Thoughts on the Game: The Nets Can’t Defend, so I Won’t Defend Them

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At 5 wins and 50 losses, it’s easy to say the New Jersey Nets don’t match up well with most teams in the NBA. But there’s something about the way the Toronto Raptors play basketball that really exposes the most damning flaws for the Nets, as was seen in last night’s 106-89 loss at the Izod Center.

Even without Chris Bosh, who missed last night’s game with an injury, the Raptors were totally content to make the Nets stop them from the perimeter, mixing in some back door cuts to get some points at the rim. The Nets are notorious for poor perimeter defense because they just don’t seem capable of ever rotating to the ball effectively. Meanwhile, because of the collective low basketball IQ of the Nets’ frontcourt, they are often befuddled by teams that run a lot of backdoor screens. Guys like Yi Jianlian, Kris Humphries, and yes, even Brook Lopez lose track of either the players their guarding, or where the ball is going, leading to all too easy buckets at the rim.

Two plays that stand out for me that truly bring home the Nets interior and perimeter defensive deficiencies both came in the third quarter – interestingly enough the only period where the Nets outscored the Raptors, making this game look somewhat closer at points than it actually was.

At the 3:05 mark DeMar DeRozan made a back door cut and was able to blow by Devin Harris on the right to get a wide open path to the basket along the strong side baseline. Josh Boone, Yi Jianlian, Terrence Williams and Keyon Dooling, the other four Nets players on the court at the time, all had their backs to DeRozan and seemed completely unaware that the play was either developing. It was such a shocking development for me that I rewatched the play a few more times and saw the same thing – outside of Devin Harris, who was able to foul DeRozan to prevent the dunk, I don’t think a single Net knew where the ball was – and if they did know where it was, they seemed completely disinterested in trying to be a help defender and either attempt to block the shot, draw a charge, or take DeRozan down to prevent the easy bucket. Four NBA players should not look so clueless on a play.

As for perimeter defense, at the end of the third quarter the Nets got punished for going with a small lineup of Boone-TWill-Dooling-Hayes and Devin Harris while the Raptors still had Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson – two big men, on the floor. On two occasions earlier in the quarter, Bargnani found his way into the post matched up with Terrence Williams and was able to score at ease. In the final seconds of the third, Bargnani found his way into the post against Williams again, and this time Hayes, who was guarding Calderon at the top of the key, left his man to double. Calderon naturally got the ball and Jarvis was in too deep to get back to him, leaving Josh Boone to desperately jump at him. Calderon calmly pump faked to get Boone out of the picture, and drilled the three.

Here’s some overall evidence of poor perimeter defense from the Nets. For the entire game, the Raptors shot 13-21 on their long twos (16-23 feet) good for 62 percent. Rasho Nesterovic was 6-6 on long twos just by himself. I guess there’s an element of luck to hit such a high percentage of lower percentage shots, but again, you don’t have to be a professional scout to know the Raptors like to shoot and shoot often. How the Nets were so ill prepared for this facet of Toronto’s game is shocking.

More thoughts after the jump.

Very early in the game, Terrence Williams attempted a long jumper and missed, and I was thinking to myself that his jump shot may actually be getting worse as the season progresses. But then he came back and shut me up with two three balls last night. Remember, for a long time, we always heard about how Jason Kidd couldn’t shoot either, but because he was able to drill the trey occasionally (and now in Dallas is a major part of his offensive game), it kept team’s honest. Williams needs to be able to sneak into the corner and hit the occasional three like he did last night, because if he can only score by driving to the hoop, opposing defenses are just going to play him to drive every time.

So Yi Jianlian is supposedly hurt, and needs rest, and is playing like garbage right now, finishing yesterday’s game 2-13 from the field for 5 points in 32 minutes, yet Kris Humphries and Josh Boone only got 8 minutes of playing time from Kiki Vandeweghe. Makes sense. For starters, if Yi is truly playing hurt, he needs to sit because if he can’t help the team offensively, he can’t help the team at all – period. If he’s healthy enough to play, but not healthy enough to shoot consistently, he needs to cut down on his shots dramatically. Is it coincidental that the one game the Nets won recently, Yi only attempted 4 field goals? Personally, if Humphries wasn’t so inconsistent as a backup, I would say it’s time to end the Yi experiment once and for all. I’ve tried to be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt, but I just don’t know if he can be a starter on even a mediocre team in this league.

Speaking of wacky playing time, Chris Douglas-Roberts got into the game in the first quarter, immediately got to the foul line (though missed both), and then made one of his patented herky-jerky short range jumpers in the lane. He only ended up playing six minutes for the game. I just don’t get it. Was Jarvis Hayes really bringing anything positive last night when he missed 7 of 8 three point attempts? Let me repeat that, Jarvis Hayes was 1-8 from three. If you’re going to attempt 8 three-pointers, you can’t only hit one. He should have stopped shooting after starting 0-4, or Kiki should have benched him.

Keyon Dooling needs to stop leaving his feet every time he tries to pass the ball.

Lost in the negativity, I thought Devin Harris looked very strong again last night, going 6-11 for 19 points, along with 11 assists and 4 steals.

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