The Brooklyn Nets may be a team with questionable defense at best and without a winning season in eight years, but head coach Avery Johnson believes they can be compared to the Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" of two decades ago.
According to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, Johnson said about his new-look Nets:
If you look at the 1989 Pistons, they were a team. We feel we have that type of player in Joe Dumars and the Dennis Rodman’s, guys like Reggie Evans that can do the dirty work … but, again, you look at teams, we’re trying to be the best team. We don’t have to be the best individuals.
Johnson's assessment of this year's Nets squad is ridiculous on a few levels. To start, the 1989 Detroit Pistons team finished 59-23 and won their second consecutive NBA Championship by allowing a league-best 98.3 points per game.
In 2012, Brooklyn's defense is possibly its Achilles' heel. No one is quite sure how the Nets will shake out on that end of the floor, but no one in his right mind is expecting them to compare to the Bad Boys.
Comparing the Nets to an NBA champion is also outlandish. The Nets' inaugural season in Brooklyn has fans excited, without question; a playoff appearance is within reach for the first time in five years. That's this team's ceiling, however.
A playoff seeding towards the bottom of postseason qualifiers is what Johnson's Nets are looking at, and there's no shame in it. But to compare them to a champion makes little to no sense.
Next, the Bad Boys of 1989 were a team that had built both chemistry and a winning culture for years. The core of Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer had been intact for three seasons prior, and Dennis Rodman joined the fold in 1986.
The Pistons teams of the late 1980s accumulated win totals of 52, 54 and 63, respectively, in the three seasons leading up to their banner 1989 season.
The Brooklyn Nets' recent history is the polar opposite.
Three seasons ago, New Jersey was the worst team in the league. They won only 12 times in a campaign that now rests as the third-worst 82-game season in NBA history.
The team's last two seasons in New Jersey were better, but not by much. 2010, Avery Johnson's first season at the helm, resulted in a 24-58 record. In last year's shortened season, the Nets won 22, or one-third, of their games.
While the '89 Detroit team was on the heels of an NBA championship the season before, the Nets haven't been champions of any league since their 1975-76 ABA title.
Avery Johnson references Reggie Evans as a Dennis Rodman-type player, even though there's not one stat linking the two together.
Rodman averaged over 14 rebounds per game in eight seasons, while Evans has just one season of double-digit rebounding.
Rodman's career field-goal percentage of 52 percent is six points higher than Evans' 46 percent clip. Looking into advanced metrics, Rodman's player-efficiency rating betters Evans' by three points. Rodman hauled in boards and blocked shots at a higher percentage than Evans does, and contributed approximately 70 more wins (win shares) to his teams than Evans has.
The key intangible that propelled the Bad Boys defense into the elite category was the sheer intimidation factor. Opposing players and teams were fully aware that if they stepped foot in the paint, they'd be feeling the consequences soon after.
Aside from Evans, Brooklyn doesn't have a single player with a reputation of forcing stops on the defensive end.
Their man in the middle is certainly no Bill Laimbeer. Brook Lopez has potential to be one of the better offensive centers in the league, but without the ball in his hands, he shouldn't be feared at all.
In his last full season of play, 2010-11, Lopez averaged 20 points, but six rebounds. Standing at 7'0", single-digit rebounds are hardly acceptable, let alone a half-dozen.
More important than any number, opponents don't fear Lopez. In his three full NBA seasons, he's failed to establish himself on the defensive end as an enforcer.
If Brooklyn is conceding that Lopez won't ever be that sort of center, that's fine too; he has plenty to offer on the offensive side. But in order to win a playoff series, it's imperative to have a defensive anchor down low, whether it's Lopez or somebody else.
Although a sound shot-blocker and post-defender for his size, Kris Humphries hasn't shown enough to be considered that type of stopper just yet.
The Nets' most recent blockbuster trade brought them a great scorer in Joe Johnson, but the 12th-year guard hasn't built a reputation as a strong defender.
One thing the Nets do have going for them though, is Deron Williams. Williams is the best player the franchise has seen since a prime-year Jason Kidd, who led the team to two finals appearances.
Williams' defensive game isn't flashy, but sound. He has the ability to lead the Nets by example with pesky on-the-ball defense.
Brooklyn will be a sound team in 2012. Its defense won't be exceptionally poor, but contrary to what Avery Johnson preached two weeks ago, it will never be mentioned in the same breath as the Bad Boys of the late '80s through early '90s.
The Nets are undoubtedly on their way to success. After a few winning seasons, a new culture will be instilled and comparisons to historic teams will no longer be needed. Johnson's team hopes to create its own brand of Brooklyn basketball, a game that other teams can soon model their teams after.
But for now, they're still the Nets—New Jersey or Brooklyn—who have a lot of work to do to repair a losing reputation. Don't call them the Bad Boys, but don't count them out of this year's postseason, either.