AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
After recapping last week’s Nets/New Orleans Hornets game, one of our faithful readers suggested I was being a bit of a “Grinch” with my negativity about the team. I thought the comment was justified – the Nets had just come off back-to-back wins, including a road victory against a pretty good Memphis Grizzlies team, and they happened to come up lame on the second end of a back-to-back against another good team in NOLA. Performances like that happen to even the best NBA teams. I vowed to go easier on the team moving forward.
But then the past week happened, capped with last night’s 114-93 blowout defeat the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It all started with that stinker in New Orleans and has gotten progressively worse for the Nets, losing to the Hornets by 14, the Orlando Magic on Monday by 16, and then last night by 21. They’ve scored 90.6 points per game in that three-game stretch and allowed 107.6 points on 52.5 percent shooting to their opponents. While there have been a number of small variables that have changed from game-to-game, the two consistent issues can be boiled down to NBA Hoops 101: the Nets can’t score and they can’t defend … anyone.
As for the small variables, the unique wrinkle for last night’s game was just how terrible the Nets were at distributing the ball. With a team assist ratio of 13.2 percent, the Nets are already near the bottom of the league in the percentage of team possessions that end in a dime (tied for 27th with Minnesota). Devin Harris is actually having a career year distributing the ball which means the team’s overall assist ratio speaks volumes to just how awful the rest of the roster is at passing the ball around. So with these stats in mind, just how awful were the Nets last night? They had only 14 assists for the entire game on 34 field goals made. Their team leader in that category was rookie Ben Uzoh with 5, who happened to get them all in a garbage time stint by Avery Johnson in the 4th quarter. If Uzoh, who was clearly trying to prove himself in his limited minutes as a backup PG capable of running an offense rather than trying to score on everyone, never made it into the game, the Nets could have possibly finished with single digits assists. That alone is deplorable. But the worst isn’t over. The Nets turned the ball over 23 times last night, finishing with a team assist-to-turnover ration of .61. A performance like that would have made the late Yinka Dare proud.
Meanwhile, the Thunder resembled the ultra-talented, sky-is-the-limit team many expected them to be before the season started. From a ball distribution standpoint, they racked up 31 assists on 45 field goals made, including three guys, Jeff Green (5), Russell Westbrook (7) and Eric Maynor (7), who had just as many or more than Uzoh. They shot 55 percent for the game, and racked up 58 points in the paint. As has been the problem even in some of the Nets wins the past months, OKC came out in a flurry early, going up 10-4 as Devin Harris (19 points, 3 assists) and Kris Humphries (4 points, 7 rebounds) missed some easy layups. While the Nets actually led this game at one point, 22-17 in the first quarter, they peaked early.
Midway through the third quarter after the Nets went on a small 9-2 run cutting OKC’s lead to 11, YES color-man Jim Spanarkel said the Nets were fighting back and keeping the Thunder from blowing their doors off. Naturally, it was the last gasp by the Nets, who spent the majority of the second half playing a bored and boring brand of basketball. The issues that plague this team offensively just don’t change, and while I understand it ultimately falls on the players, I’m starting to wonder if Avery Johnson just expects to sit tight until Carmelo Anthony is dropped in his lap before he even attempts to change his team’s approach. There needs to be more than just Harris and Brook Lopez constantly trying to create for themselves, regardless of how this strategy disengages the rest of the team. Sasha Vujacic (11 points, 3-7 shooting) has his moments offensively and is known as a tenacious defender, so maybe he should be starting at SG rather than Stephen Graham, who only scored 4 points on 1-3 shooting and did very little to distinguish himself as a defensive “stopper” considering Kevin Durant went for 27 points on 11-19 shooting.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
This was one of those final stat-lines for Brook Lopez that just drives you crazy because there’s just so many positives and negatives all in one: 19 points on 9-16 shooting (okay), 6 rebounds (eh), 4 blocks (wow), 2 steals (okay, that’s pretty good for a center), 5 turnovers (bad) and 0-3 on shots outside of 15-feet (for the love of God stop shooting long twos Brook!).
After getting called out by the coach earlier in the week, I thought Derrick Favors showed a little more life on the offensive end, connecting on a pretty reverse alley-oop from Uzoh in the fourth quarter and converting on a pretty spin-through shot at the rim early in the second quarter. But he also only accumulated 2 rebounds. Right now, Favors’ bread-and-butter has to be vulturing near the rim and getting points on dunks and cutbacks. That’s it. The end.
I’m starting to think a necessity for the New Year is a Travis Outlaw blooper reel, because it seems like every game there’s at least one play (sometimes more), where he does something so incomprehensible. The play that stands out to me last night came towards the end of the second quarter when Lopez blocked Westbrook leading to a fast break for the Nets. Outlaw recovered the ball and his outlet pass to Harris went about 10 feet too hight and 20 feet too long. Apparently the Nets now have Brett Favre on their team.