Although the Brooklyn Nets started the season abysmally, there is still plenty of time for its flashy roster and first-year head coach to rectify their shortcomings.
With an 8-15 record, the Nets are third in the Atlantic Division, and two games out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Sentiment and optimism amongst Nets' fans has fallen in lieu of the franchise's struggles, but all hope shouldn't be lost.
Let's take a look at some of the other factors that encourage hope.
Stats are accurate as of Saturday, December 14, 2013.
Jason Kidd has been lambasted by many for Brooklyn's woes, and while the first-year head coach has looked inexperienced and overmatched at times, he's had his hands full with an aging, injury-riddled roster and a frayed relationship with Lawrence Frank.
With the Nets inching closer to full strength, and Kidd's issues with Frank mitigated for the time being, now might be the time we see Kidd find his stride as a head coach. As Stan Van Gundy mentioned on the Amani and Eytan show on NBC Sports Radio, via Kurt Helin, regarding Kidd's struggles,
I don’t think this is on Jason Kidd. Some people have really taken a lot of what I said about him as being critical of him but it’s not. I think if you look at Mark Jackson or Doc Rivers when he started, guys who have not been assistant coaches before they got their NBA head jobs, what they had was situations where at least in their first year the expectations weren’t that high. So you had the freedom to make some mistakes, sorta out of the scrutiny, at least the national scrutiny, of everybody.
Jason Kidd entered a job with very high expectations, for a guy who never coached I think that’s really, really difficult. He may grow into a very, very fine coach — but no one is a great coach when they first start. I’m sure Doc Rivers would tell you in all honesty that he is a far better coach now than he was when he first started. Not to say he wasn’t good when he started but you get a lot better over time. Jason Kidd was expected to be great.
Kidd has taken his lumps throughout Brooklyn's brutal start, but with fewer distractions and a healthier roster, his coaching career and perception should improve as he continues to learn from his mistakes. Expect the Nets offense to feature the proper spacing and ball movement Kidd spoke of on media day, as chemistry develops amongst his starters.
Currently, the Nets give up the ninth-most points per game with 101.7, and are 27th in turnovers forced with 13.8 per game, via NBA.com. Brooklyn hasn't found its identity defensively yet, but it is making progress.
During the Nets' three-game winning streak against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn held their opponents to 82, 96 and 93 points, respectively. Via 2013-14 Nets Regular Season Game Notes, against LAC, the Nets posted opponent-season-lows in field-goal percentage (37.1 percent) and made field goals (26). Brooklyn also held the Clippers to 18-of-52 shooting over the final three quarters of the outing.
The Nets took a step back in its 103-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons, allowing Detroit to sink 47 percent of its field goals, but that was to be expected without Brook Lopez in the middle, guarding against one of the Pistons' two monoliths: Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Both men combined for 44 points and 24 rebounds.
Figuring Lopez's recent setback isn't serious enough to sideline the center for a significant amount of time, Brooklyn's defense should resume its course to a defensive rating far lower than its current 107, which is the league's second worst, via NBA.com. Lopez is the team's best shot blocker, averaging 1.9 rejections and owns an opponent's field goal percentage at the rim of 39.7 percent on 9.1 attempts per game, via NBA.com.
Andray Blatche has emerged this season as one of the few Nets' players head coach Jason Kidd could consistently rely upon. During Brooklyn's initial slate of games without Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Blatche stepped in and scored efficiently while his teammates struggled to execute.
Blatche is averaging 11.7 PPG and is shooting 47.3 percent from the field. In the month of December, he's also attempting 5.8 free throws per game, and he is knocking down 68.6 percent of those foul shots. Blatche hasn't been one dimensional, either—he's contributing on both ends of the floor.
He leads the Nets in steals, pilfering one per game, and is averaging 6.3 RPG in 22.7 minutes per game. Over his last four games, against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons, Blatche upped his intensity and grabbed eight, nine, nine and 12 boards, respectively.
At 6'9", Mirza Teletovic's height and range makes him a valuable asset for the struggling Nets.
With his ability to knock down three-pointers at a reasonable clip—currently shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc—Teletovic can really space the floor when's he on the court. In his most recent outing against the Detroit Pistons, Teletovic went 5-of-6 from the three-point line and finished the evening with 17 points.
Brooklyn can't rely on Teletovic to score 17 points per game, but head coach Jason Kidd can trust the Bosnian to keep defenses honest with his stroke from the perimeter. A 4 with range like Teletovic will keep the paint well-spaced for Brook Lopez and any other Nets slashing to the basket.
Teletovic's presence on the perimeter also gives Deron Williams another option to dish out to when attacking.
Since returning to action, Deron Williams has been aggressive with the ball, getting into the paint and either finishing at the rim or drawing contact and collecting free points at the charity stripe.
Against the Boston Celtics, Williams shot 10-of-16 from the field and 4-of-7 from the foul line for 25 points and seven assists. Against the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons, D-Will went 5-of-5 and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. Prior to these three games, the most foul shots attempted by Williams in a game had been two.
With Williams playing aggressively and attacking the rim, Brooklyn has its best chances of winning. According to Kevin Garnett, via ESPN.com, "Deron’s play is dictating how we’re coming out and starting games. He’s pushing the pace, he’s directing, he’s leading. He’s being Deron Williams and I really feel like that’s the difference.”
Paul Pierce also chimed in on Williams' importance, via ESPN.com,
He has to be our leader. Hands down. He changes the outlook of this team. We look like a whole different team now. We’re able to get easier baskets and put pressure on the defense. A lot of times we looked organized [while he was out], but with him out there as our leader and as a point guard, he’s getting us in the right spots and that’s what I envisioned.
A healthy and aggressive D-Will makes plays, and while chemistry continues to build and Jason Kidd finds his rhythm as a coach, Williams' playmaking can be the catalyst that turns this miserable season around.