The Brooklyn Nets were supposed to be championship contenders but, thanks to injuries, that dream is fleeting.
Still, even with the most recent loss of Brook Lopez, the Nets are deep enough to turn their season around and finish with a winning record. However, in order for that to occur, a few players—particularly Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce—will need to play above the grades their performances have dictated thus far.
Listed and graded in the following slides are Brooklyn's top-10 contributors throughout this season. The highest grade one may receive is an A and the lowest is an F. Omitted from this slideshow are Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry because of their inabilities to stay on the court.
He was the lone bright spot of the Nets' offense earlier in the season, when guys like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson struggled with their stroke. And he was dependable defensively, swatting 1.8 shots per game, including two five-block performances against the Orlando Magic (Nov. 3) and Sacramento Kings (Nov. 13).
What prevented Lopez from receiving a higher grade is something that has plagued him his entire career: his moderate rebounding numbers. He grabbed six boards per game, which is about half a rebound more than Pierce's season average, and he never racked up a double-digit game on the glass.
Mason Plumlee is a high energy guy, likely to finish the season with a grade higher than a C+. He's done everything that has been asked of him when he's on the court, and he'll continue to raise the bar in each outing, especially now with Brook Lopez's season-ending injury.
Plumlee runs the floor very well, making him an asset in transition on both ends, and he's a competent rebounder and shot blocker. Via Basketball-Reference.com, per 36 minutes, Plumlee is averaging just under 6.5 rebounds and just over one block.
The former Duke Blue Devil also has a tendency to play through contact, instead of shying away like some rookies might. Throughout the month of November, Plumlee attempted 3.4 free throws per game, which included him taking 12 foul shots against the Los Angeles Clippers (Nov. 16).
Like Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic should see an uptick in minutes with Brook Lopez sidelined for the rest of the season. This should help remedy some of the offense the Nets will lose without Lopez on the court.
Teletovic has proven to be a reliable threat from the perimeter thus far. He went 6-of-11 from the three-point line against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 20 and finished with 18 points. He won't be able to consistently score 18 or more points per game like Lopez, but Brooklyn can rely on Teletovic to do his job, which is keeping the floor well spaced by knocking down jump shots.
In addition to his range, Teletovic has earned his B- by rebounding well given the sporadic amount of minutes he has received. Against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 29, Teletovic grabbed 13 boards in 32 minutes, to go along with two steals and 18 points. Via Basketball-Reference.com, Teletovic is averaging just under eight rebounds per 36 minutes.
Shaun Livingston has been serviceable as Deron Williams' backup, but he hasn't really done much to prove that he's capable of more. Despite his size advantage over other point guards—Livingston is 6'7"—he doesn't take many shots, nor draw enough fouls.
He's attempting around five field goals per game this season, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since his job is to create for others. But he should be more aggressive, using his body to cash in on the mismatches presented to him by his 6'11" wingspan.
Livingston has also done a lackluster job at creating shots for his teammates. Over the 11 games Williams missed completely due to injury, Livingston dished out at least five assists only three times, reaching that plateau against the Los Angeles Clippers (Nov. 16), Detroit Pistons (Nov. 24) and Toronto Raptors (Nov. 26). And only recently, against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 20, did Livingston finally crack the double digit mark in assists.
In order for his grade to improve, Livingston will need to get to the foul line more often and see his assist numbers north of his career average of 3.4 APG.
Alan Anderson has been one of the better offseason pickups for the Nets. Unlike Jason Terry—who was brought in to provide a spark off the bench—Anderson has been healthy and productive in each of his outings.
As a reserve, he came into games ready to attack the basket and knock down shots. In the month of November, he attempted 3.4 three-pointers per game and knocked down 40 percent of those shots.
