The Brooklyn Nets must improve defensively in 2012-13 or they will not live up to the hype. Worse than that, they may not even make the postseason.
That’s not to say the Nets didn’t make improvements in the offseason. It’s just that there are only so many playoff slots to go around. And with only one of last year’s eight playoff berths guaranteed to open up – the one vacated by the Orlando Magic – the Nets will be looking to jump three teams and gain 13 games in the standings thanks essentially to the addition of Joe Johnson and return of Brook Lopez.
Is that enough?
Nets fans may need to temper their enthusiasm and approach the season with a cautious optimism.
As offensively potent as this team will be with Deron Williams and Johnson totaling 40 a night, a healthy Lopez adding another 20, a peaking Kris Humphries now a fourth or fifth option, a settled Gerald Wallace pouring in double-digits and capable guards MarShon Brooks and C.J. Watson coming off the bench, the Nets’ leaguewide-known defensive deficiencies will do them in unless they consider the five following steps to ensure an 83rd game.
Brook Lopez is a major defensive liability at center, both inside and out. He is too slow to catch up with guards blowing by him to the hoop or to reach a kick-out 12 or 15-footer. The nimblest backcourts and toughest frontcourts will make mincemeat of him. And for now, he’s the only true center on the roster.
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out that “where [the Nets] stand in the Eastern Conference will depend a lot on how much Lopez improves on that end of the floor.”
The Nets can pick up some of the big man’s slack. No longer Deron Williams’ No. 1 option, Lopez will be able to conserve some of his game, and position himself, for defending and rebounding. Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, competent defenders, will be able to compensate for Lopez’ inability to jump to the perimeter, allowing the center to concentrate more on defending the paint.
Lopez must also take it upon himself to work on the defensive part of his game, particularly the pick-and-roll, and if at all possible, work with trainers on improving his speed. This is going to take some time. In Manila for a basketball festival, Lopez was quoted in the Phillipine Star, as saying “I’m probably around 90-percent okay but I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in full shape entering the NBA season.” His first priority is getting to 100 percent, then getting back in sync on offense, followed by upping his defensive game.
Brooklyn made improvements in its perimeter defending this offseason that now just needs to be followed up on the court. And the Nets will be tested on day one when Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak come to town.
Joe Johnson is a big upgrade in defense at the No. 2 over Anthony Morrow and MarShon Brooks. According to 82games.com, Johnson had a large 7.1 differential between his and opponents’ scoring, limiting them to just 11 points. Morrow and Brooks gave up 13 and 15.6 for -.2 and -2.9 differentials, respectively.
Gerald Wallace, who only played 16 games for the Nets last season, will have a full season to flex his, as hoopsworld.com puts it, “extensive defensive repertoire.” Wallace is the best defensive playmaker on the team, earning the nickname “Crash” for his in-your-grill play that can “shut down even the greatest of opponents.”
Last season the Nets were 24th in points allowed, yielding 99 per game. If they can shave just five points off the outside, keeping inside scoring constant, they could have a top 10 defense.
Going from no perimeter defense at all to what Brooklyn has put together makes such a jump possible.
Worse than their opponent scoring ranking, the New Jersey Nets collected the 26th most rebounds in the NBA in 2011-12.
Kris Humphries should continue to pull down 10+ a game, but with two of their top three rebounders (Shelden Williams, Johan Petro) gone, the onus will fall on Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez to pick up more than just a few boards.
They are the primary members of the team that can make an improvement here, but Reggie Evans might be able to pitch in. Evans is just a year removed from a one-off 11.5 RPG in Toronto, and in his healthy prime was good for anywhere from seven to nine regularly.
If these three can’t help out Humphries on the boards, the Nets will continue to languish in mockery with one of the most porous defenses, and their offense will suffer enough lost opportunities to hang postseason-threatening defeats in the loss column.
It’s not just the players that need to improve on defense, it’s the coach, too.
With what looks to be the Nets final move of the summer, bringing in Donte Greene, the defensively inefficient Nets’ roster is set. There will be no poor man’s D-12 coming in to cover the key.
It’s now up to the coaching staff to squeeze the defense out of this team.
Perhaps with the offense needing less tending, defensive planning and practice could consume a larger percentage of the Nets’ off-court time.
Johnson, who once took a smothering Dallas Mavericks team to consecutive win totals of 60, 67 and 51, and assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo, known for his defensive acumen, have the experience and ability to improve this team’s D.
Surely the suspense and flux this team has been in over the past two years have interfered with the development and continuity of this part of the Nets’ game.
The stability of the offseason’s signings and long-term security of the team’s roster finally lend itself to a squad that can create a defensive identity.
The words “Nets” and “blow them away” have not often been uttered in the franchise’s history. Maybe never in fact.
Now’s their chance.
If all else fails, the Nets have one trump card: they’re capable of scoring more than 100 points a game on average. That would make them a top 5 offense, along with the Nuggets, Spurs, Thunder and whichever teams rise in 2012-13 (Lakers? Heat?).
Minor adjustments to defense, even shrewd clock management, would be amplified under such circumstances.
Mike D’Antoni employed such a scheme to the tune of 42 wins for the Knicks in 2010-11.
It’s hard to imagine the Nets winning the additional 20 or so games (they won 22 in the shortened season, but only 24 the year before) to reach such a plateau.
Then again, D’Antoni and the Knicks did something similar, going from 29 wins to those 42 and making the postseason too, and all before Carmelo Anthony joined the team.
It's all within the Nets' grasp.
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