Improving The Nets’ Offensive Identity

Improving The Nets’ Offensive Identity

Image Credit: AP Photo/Chris Schneider

Let me ask you a question. How well do you think the Nets have performed offensively this season? Pretty good? Pretty bad? Average? Not great?

If you chose one of those last two, I’d accept your answer. The Nets haven’t been particularly stellar on offense so far this year – according to Synergy Sports, they rank only 21st out of the 30 teams in the NBA in points per possession. Basketball-Reference (which is slightly more up-to-date) has them ranked 21st as well. They’ve turned the ball over on 13% of their logged possessions, only shot 44% on the year so far, and attempted about 70 less free throw attempts than their opponents.

However, I firmly believe that if the Nets make some small adjustments to their offense, they can become one of the better offensive teams in the NBA instantly. Seriously.

Find out more about the Nets offense after the jump.

So far, the Nets rank poorly offensively for a couple of reasons. Firstly, despite being one of the worst teams at spotting up in the half-court, the Nets have done that more than any other offensive set – with over 23% of their possessions being of the spot-up variety. While the Nets actually have pretty good shooters from beyond the arc – in spot-up situations, the Nets are shooting an above-average 36.5% from 3 – the issue here is the constant midrange jumpers the Nets are jacking. Midrange jumpers are the easiest shot to get in the NBA, but there’s a reason for that; they’re further from the basket, but not so far that you get an extra point, and they rarely result in foul calls. The trade-off almost always ends up benefiting the defense, and unfortunately the Nets are making that trade-off far more often than they should. I’m not saying the Nets should stop shooting midrange jumpers, since they’re necessary in order to keep the defense honest. But they should be utilized to help balance your offense, not as the focal component (see: Lopez, Brook).

Secondly, the Nets are a poor team in isolation. No way around it; they rank 26th in isolation sets with a mere 0.77 points per 100 possessions. This makes sense. The only two guys who can create off the dribble effectively are Devin Harris & Terrence Williams; Harris is much more effective in the pick & roll (more on this later) and Terrence has been both injured & getting under Avery Johnson’s skin. The Nets have seen about 10% of their plays in isolation, and with a team that relies so much on its balanced structure even that is too many. Think back to the Clippers game, when the Nets ran that awesome play out of the time-out to head into halftime with an 11-point lead. That worked infinitely better than just letting Ben Uzoh try to take his man off the dribble, right? To truly be effective, the Nets need to keep utilizing this teamwork.

So the Nets are 21st overall, 25th spotting up, and 26th in isolation. Not too pretty. That being said, would you believe me if I told you that there are some places where the Nets have shone offensively, including one type that the Nets actually rank #1 – yes, #1 – in the entire NBA at?

It’s true. But before we go there, let’s take a look at what the Nets can expand upon to become more effective offensively.

Image Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Run the pick & roll with the two stars. The Nets have two consistent offensive weapons – Devin Harris and Brook Lopez – and while they both have an array of abilities they’re both very good at one thing together: the pick & roll. Harris ranks 3rd in the entire NBA in points per possession as the P&R ball handler, and Lopez ranks 10th as a P&R roll man. They’re a match made in heaven. Lopez has a huge body that he uses to set great screens, and afterward either pins the weaker defender or rolls directly to the basket with purpose. His biggest asset as a roll man is his ability to draw fouls once he’s near the basket – defenders are just not big enough for him or have lost track of him down low and commit fouls just to stop what would usually be an easy dunk. Harris is able to utilize his quickness to dart around Lopez’s screens & defenders to get layups at the rim effectively – he’s shot 54% from the field when running the pick & roll and picked up seven and-1’s. This should continue to be a must-use offense for the Nets when these two guys are on the floor, and let’s not also lose sight of the fact that Derrick Favors has looked solid as a roll man early on in his career as well.

Use their other skills to their advantage. We also can’t forget about the other places these two guys excel. Firstly, we all know that Lopez is a post wizard – he only ranks 34th in the league right now in post-up points per possession but he’s seen less time posting up than normal (possibly due to his recovery from mono). As Lopez continues to regain strength & quickness it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see him begin to forcefully use his body in the paint – hell, last night against Al Horford was a great example of that. I’ve also been very adamant about this: Lopez’s midrange game  can be a weapon, but he cannot use it as his crutch – he becomes no more effective than a poor man’s Rip Hamilton if all he does is float around under the perimeter. However, as the season progresses I think we’ll see more of what happened against Atlanta – Lopez creating offense around the rim in order to free up open shots from midrange.

Also, I would be remiss to say Devin has seen some serious improvement in his jump shot this year. While his percentages are starting to fall back to normal, Harris’ step-back jumper and three-point shot have seen leaps of improvement over the previous two years. His percentages in different shot locations are also up across the board since last year. Although his attempts at the rim have declined slightly, he’s also getting to the line at a higher rate, which assuredly accounts for some of those shots.

If the Nets can cut down on their isolation and midrange spot-up plays, and make up the difference with pick & rolls, post-ups, and spot-ups from beyond the arc that run through the two team stars, the Nets will immediately see an uptick in their offense.

But we’ve forgotten one thing…

The Nets need to run like hell. Through Saturday’s Sacramento game (when Synergy Sports was most recently updated), the Nets are scoring a blistering 1.33 points per possession in transition – by far the best in the league. That’s right, #1. They’ve shot 68% on buckets in transition, have been getting open looks from 3, and are also drawing fouls on the run. The Nets are scoring more efficiently on the run than the Nash-led Suns, the run & gun Warriors, and yes, every other team in the NBA.

Looking at this team up & down, this makes perfect sense. Devin Harris is one of the quickest guards in the NBA. Jordan Farmar is quite the athlete. Travis Outlaw, too. Anthony Morrow made a living getting looks on the wings in transition. Terrence Williams & Derrick Favors can out-run and out-jump almost all of their competition. Kris Humphries & Brook Lopez aren’t super-athletes, but they’ve been known to run the floor ahead of the break and get good looks. The Nets need to advantage of their athletic roster and run some teams out of the building. I’m not saying play Nellieball – you can’t run up and down the floor every possession – but heck, the Nets have the best transition offense and the slowest pace in the NBA at 88.9 possessions per game. That’s ridiculous. Against a team like the Heat or Magic, it makes sense to want to slow down – fewer possessions means a better chance at winning the game. But against these middling teams like Sacramento, Charlotte, and even Denver, you’ve got to take advantage with your biggest offensive asset.

It’s still early in the season, but through fourteen games we’re starting to see just what this Nets team is made of on the offensive end. They’ve spent a little too much time settling for midrange jump shots, but if they can shift their half-court offense towards running pick & rolls, spotting up from behind the arc, and running the offense through Brook Lopez on the block, I think we’ll see the Nets continue to become more and more fluid offensively. However, I maintain that the Nets need to look to run more – the team is just so young and so athletic that they can get a number of buckets in transition. It shouldn’t be their only offense – they need to be able to create in the half-court – but if they can continue to get a step or two ahead of their opponents on the break, there’s an extra 6-8 points just waiting to be had, and those points can make all the difference.