How Avery Johnson Is Keeping the Brooklyn Nets from Reaching Full Potential

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11:  Brooklyn Nets Head Coach Avery Johnson and Deron Williams #8 argues with the referee Bill Kennedy  during their game against the New York Knicks at the Barclays Center on December 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets have done a good job to start the season, positioning themselves to make the playoffs. But not all of what Avery Johnson has done for this team can be considered a positive.

What they haven't done is play consistently in a fashion that would lead us to believe that they would have any kind of success in the playoffs.

Undeniably, the most impressive thing the Nets have been able to do is play pretty good defense over the course of this early season, despite the fact that they have a lot of weaknesses on paper.

The Nets are giving up just under 94 points per game, which puts them in the top five in the league. It must be noted, however, that they also play the slowest-paced game of any other team in the NBA, so their defense should be considered about average.

That's not what I want to take a look at, however.

Their defense hasn't been the problem so far this season; it's how the offense is being run and to what degree Deron Williams has been effective.

Williams is just not the same player he was under Jerry Sloan.

In 90 games for the Nets, Williams is shooting just 39.5 percent from the floor. That's after shooting over 46 percent from the floor with the Utah Jazz. There's also been a drop-off from the three-point line; he's gone from shooting 35 percent with Utah to 32 percent with Brooklyn.

What's most puzzling about it all is that Williams should have be entering his prime, but he's suddenly fallen off a cliff in terms of efficiency.

So what's to blame? Is Williams suddenly a worse basketball player? Is Brooklyn as a team so much worse than the team that Williams played with at Utah?

Well, Brooklyn might not have all the weapons that Utah had, but they certainly have the offensive weapons to give Williams some space, and he shouldn't have fallen off suddenly when he turned 27.

It just doesn't make sense.

No, the biggest difference between the game that Williams played with Utah and the game he plays with Brooklyn is the basis for the offense.

Avery Johnson runs an isolation-heavy offense, whereas Jerry Sloan ran an offense based around the pick-and-roll.

That's really the root of the problem, and Williams had a few thoughts about the offense when asked about it in a recent interview:

It’s just more 1-on-1 isos. I grew up ... in high school, my coach wasn’t one of those guys that just let us just throw out the balls and play. We were a system team. We had a staple of plays that we relied on for good execution.

That's the way Johnson has run offenses for the majority of his coaching career.

He ran a lot of isolation through Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry in his days with the Dallas Mavericks, and his teams have never really racked up assists.

When you've got a point guard like Deron Williams, that's totally and completely a mistake.

Williams was at his best when he was running the pick-and-roll with Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, or the pick-and-pop with Mehmet Okur. The Jazz were able to lead the league in assists for two years because of it.

The Nets have the perfect pieces to run a similar offense, but Johnson has hesitated.

With Williams running the point, he's got a magnificent pick-and-roll partner with Brook Lopez and a guy who is good enough at scoring in the paint off the roll in Kris Humphries.

Going further, they've got the shooters in Joe Johnson, Jerry Stackhouse and C.J. Watson and a solid cutter with Gerald Wallace.

If this team had Steve Nash as a point guard in the Phoenix Suns system, they would be scoring 105 points every night.

There is good news coming out of Brooklyn, however. Avery Johnson has started to get into Utah's old playbook and has pulled out some plays for Willaims to run:

I think we’re putting more and more stuff in that he’s familiar with, and  getting back to some of those things, a lot of the things he did in his Utah system.

In the end, it's all about comfort in execution.

Williams has run the pick-and-roll for his entire professional career, and he even did it back in college and high school. Suddenly getting him to execute in an isolation offense is a lot harder to do than it might seem.

Johnson and Williams are still getting used to each other, despite the fact that they've been apart of the same team for an extended period of time. Once they're able to get on the same page, and the question about the offense is cleared up, this Nets offense should run a lot more smoothly.


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