Another valiant effort, another loss.
Although the Nets showed some very solid signs of life in spurts in this game, the final score reflected the same result as it did on Wednesday; that over the course of 48 minutes, the Rockets are ten points per game better than the Nets are.
For what it’s worth, the Nets instantly looked stronger at the beginning of the game then they did on Wednesday. Maybe it was adjusting to the time difference, maybe it was just a few more days together, maybe it was skipping the shootaround to start. But the Nets started the game 6-6, and every shot was well created – three shots from Brook inside, two jumpers from Outlaw, and a Harris slash to the basket that looked like it came two seasons ago. They also simply looked more active – Joe Smith, in his first preseason start this year, looked like he’d turned back the clock defensively – moving around quickly and on one occasion blocking a shot with serious force. Devin was diving for loose balls, Terrence Williams was locking down on defense, and while the Rockets still had a very crisp offense the Nets did not look nearly as overmatched as they did early last game.
Well, until after that sixth shot. After starting the game 6-6, the Nets suddenly fell apart, hitting only one of their next 14 shots. Some of that was bad luck, some of it was bad execution, but one thing is for sure: it was bad. The main culprit? Terrence Williams.
It’s clear that Terrence has carried over some of the issues that he had last season. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still chock-full of the positives that make him an exciting player – bouncing around all over the floor, showing off his elite athleticism and throwing laser-beam passes. His weaknesses, though, are still prominent: he was forcing contested shots and rushing through the offense. After Avery’s first timeout, he seemed to get the message, stepping back to distribute and run through the offense, but that didn’t last too long. He hit a wide-open three off a Farmar slash-and-kick early, and his form looks as good as ever, but Avery will need to work with him on his poor selection this season for him to really have a net positive scoring impact. I hope this is just preseason experimentation, because you can’t justify some of the shots he was taking. With his court vision and passing ability, it’s downright criminal.
To put it in numerical terms: In his first 12 minutes, T-Will took 13 shots, most of them self-called isolations. The rest of the Nets up to that point had combined for 14. He finished the game with 16 points on 7-18 shooting. God, he sure can dunk though; one a slam in transition and one Harris alley-oop that he caught high above the rim.
The Nets also showed some signs of laziness defensively. Much of their “activity” was at the end of plays, after the Rockets had run their plays, confused the Nets perimeter defenders, and gotten open looks. The perimeter defense was particularly bad; guards seemingly had no interest in running through screens and instead settled for letting the big men deal with their laziness. Good defense stops good offense at the source, not the end result, and while the blocked shots early were great they shouldn’t all be help-side. One particularly egregious play found Brook Lopez and Joe Smith clobbering Kyle Lowry, who’d gotten a wide open lane to the basket without really doing anything to get it.
Another place the Nets consistently struggled was in transition. The Nets were consistently beaten out on the break, allowing easy layups & dunks throughout the game. While I don’t have a record of the fast break points, it’s surely a huge difference. It’s clear the Nets have a lot of work to do defensively before they become effective on that side of the floor.
If Avery wanted offense from the power forward position, he’s got to be upset after this game. The three true power forwards on this team: Joe Smith, Derrick Favors, and Kris Humphries – combined for a rock-solid zero points, missing four shots from the field in 31 minutes of play. I appreciate Joe Smith’s energy and veteran leadership as much as anyone, but he is assuredly not an offensive weapon. It’s becoming more and more evident that Troy Murphy’s injury is going to hurt a lot to start the season. But hey, anything’s better than Yi again, right?
I’m of the opinion that when run correctly, the pick-and-roll is probably the best play in the NBA. When two guys are really zoned in together offensively, it’s unstoppable. One thing that’s clear early is that Avery Johnson wants the Nets to run it – running with Favors & T-Will three times in the first quarter – but it never worked; twice Terrence made a poor decision (jacking a contested shot or just dribbling away frivolously) and once Derrick missed a layup. I really hope they keep working on it, because those are two absolutely ideal guys to run the pick & roll – two ridiculous athletes at their positions who can dominate when given the right look.
I think playing a team like the Rockets these past two games has been a good contrast. You could argue that the Nets have the more rawly talented players, but the Rockets run their system much more effectively – as they always do. The Nets turned the ball over 17 times and appeared to have no true game plan offensively other than “Give it to Brook/Devin/Terrence and get the hell out of his way.” If this is what It’s All New is supposed to be, I’ve certainly got some concerns.
Overall, the Nets looked just a little off all game. The offense wasn’t perfect, the defense had lapses, but every now and then they gave us a glimpse of just how good they can really be. Devin slashing to the basket for a layup. Brook lofting the ball over Yao & Brad Miller for two. Morrow hitting jumper after jumper. T-Will destroying the rim with no regard for anyone or anything. Outlaw spacing the floor and knocking down jumpers with a man in his face. It’s a good thing that we’re in preseason, because right now the Nets are at a good starting point – one they can hopefully leapfrog off when the season kicks off in eleven days.
More thoughts after the jump.
As expected, Brook Lopez has been the Nets star this preseason, and he again didn’t disappoint. Taking advantage early of his domination of Yao, Brook scored those three quick buckets early and continued to attack. While it’s good to see him getting looks, “Give The Ball To Brook And Stand Around” isn’t exactly an offense. He shouldn’t be forcing looks when he doesn’t have them because nobody else is trying to get open – which was a huge problem last season and was still a problem today. However, offensively he showing off his wonderful touch around the basket as well as hitting his midrange jumper, and defensively he was creating some havoc as well. He’s still got issues passing the ball, but considering how much he brings to the table it’s not a major weakness – yet.
Derrick Favors continues to show why he’s considered a project, although that’s not an entirely fair analysis. He came into the game for his only stint during the Terrence Williams hour, and by my count only actually received two passes in that time on the floor: both difficult alley-oop passes thrown in traffic from Terrence. He did not play in the second half. I’m a little worried that the Nets are going to suffer from Yellow Jacket Fever this season; hiding him in the offense because they have no interest in setting him up. Derrick’s got to be having flashbacks of Iman Shumpert jacking shots while he’s getting position. It’s only preseason, I know, but he’s not a guard. The guy’s not going to be able to score if he’s not being given the ball.
Travis Outlaw finally looks like he’s getting on track. After struggling for a few games, he’s started to find his jumper, knocking one down to start the game and hitting some more as the game went on. He did seem to be settling for jumpers & not really attacking the rim, but he’s primarily needed for floor spacing so I’m not too worried about that. He’s 6’9″ and has a very high release which makes his jumper nearly unblockable when defended by other small forwards.
Anthony Morrow looked great. Although he had some foul trouble in the first half he came right back in the third and knocked down a jumper in rhythm. It didn’t end there, as he hit back-to-back threes from the left corner late in the third as the Nets were working to stay in the game. It’s so fun to watch him shoot. They’ve got to keep finding him; he’s proven time and time again that if you give him an open look beyond the arc he’s more than likely going to knock it down. He finished with 19 efficient points on just nine shots from the field, making all three of his threes and all four of his free throws.
Devin Harris was an enigma. His slashing game looks like it’s back to 08-09 form – he was getting to the rim at will, and when he wasn’t, he was getting fouled and converting – hitting all eight of his free throws. It was honestly one of the more refreshing parts of this game to watch; when Devin is on offensively, he’s the catalyst. The team goes as he goes. Also, despite the Nets perimeter woes, Devin looked stronger defensively than he has in the years past, and while he certainly had his lapses hopefully that trend continues upward. However, the Nets are still having issues distributing the ball, and Devin’s got to take some of the blame- he only managed one assist in the entire first half and finished the game with five, to go along with 16 points and four turnovers.