The new year is upon us, and in the spirit of rebirth and renewal, it’s time to take a look at what each of the Nets should focus on in this upcoming year. With a 1-4 team that looked positively awful last night, there’s certainly a fair amount to build on.
Happy New Year to all, and after the jump, New Jersey Nets’ 2011-12 New Year’s resolutions:
I wouldn’t exactly say your hot start came out of nowhere, nor would I say it’s unprecedented given your skill level. You’ve made it to this juncture on the strength of everything we’ve seen thus far — the ability to create shots out of thin space, the slow-but-quick moves with your feet and hands, and the unprecedented (and yes, it does apply there) length. The package arrived like this, and unwrapping it has yielded little surprise; while you’re often compared to Kobe Bryant, I see much more Brandon Roy with the ball in your hands. Unfortunately, where I see Roy, you see rim, and little else. Your first, second, and third motive on any given possession is “finding myself a way to score.” There are pick-and-rolls when Kris Humphries is left unguarded, and the defense knows they’ve got time to return to him because you must go through your own progressions, rather than the offense’s. You’re a rookie, and a phenomenal one, which means there is time. You can read a defense for your own purposes as well as anyone in this league already. But the difference between a prime Roy and a prime Nick Young is the ability to read a defense for the purposes of team scoring. I hope you’ll more closely resemble the former than the latter.
After ranking fifth on the Nets in minutes played just one season ago, it’s got to hurt to have lost your spot in the rotation. After your second consecutive DNP-CD occurred last night, the surge of Sundiata ensures that your best shot at relevance again in any capacity at this point involves either an injury or a transaction. In your case, I am resolutionless. I merely wish you the best of luck.
You’ve conned your way into a starting lineup position, despite the fact that you play the same position as the one guy ensured to be a Nets starter through this season. They say it’s to alleviate Deron Williams from ball-handling duties — and that may be the case — but your starting role is proof positive that the Nets need improvements on the wings. Anthony Morrow is a reserve luxury and MarShon Brooks needs more time, but you are not the answer along Deron. With that said, you’ve rightfully leapfrogged $4 million dollar man Jordan Farmar in the rotation, and with consistent effort your contributions off the bench have value. But don’t presume this position is permanent. While we’re at it, don’t presume that one shot two years ago over LeBron James’s outstretched palm forever cements your reputation as a long-range shooter. In your career, you’ve made 18 of 73 long-range connections. Practice comes before production.
I’m glad the boos haven’t affected you. I’m glad not spending your off time with Kim Kardashian hasn’t affected you. The double-double you’re averaging is a testament to that. But for all the tunnel vision the Nets seem to foster offensively, it’s your similar visual philosophy on the other side of the court that worries me. When help defense is required, you’re either a step too late, providing little more than poster fodder, or a step too strong, leaving your man unguarded with no communication for help. So please, read more, yell louder, develop your instincts, and then trust them.
Through five games of determinate sample size, it is you, Damion James, more than anyone else, that has scared the crap out of me. After five games, you’ve done an excellent job of making yourself known on the court — you’re in faces defensively, you’re making necessary cuts, you’re jumping on loose balls and ensuring that the background is left for those not involved in your path. But through these five games, you’ve done little to distance yourself from your active-but-ultimately-irrelevant predecessor Trenton Hassell. You are more voracious in your attempts to deny and secure, but simply not more efficient. My resolution for you, Damion James, is to put that work ethic to use on a consistent jump shot; not one that’ll mirror Ray Allen but one that’ll remind defenses not to sag off Deron Williams when he slashes to the hoop.
The Nets currently rank 29th in points per game and 29th in offensive rating. When you come back, prove to those of us that believe in you that last season’s mononucleosis was the cause of your aberrations. Get back to 15% rebound rate, 53% shooting, and score 20-plus per game. And I wish all the health in the world to you, though the last time I did that, the Nets announced you had a broken foot. So maybe that’s not a good idea.
Please escape your body-snatching kidnappers and destroy whatever poor-shooting organism has taken your place.
On your first eves with the Nets in official play, the possibility that your acquisition mirrored that of Troy Murphy the previous year loomed large. No two contexts are identical, but the narrative — solid but unspectacular big man sold away to New Jersey with anatomical baggage — indicated a potential corollary. Luckily, as time has passed, you’ve proved you’re the opposite; you’re every bit the supremely intelligent, unathletic, floor-spacing big man you were in years past. The way you blend next to Deron Williams at points borders poetic. On a team with single-minded offensive players plagued with tunnel vision, you’re consistently in a good spot on the floor, ready to catch-and-shoot or dish to someone who is. So please, continue to approach 100%, and remain there when you’re done. He may be the superior player, but Brook Lopez can learn much from you.
Of all the players on this roster, you’re the one that reminds me least of a normalized basketball player. Your grace is nonexistent. Your speed and agility don’t resemble a typical NBA shooting guard. You are, in some sense, MarShon Brooks’s antithesis. But you’re in a Nets uniform on the strength of Deron Williams’s recommendation. Earn it.
You are the de facto leader of this franchise. Mikhail Prokhorov, Billy King, Avery Johnson, without you at this moment, are immaterial. You know that. And it’s plain that, unlike your feelings regarding your supporting cast, you love that. You snap your fingers and chant “DeShawn Stevenson,” and voila, he’s marching around the perimeter. But, as a great movie involving spiders and men once taught me, with great power comes great responsibility. Through five games, you are shooting 16% from 3-9 feet, 21% from 16-23 feet, and 33% from beyond the arc. These struggles are not anomalous in your time in New Jersey. I even get why you’re playing more off the ball — the energy you’re not expounding will save you over the course of a season, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll get the ball in your hands at some point through the possession anyway. When you do, your moves on the ground are perhaps the finest New Jersey has ever seen, from any player, but your struggles away from the rim have trailed you since the day you came here. This season is still birthing, and I do not wish to be a victim of overreacting to small sample sizes. Your 50-point outburst in Turkey taught us that the wrist is fine. I just hope that whatever’s hurting that element of your game doesn’t last much longer.
Drink a lot of water.
Truthfully, neither of you have amounted to much in a Nets uniform, plagued by a lack of acclimation time. The difference is in execution; while Mr. Parker’s done a decent yet unspectacular job executing in his short time here, Extra E has done little to warrant a contract above the nation’s salary minimums, much less the league ones. Outside of finding Extra E’s missing efficiency, like Farmar, I am resolutionless, other than I hope you both do well, once we have enough of a body of work to understand what that means.
Your record attracted Billy King, your vision P.J. Carlesimo and Mario Elie, your attentiveness Deron Williams’s respect. A Brook Lopez-less roster provides little operating room, but ideally, this team’s not 1-4 today. The Nets lost two winnable games, one Friday at the hands of Atlanta, and the other Sunday at the hands of absurdity. Defensive rotations partially fall on the players, but at some point it becomes the coach’s responsibility to remind them not to leave competent outside shooters with significant space in favor of packing a paint to prevent a poor interior offense. You and I both know that this isn’t the team you want to be coaching, but you still must put the time in.
But seriously, the season’s not lost if the Nets don’t grab the super-package. Billy Beane once said that the day you must make a deal, you’re screwed, because you’re going to make a bad deal. If the Nets’ best option at making the next level is stocking more draft picks in this loaded draft (I hear Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis make fine teammates…), then go that route. The way the Carmelo Anthony trade talks were handled was atrocious, the way you bounced back from them sublime. In this league, the product matters more than the process. Would be nice to see 2 for 2.