Before falling to the Houston Rockets Monday night, Nets coach Lionel Hollins pointed a magnifying glass at his roster’s weakest point.
“We don’t make shots,” Hollins deadpanned. “That is an identity. If you don’t make shots, that’s a part of who you are.”
A few hours later, after a 113-99 loss and a 5-for-21 shooting night from three-point range, Hollins dove even further into his team’s shooting woes, coming up dry. “We just don’t make them. I can’t explain why, but when you’ve got a big discrepancy like this, it causes a number of things. One, you can sag in and help on the pick-and-roll a lot better. You can help on post plays a lot better.”
Through seven games in the new calendar year, the Nets have shot a paltry 24.5 percent on three-pointers, the worst of any NBA team since the calendar change. In their six consecutive losses, they’ve only shot 22.7 percent from beyond the arc. On the season, they’re now the fourth-worst team in the NBA from deep.
Had the Nets merely shot the same percentage in 2015 as they did before the new year, they would score an average of six more points per game. Six points in regulation would have swung four losses during this most recent six-game skid.
It’s ugly when a team hoists up contested three-pointers, but it’s downright unwatchable when they can’t even make open ones. The Nets have shot an abhorrent 25.4 percent as a team on open three-pointers[note]”Open” defined as four or more feet of space between the shooter and the nearest defender, and doesn’t include at-the-buzzer heaves. Combed from the NBA’s player SportVU data.[/note] in the 2015 calendar year. That’s fewer than 13 points per game on 17 open shots: you know, the kind of shots created by good offense.
“I think the ball’s moving great,” Joe Johnson added. “We’re getting great looks. We just haven’t been making a lot of shots. We just have to be a little more dominant in the paint, as guards getting in the paint, finishing, making plays for the bigs. That’s where it needs to start.”
The problems have been systemic. Johnson and Deron Williams are the only two Nets shooting above the league average from three-point range, and Williams — the team’s leader, at 38.9 percent — tore rib cartilage last week, and is out indefinitely. Their most common three-point shooters besides those two are either shooting below 31 percent, below their career averages, or both.
In that ugliness comes at least one beacon of hope. NBA players with a three-point shooting pedigree rarely shoot this badly for this long, and whether it’s a collective flu bug or dark magic, this stretch of poor execution shouldn’t last forever.
But with the Nets now holding the eighth and final playoff spot, and four teams within striking distance looking to pounce, the Nets are left just searching for answers to their woes.
“We’re playing the way we need to play,” Hollins said. “If we could go inside every time, I’d go inside every time. But we can’t do that. Our strength is playing in the pick-and-roll, trying to attack the basket, trying to create shots on the perimeter. They were making them. I thought earlier in the season, we made a lot of shots, and we scored a lot of points. As the season’s gone on, we haven’t made very many shots.”
Hollins then paused, before repeating his earlier confusion. “I can’t explain why.”