Brooklyn Nets Are Eastern Conference's Most Dangerous NBA Team

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 28: Deron Williams #8 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles against the Charlotte Bobcats at the Barclays Center on December 28, 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. The Nets defeated the Bobcats 97-81.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's hard to blame former Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson for all of the team's woes.

Yet, it's hard to overlook the vast transformation of his former squad since his departure.

Under Johnson, the team raced out to an 11-4 start by November 30. The coach earned Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honors for his efforts.

Before he had time to celebrate the award, though, his team embarked on a five-game losing streak. When his team won just three of its next eight games, that hot start had been extinguished. And Johnson was shown the door.

Enter interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. An assistant under Johnson, Carlesimo had largely avoided the national spotlight since being physically assaulted by Latrell Sprewell during a Golden State Warriors practice back in 1997.

Yet here he again stood, entrenched in a potentially disastrous situation.

Carlesimo had the coaching position after Johnson's dismissal, but he couldn't have missed the national headlines suggesting Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov's interest in a big-name coach like Phil Jackson or the Van Gundy brothers.

Apparently that earlier incident with Sprewell helped with Carlesimo's ability to thrive in the face of adversity. Since taking over the Nets, the coach has pulled his team from the brink of elimination and entrenched them back into the playoff picture.

Under Carlesimo's direction, the Nets have rattled off eight victories in their last nine games. Granted, the schedule offered a bit of reprieve (six of their nine opponents have losing records), but this hot streak has included victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers.

A noted tactician, Carlesimo has brought with him the kind of structured system that point guard Deron Williams had reportedly pleaded Johnson to install (via The Nets have scored at least 97 points in each of their eight victories, something they did just 11 times in Johnson's 28 games.

Meanwhile, Williams' game appears to be on the road to recovery.

His 40.9 field-goal percentage still bares the scars left by his tumultuous start, but he has averaged 17.7 points on 44.7 percent field-goal shooting to go along with 6.7 assists per game during Brooklyn's surge.

But it's not just Williams who's found a spark under the interim coach. Center Brook Lopez has averaged 20.3 points per game during this nine-game stretch. Shooting guard Joe Johnson has tallied 18.1 points per game over that same period, including this brilliant 33-point effort at Oklahoma City.

Brooklyn's not the first team to struggle after undergoing a major offseason transformation.

Their roster overhaul may not have included the high-profile additions of a typical manufactured superteam, but adding Gerald Wallace at the 2012 trade deadline and Johnson this past summer represented a dramatic shift in their style of play.

It also represented a dramatic upgrade in talent.

The backcourt of Williams (28 years old) and Johnson (31) might not be the league's youngest nor its most efficient (18.3 and 14.6 player efficiency ratings, respectively, via But it is one of the few featuring two proven backcourt scorers (career 17.6 and 17.7 points per game, respectively), giving the club a formidable offensive trio when Lopez is factored in.

Brooklyn has climbed back to a position in the standings where landing home-court advantage in a playoff series is a very real possibility, as the Nets now hold the conference's fourth-best record.

As Eastern Conference powerhouses the Miami Heat (5-5 in their past 10) and New York Knicks (4-6) have started to display some vulnerability, any number of analysts have attempted to identify which team is next in line for the conference crown.

The Nets have the experienced, proven talent to challenge those clubs, and they've finally flashed the ability to do just that.