this team. In addition to what he must bring in practice for a guy like Favors, he came into the game today and drilled both of his field goal attempts. He did leave his feet and allowed an easy bucket to Jared Jeffries of all people, but I’ll forgive it for now.
A little bit of deja vu on the defensive end as I watched the Nets get torched on a number of back door cuts in the first half. Terrence Williams sniffed one out in the second quarter, which was a nice development, but you would think after getting done in so often by it last season, that these guys would have some awareness of guys cutting under the rim.
I totally forgot that Courtney Lee was on the Rockets.
If Yao is healthy, that triumvirate of him, Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks is going to be fun to watch this season.