As of Dec. 14, the Nets held the third spot in the abysmal Atlantic Division with a record of 8-15. The team's 95.2 points per game rank them 23rd in the NBA, while their defense (101.6 points allowed) is rated 22nd.
But why have they struggled so mightily? The Nets’ offensive problems—and there are a lot of them—can be broken down into three areas: ball movement, player movement and an overdependence on Brook Lopez.
Jason Kidd’s abrupt transition from player to coach has resulted in a stagnant offense void of any fluency, and players haven’t been quiet about their displeasure with the scheme.
But thankfully for Kidd, Brooklyn’s offensive woes are fixable.
Improving ball movement
Down six to the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 20, with about a minute left in the game. Shaun Livingston brings the ball up, and Paul Pierce pops out to the three-point line after whiffing on a screen attempt. Livingston kicks it to Pierce, who takes on dribble and throws up a wild floater.
Kemba Walker knew that the shot was going up once Pierce put his head down, so the third-year guard pursued the miss while leaving Livingston wide open at the three-point line.
Brooklyn managed to cut the lead down to four with about 24 seconds remaining, but Livingston got trapped after trying take on three Bobcats in the heart of the paint.
The Nets don’t move the ball well. But in order to turn their season around, Kidd is going to have to make that adjustment and draw up plays that get guys open and emphasize to his team the importance of moving the ball to create open shots.
Deron Williams’ return will ignite more ball movement, but Pierce and the rest of the Nets must commit to spreading the rock with or without D-Will.
Eliminating stationary players
Good offenses involve not only ball movement but active player movement, too.
The Nets do a whole lot of standing around, often congregating in close proximity to one another, and that clogs up driving and passing lanes.
Let’s take Brooklyn’s Nov. 24 contest against the Detroit Pistons, for example.
With over nine minutes left in the third quarter, Livingston tosses a pass to Kevin Garnett at the elbow and then tries to free up Pierce with a down-screen. The Pistons hedge the pick, and Pierce is forced to cut baseline.
But while all of this is happening, Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche are standing not only close to one another, but to Garnett, as well. Josh Smith, who was sticking to Johnson, is now able to cover all three Nets around the top of the key.
Smith sneaks over and swipes the ball from Garnett, it gets tossed ahead to the streaking Brandon Jennings, and the Pistons get themselves an easy bucket.
The solution? More screens.
Setting screens often forces the opponent to switch, which can create mismatches. Standing in one spot, on the other hand, can allow one defender to cover multiple offensive players.
If any of the Nets ever find themselves stationary, all they need to do is set a pick. Screen the ball, screen away—even screen a fan sitting courtside.
An increased emphasis on screening to free up teammates will force movement among Nets' players and give the Brooklyn offense some of the flow it’s been missing.
Giving Lopez some help
Offensively, we don't really have an identity...We throw it down to Brook [Lopez] pretty much when there's nothing, and we put him in a lot of tough positions, man. We just basically sit and watch, so we make his job a lot harder than what it should be, without us doing a lot of moving and cutting. We make everybody's job harder.
Although he publicly put his coach under fire, Johnson definitely had a point.
Far too often, the Nets dump the ball to Lopez on the block and run away. As he emerges into one of the league’s premier post players, Lopez is inevitably going to draw double-teams. The rest of the Nets need to learn how to play off of the big center, just as the Chicago Bulls do with the NBA’s best passing center, Joakim Noah.
Brooklyn can’t expect Lopez to be able to power through multiple defenders, but they can’t expect him to see the entire floor, either.
Three-pointer shooters on the Nets like Johnson and Pierce need to give Lopez an outlet. Players at a young age are taught that when their defender leaves to double, they should follow and make themselves available for a kick-out pass.
The result will be more attempts from beyond the arc—a category in which Brooklyn ranks 25th in the league—and fewer forced shots from Lopez.
Can Brooklyn turn it around?
The Nets have shown flashes of what they could—and were supposed to—be. With the return of D-Will, Brooklyn rattled off a three-game winning streak early in December.
But after beating a big win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 12, the team fell to the Pistons the very next night, 103-99, with Lopez sidelined with another (sigh) ankle injury.
The decision to reassign Lawrence Frank has turned the spotlight entirely on Kidd. Seemingly undaunted by the pressure of being a rookie coach, J-Kidd has put himself in a position to either sink or swim on his own.
If he puts a premium on more ball movement within the offense, cease all stationary play and stop leaving his center on an island, the Nets should be able to find themselves deep in postseason waters.
Stats are accurate as of Dec. 14, via Basketball-Reference.com.
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