Three glaring weaknesses in the Brooklyn Nets’ game have been shored up this offseason by the acquisitions of future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, even in the twilight of their careers. But which of the two will have the greater impact?
It’s Kevin Garnett. He fixes all three holes, especially the last one—a failure that has nothing to do with statlines.
Offense and Ball Movement
Joe Johnson has been a relative disappointment at shooting guard, and Deron Williams’ knees and ankles make the point guard, at the least, an inconsistent bet for an explosive year. Both players had down seasons in 2012-13.
Garnett and Pierce will both improve the Nets’ offense, but Garnett more so. Pierce is an upgrade over a healthy Gerald Wallace at small forward—and the total points gain, but Garnett is a bigger jump at the four over the poor patch-up duo of Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries.
Perhaps the Nets’ worst area of play last season was ball movement—remarkable with Williams’ reputation as one of the most dynamic point guards in the league. Brooklyn is still waiting to see him distinguish himself among the best.
Incredibly, Brooklyn was 27th in assists last year. Surely some of that had to do with Williams having no one consistent enough on offense to pass the rock to—but also literally no one else on the team passed the ball (after Johnson, nobody on the whole Nets’ roster could muster three APG).
Pierce is the obvious elixir for this ailment and will up the Nets’ game on both sides of the pass—he leaps into the second passer slot and affords Williams a scoring option that hasn’t recorded less than 18 PPG since his rookie season (15 years ago).
Meanwhile, opposing defenses are going to have their hands full guarding both Lopez and Garnett at the same time, a fact that opens the floor enough for a Joe Johnson revival. All three, including Garnett himself, might benefit on the offensive end this season due to KG’s presence alone.
Defense and Rebounding
The Nets may have had the sixth-best overall defense in the NBA last year, yielding just 95 points a game to opponents, but there’s more to the story.
Matt Moore over at CBS Sports has a newsflash about Brooklyn’s D:
The Nets' biggest area of weakness last season was defense. They were 17th in defensive efficiency and could not contain teams with consistent attacks. The basic result is that Garnett and Pierce collectively improve the team defense more than Wallace and Humphries or Evans.
This is Garnett territory. Pierce plays smart defense and is a factor on that end, but Garnett has always been a defending power forward, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award just a few years ago. He even contended for it again in 2012-13 (according to our argument).
Garnett also boosts the Nets’ hesitant play on the glass, a major sore spot following Humphries’ relegation to the bench.
Evans picked up the slack, but Lopez fell off from his best rebounding days and the backcourt didn’t rebound at all (three RPG each for Williams and Johnson), leaving Wallace as the second best rebounder on the team at a pitiful under five a game.
The result: 10th in rebounding, an underachievement. With Garnett and Lopez crashing the boards at the same time, Brooklyn will catapult in those rankings and open up the floor for second-chance points on offense.
Physical Play and Attitude
The biggest change for the Brooklyn Nets this year, though, will be in their persona and playing style.
Much like Metta World Peace changes the dynamic of the New York Knicks from an offensive team with a defensive anchor (Tyson Chandler) to a defensive one with an offensive anchor (Carmelo Anthony), Garnett and Pierce will convert the Nets from a soft, quiet team to one all up in your face.
So much so that the Nets will be virtually unrecognizable. Hopefully, some of KG’s attitude will rub off on Lopez, who, for lack of a better term, just needs to be “badder” out there.
There was a meekness about the Nets last year, a team that was middle of the road and almost content to stay that way, soft on the glass and stuck in their shoes.
Garnett changes all of that in a flash.
As Howard Beck of the New York Times declared following the trade:
With Pierce and Garnett, Nets get upgrade in scoring and snarling. Kevin Garnett will fiddle with his waistband. He will mutter things only he can hear or comprehend. Then he will skip around the court, right fist clenched, thumping his chest, howling into the night, rousing the masses.
This ain’t last year’s Brooklyn Nets. Buckle up.