Thoughts on the Game: What an Elite Point Guard Looks Like (Shh.. It’s Not Devin Harris)

Salt City Hoops, View From the Couch, Devin Harris Interview, Kiki Vandeweghe Interview

Williams_vsJazzLet’s pretend we’re playing lucky lotto here for a second and post some Nets numbers from last night’s 108-92 loss to the Utah Jazz.

35-81, 2-13, 20-29

For those of you not looking at a box score right now (and that would be cheating, right?), those numbers are the Nets’ field goals (43.2 percent), three pointers (15.4 percent) and free throws (69 percent). Why am I posting these numbers? Because they’re not good, and there’s no other way I can explain how the Nets continually get blown away, night after night, by quality teams like the Jazz. At 42 percent, last night was actually a halfway decent showing for the Nets – largely helped by a 67 percent first quarter. The three-point shooting continues to be abysmal, even as they get open looks out there (here’s looking at you Courtney Lee and Eduardo Najera). And 69 percent on free throws is just not good enough, especially if players like Devin Harris are going to get the bulk of their points from the FT line, rather than from the rest of the field.

Let’s talk about Devin Harris for a second. Going in, you had to know this was going to be a tough assignment for him, having to face off against Deron Williams, who despite not getting love from all-star voters, is one of the best point guards on the planet and is the reigning Western Conference player of the week. I thought I saw Devin turning the corner a bit Tuesday night against the Cavs, as he started slow from the field, but was making jumpers as the game went along.

Last night was a different story. Harris was never able to get it going from the field. He shot 1-9 and accumulated 5 fouls. He didn’t make that one field goal until the 3:26 mark of the third quarter, when he got the bucket and the foul on a layup attempt (missed the free throw – durf). The Nets actually started to make a bit of a run in the fourth quarter when Harris and Brook Lopez were both sitting on the bench. The team trimmed a 17 point deficit to 9, but by the time Harris was back in, the Jazz put in their own starters and regained control. Devo did have 6 assists, with many of them coming off the pick and roll game with Brook Lopez (23 points 10 rebounds), who at times, was filling the lane great and converting on a few short alley-oop passes from Harris.

Meanwhile, Deron Williams was spectacular. After headed to the bench in the first quarter with an apparent leg injury, Williams returned and showed Harris what an elite point guard who makes all of his teammates better looks like. He had 20 points on an efficient 7-12 shooting, including 2-2 from three, and added 14 assists, working Utah’s token pick and roll game with Carlos Boozer (26 points 10 rebounds) expertly.

Williams is one of those point guards that just steps on the floor and finds multiple ways to pick you apart. As the Nets were still hanging around in the fourth quarter with less than 4 minutes to play, Williams fired a bullet pass over the zoned defense and found Mehmet Okur on the inside for the lay-up. On Utah’s very next possession, Williams nailed a bank shot three pointer from the top of the key. Just like that, the Jazz were up 17, and the game was over. Thank you for playing.

Do I sound a bit envious that Utah fans get to watch a guy like Deron Williams every game, while I’m staring at the TV trying to figure out which Devin Harris shows up on a given night? Can you think of any reason why I shouldn’t be envious? I can’t.

To try steer things towards a positive note, Terrence Williams is looking better and better since his benching in Chicago last week. He had 17 points in 20 minutes, and is clearly making a concerted effort to take the ball to the rim on nearly every play. He only took two jumpers outside of 15-feet, and was a key cog in the Nets mini-run in the fourth quarter. At the 8:08 mark in the fourth, Williams got the pass from Rafer Alston and drove to the hoop hard, getting fouled by Andrei Kirilenko, but making the bucket, and then sinking the free throw to cut the Jazz lead to 10. Kiki Vandeweghe inexplicably took TWill out a minute later for Trenton Hassell. I know Hassell is a nice guy and all, but if the rookie is on a roll, why sit him for dead weight? I’m sure Williams was capable of playing a few more minutes with the first unit, but Kiki had other things in mind.

And that’s the ultimate problem with the Nets right now. While two weeks ago, the basketball world was fascinated as this team took losing to historic heights, the Nets now just resemble a boring, inept team that’s going to play bad basketball on most nights with bad players. Injuries or not, Kiki’s coaching is looking awfully similar to Lawrence Frank’s. What’s this team’s identity? What good is playing a defensive-minded guy like Trenton Hassell big minutes, when the team is giving up 105+ points a game right now. What does the Nets organization gain watching Eduardo Najera brick threes and free throws, and botch fast breaks, when you could put Sean Williams in a for a few minutes and see if maybe he provides a spark that night. It may be early, but I’ve found Kiki’s coaching to be unimaginative and stubborn, just like his predecessor he allegedly axed for those exact reasons.

A few, very minor final thoughts after the jump.

  • Courtney Lee just needs to keep putting the ball on the floor and driving towards the hoop every possession. No questions asked. He actually finished with a decent stat line -15 points on 6-12 shooting – but he was only 1-7 on his long twos. He just has no jump shot right now. And I’m watching him, and trying to figure out why he can’t make these jumpers – often wide open – and I just don’t have an answer. So avoid the problem altogether and hope to get some confidence  scoring at the hoop and getting to the free throw line. Then Lee can maybe rediscover his stroke.
  • While Brook looked to be on pace early for another monster night with 10 points in the first quarter, the Nets found ways to get the ball to him down the stretch in a few spots. However, don’t be fooled by the 10 rebounds. He grabbed 5 on the offensive glass, and I would guess at least 4 of those came on his own misses.
  • Rafer Alston was in super dribble mode last night, committing 4 turnovers with his 5 assists. He also looked like he let his nice shooting night from Tuesday got o his head, as he came out firing, but finished 3-10 from the field.
  • Hey, so, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia was at the game tonight. Yeah, I’m a Mets fan, so I really don’t care. When are we getting Jason Bay?