Since entering the starting lineup, Anderson has been a little more sporadic than usual shooting the ball. He's had mediocre games like his 3-of-9 performance from the field against the New York Knicks (Dec. 5) and 1-of-9 effort against the Los Angeles Clippers (Dec. 12), mixed in with some solid outings such as when he went 6-of-7 from the field against the Boston Celtics (Dec. 10) and 5-of-11 from behind the arc against the Philadelphia 76ers (Dec. 20).
Anderson could see his grade slip if he doesn't find more consistency with his stroke.
Andray Blatche has been a constant in head coach Jason Kidd's rotation. Blatche has executed well offensively, and he's provided some valiant efforts defensively.
Blatche currently leads the Nets with one steal per game, and he's been as reliable on the glass as Brook Lopez, averaging nearly the same amount of rebounds as Lopez in fewer minutes. With the injury to Lopez, Blatche's role will grow and Nets fans could see the 27-year-old finish the season scoring 15 points per game.
The versatile center can score in a variety of ways. He has range out to the three-point line, he can bang in the post and he can take his man off the dribble. Blatche also doesn't shy away from contact: He's attempting just under five free throws per game throughout the month of December.
Kevin Garnett isn't having a spectacular season statistically by any means, but he's competing and doing everything he can when he's on the court. Although KG is limited by his age and 18 years of service, he's still defending well and making the most out of his rebounding opportunities.
Via NBA.com, Garnett is grabbing about 72 percent of his rebound chances, which has been around 10 per game. KG should see those chances increase with the loss of Brook Lopez, and the Nets will need The Big Ticket to at least maintain his current success rate on the glass.
Brooklyn will also need more consistency from Garnett on offense, and his production on that end will be the catalyst that earns him a better grade. KG attempted 8.8 shots per game throughout the month of November, and while he only knocked down 35.8 percent of those field goals, each shot was well within his range.
With Lopez sidelined, Garnett will get more opportunities to score in the low post, and if he can take advantage of those close shots, his confidence will grow and Brooklyn will be in a better position to succeed.
Paul Pierce may have finally found his rhythm.
Over the six games he played in between Dec. 10 and Dec. 20, he shot 14-of-26 from the three-point line, which equates to 53.8 percent. Throughout that stretch, Pierce has also gone 23-of-27 from the charity stripe.
Regardless if he starts games or comes off the bench, the Nets need Pierce to knock down shots and make frequent trips to the foul line. If The Truth can get over the 15 points per game hump, while dishing out another assist or two per game, he'll be playing like a B player (at least), and Brooklyn's season will have a chance to be salvaged.
If not, well, at least he's rebounding well.
Pierce is currently averaging about half a rebound less than Brooklyn's former starting center, Brook Lopez, and his 10 rebound effort against the Philadelphia 76ers gives him more double-doubles than the injured Lopez had amassed.
Joe Johnson has found more consistency since the last batch of player grades were handed out, but he's still too sporadic for the Nets.
Against the New York Knicks, Johnson went 4-of-15 from the field, against the Milwaukee Bucks he shot 2-of-8 from the three-point line and against the Detroit Pistons, Johnson took 16 field goals and only made five.
Conversely, he shot the ball well against the Los Angeles Clippers (Dec. 12) and Philadelphia 76ers (Dec. 16), knocking down 8-of-13 shots from the field, including four three-pointers and 10-of-14 threes, respectively.
For the Nets to turn their season around, Johnson will need to be the most consistent player in Jason Kidd's rotation. The shooting guard is too talented to be a question mark—especially at this stage of his career.
Deron Williams looks like a completely different player since returning to action.
He's dishing the ball well and has been aggressive, attacking the lane, drawing contact and heading to the foul line. In the month of November, Williams attempted only 1.5 free throws per game. Throughout December, he's taking just under six foul shots per game.
Chances are D-Will feels pretty darn good out there and that's the reason why he's able to get into the paint and draw contact more consistently this month than in November.
Like Paul Pierce, Brooklyn needs Williams to frequent the charity stripe as much as possible. Those easy points that Williams can pick up at the foul line are even more important now that Brook Lopez is done for the season.