And this was a steamrolling. The Nets got waxed right off the floor by 23 points in the second half. Even though key players in the lineup were missing, you'd still think a Brook Lopez-Joe Johnson-Kevin Garnett core would be enough to compete.
A time like this really emphasizes the importance of point-guard play, and what a luxury it is to have a good one managing your offense. Brooklyn's $98 million point guard Deron Williams has missed 10 of the team's first 19 games with an ankle injury but really hasn't been full strength in any of those he played.
General manager Billy King announced Thursday night that Williams will likely return to the lineup on Tuesday, December 10, to face the Boston Celtics. This is obviously good news for the Nets, who have been rotating between backups Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor.
Though both have played admirably in Williams' absence, they're just not capable of making the same type of impact. He's the engine that makes this team (franchise) go, and the Nets can't afford him to short out every other week.
This is a group that needs to build rhythm and chemistry quickly, and that's not going to happen with Williams constantly in and out of the lineup.
But if he's able to hold up physically and provide a reliable floor-general presence, Williams is good enough to take the Nets on a run—especially in this joke of a conference.
It seems like ages ago Brooklyn finished 49-33. When intact, this nucleus is capable of winning some games, regardless of who's calling the shots from the sideline.
There's no doubt Williams can make this team a bigger night-to-night threat. And he can start by regaining control of what's become a reckless, disoriented offense.
The Brooklyn Nets have been absolutely brutal in the half court. There just doesn't seem to be any team concept.
Possessions are stagnant—scorers aren't getting the ball in their sweet spots.
The Nets rank No. 24 in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season. An effective Williams should be able to help move the needle in this department, given his strength as a scoring and distributing playmaker.
With Williams in the lineup, the Nets will be able to avoid possessions like this one:
To no surprise, the Nets also rank No. 25 in the NBA in assists per game. With Williams out, they're missing a guy who can create scoring opportunities.
Guys like Lopez, Johnson and Garnett are play-finishers, not playmakers. You want Lopez fed on the low block, Johnson fed in space and Garnett fed for open mid-range jumpers. And Williams is a guy who can do the setup work. His career 8.9-assist-per-game average reflects that.
With Williams back, not only will the Nets add another scoring weapon, but also a guy who can increase the effectiveness of the scorers around him.
You don't need a basketball doctor to tell you that Williams in the lineup improves the team. The question is "to what point?" And while he can get them back to playing at a higher level, his potential impact will be capped thanks to some irreparable team flaws and weaknesses.
Defensive, Rebounding Flaws
Where Williams can't help is on the defensive end, where the Nets have been somewhat humiliating.
The Nets rank dead last in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and No. 29 in points allowed at 103.4 per game.
They're slow to close out on the perimeter, and they're slow to rotate down. And simply too many of them are vulnerable to getting beat off the dribble.
I'm pretty sure I saw the Nets give up a blow-by driving dunk to Andrea Bargnani—with Garnett getting burned and Andray Blatche late on the help. That sounds about right.
Defense is a team thing, and this team doesn't play it.
“They got whatever they wanted. No one was there to help each other", Lopez told Fred Kerber of the New York Post after the Knicks put up 113 points on 57 percent shooting against Brooklyn. "We didn’t really help the helper at all, I’m completely a culprit of it. We’re just out of sync on that side of the floor.”
With Pierce and Garnett both heavier on their feet and no real defensive specialists on the roster, there doesn't seem like there's much room here for growth.
Williams also won't be much of a help on the boards, a place where the Nets have been getting beaten up early on. They rank No. 20 in the league in rebounding, which is more on Lopez's shoulders than anyone else's.
Brooklyn isn't going to pose much of a threat if it's going to consistently give up 100-plus points and lose the battle on the glass. Not even an All-Star-form return for Williams can change that.
Given how weak the East has been, even a small run can put the Nets back in playoff contention. At 5-14, they're currently just 2.5 games behind the Celtics, who sit atop the Atlantic division and just three games out of the eighth seed in the conference.
But you can pretty much squash those initial championship hopes that seemed realistic just five weeks ago. With or without Williams, the Nets are simply too flawed.
A run to the playoffs? Sure. Just don't expect Williams to help restore the team's status as a title contender.
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