By Evan Kaplan
Fast-forward about seven weeks and envision this scenario. There are 5 seconds remaining in the Nets opening night game against the Pistons. The score is tied and the team needs a bucket to win their debut at the Prudential Center. Who is going to take that all-important shot with the game on the line?
One of the team’s main problems in 2009-10 is that there was no clear answer to this question. Many times the Nets would keep the game close until the last few minutes but would be unable to hit that big shot needed to secure victories. There was no Vince Carter, no Jason Kidd on the team that could be relied on in crunch time. This season the team needs to find a player that can be called upon to make big plays when they are most needed, especially if they want to try and contend for a playoff spot.
The most logical player for the Nets to go to at the end of games is Devin Harris. He has made big shots in his NBA career (of course everyone remembers the half-court miracle against the Sixers but he also buried a 22-foot jumper from the top of the key to beat the Pacers in 2008) and always has the ball in his hands as the team’s point guard. Yet he needs to improve on his 40.3 field goal percentage from last season if he is to be relied upon in late game situations. Another reason why he may not be the best “go-to-guy” is that he is the team’s point guard and needs to be more focused on getting others involved. One of the great things about having the ball in the hands of J. Kidd for all those years was that he would almost always make the right play. He knew as the floor general when to take the shot and when to dish it off to an open teammate. Harris is still learning that as he enters his 7th season.
What about the team’s center, Brook Lopez? He has a career field goal percentage over 50% and he is a very good foul shooter for a big man (career 81%). But when you make a low-post player your go-to-guy, he needs to be able to adapt to the double team in late-game situations. Before Lopez can be counted upon in crunch time, he needs to prove that he can be a reliable passer, as he will inevitably see plenty of double teams in the final seconds.
When you look around the League, most teams have a go-to-guy that is a wing player. The point guards that are clutch players (Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tony Parker) all have much better shooting percentages than Devin Harris. When you couple those two things together, newcomer Travis Outlaw should be given a chance to be the team’s go-to-guy in 2010-11. I’m not saying he will succeed or that in the end a guy like Harris, Lopez or even Troy Murphy couldn’t end up being the team’s best option in late-game situations. But Outlaw should get a shot at the end of games. Despite starting just 32 games in his 7-year NBA career, he did hit two game-winners during the 2007-08 season (against the Grizzlies and Hawks) and also converted a 4-point play in the final minute of a game against the Suns in that same season. He shot over 45% from the field in 2008-09 and if he can revert back to that form for the Nets, he may be the go-to-guy they are looking for. For $7 million a year, they certainly hope so.