The Brooklyn Nets, by most predictions, will be worse than last year.
That’s based on the evidence. They were already in decline from the previous season, lost their primary creator in Deron Williams, their most reliable wing defender in Alan Anderson, and didn’t drastically improve their immediate on-court product.
But Lionel Hollins doesn’t care about predictions.
Per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, who caught up with Hollins during a taping of the Rachael Ray show:
“I see it, [and] I laugh,” Hollins said. “What do they do? They go in and take each player’s numbers, put them in a group and that puts us at the bottom of the NBA. But that’s in the past. Whatever anybody did good last year is still in the past, and whatever anybody did bad last year is still in the past.
“Now we’re here, and everybody has to go out and obviously you can’t have the same numbers as an individual. You hope they’d be better. But we still have our core guys. … I’m pleased and I’m excited.”
Hollins isn’t necessarily saying that numbers themselves are wrong, but that more goes into building a roster and system than plugging in last year’s figures. And even with the fire-and-brimstone, it’s all just prognostication until the season starts: until October 30, everyone’s +/- is zero.
“They can say you’re going to be good, and they can say you’re going to be bad, but ultimately we have to go out and play,” Hollins said. “Last year we were in the playoffs and we lost the first two games in Atlanta and somebody said, ‘The percentages are that the series is over.’
“I said, ‘What do we do? Quit playing?’ We just have to go play. Injuries happen to teams, teams don’t meet expectations … anything can happen.”
Granted, they did lose that series to the Hawks in six games.
But Hollins isn’t poo-pooing analytics or numbers here. He’s standing up for his players and his organization. It’s not his job to read pre-season predictions, it’s his job to maximize the production of 12 to 15 individuals on the basketball court and turn, in his words, into “a franchise team.” The team has long odds, but what do people expect him to do? Stop coaching?
That doesn’t mean that Hollins has a firm commitment or interest in analytics. When he left the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013, reports indicated that it was due to a fracture between him and an analytics-driven front office, which had just hired ESPN’s stats guru John Hollinger. One story alleged a serious confrontation between the two in practice:
During the Grizzlies’ playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching – and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said – Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was appropriate for a management official to intrude on what’s considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports — Sources: Lionel Hollins, Grizzlies likely parting ways after contract discussions collapse
Despite the skepticism, Hollins does look at some data. He has used lineup figures in the past to explain decisions to players, though the data didn’t stop him from playing the two-point guard lineup of Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack together (-8.1 points per 100 possessions) for 661 minutes.
With Williams gone, Hollins has to lean further on Jack, who posted frightening advanced stats last year. Of the team’s 25 most-used two-man lineup combinations, Jack was involved in four of the bottom five (chart at right).
Beyond lineup data, Hollins has said that he doesn’t like to overload his players with numbers and tendencies. What Jack told The Brooklyn Game earlier this month backs that up: “no players really look at” analytics:
The analytics and stuff? Nah. Nobody, no players really look at that though. I mean, I think we’re definitely more familiar with plus-minus than the other stuff, but I don’t even know what the other analytic categories are. So, no. I don’t know if we really look at it.
But to your point, I mean, plus-minus does have to get better. From that standpoint, we struggled at times coming off the bench as far as keeping the game going and momentum going in our favor, so that’s definitely something we’ve got to grab a hold onto and make sure it turns out better.
Jack is what Hollins has now. The Nets lack other realistic options for an opening-night starter, unless Shane Larkin or Donald Sloan somehow evolve overnight. If Hollins stands up for the numbers that make his lead point guard look bad, it’ll look like he’s not standing behind his point guard. Even if he’s wrong, there’s no reason to incite inter-office conflict before everyone’s scheduled to report.
New York Post — Lionel Hollins scoffs at idea Nets doomed without Deron Williams