When looking to dish out blame for the Brooklyn Nets’ dismal start to the season, there are plenty of obvious targets including floundering head coach Jason Kidd, Brook Lopez’s broken foot, Deron Williams’ troublesome ankle and the fact that key bench players Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko have played fewer than 20 games this season.
But the real problem for the gaudy superteam is that their two biggest acquisitions, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, have not brought enough to both the court and the locker room in their first year wearing Brooklyn black.
No one expected Pierce and KG to be putting up All-Star numbers or logging 36-plus minutes per game, but with Williams and Joe Johnson not exactly renowned for their leadership it was essential that the two Hall of Famers become leaders for the Nets—and they have not exactly done that in 2013-14.
Kidd’s antics—including an outburst after the Nets lost handily on Christmas to the Chicago Bulls, per ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk, and the infamous “soda incident” with Tyshawn Taylor—have taken center stage, but the team would not be in such dire straits if Pierce and KG were living up to their expected value.
As Tim Bontemps of the New York Post noted, Pierce and Garnett simply have not brought the “fight” to Brooklyn that they showed so often in Boston, and that has led to the slew of dispirited performances and embarrassing blowouts the Nets have dealt with in the early goings.
There was no way Brooklyn was going to mesh perfectly from training camp given how much roster turnover they experienced in the offseason, but even the most cautious of pundits could not have predicted the team to be well below .500 and on the outside of the Eastern Conference’s weak playoff picture.
|96.9 PPG (21st)||40.4 RPG (28th)||20.5 APG (21st)||102.3 PA (22nd)||44.4 FG% (18th)|
The Nets have struggled across the board in 2013-14. (Per ESPN)
It is still early, and the Nets obviously have time to right the ship, but it’s going to require Pierce and KG to bring more of their Celtics selves to the table than they have at any point in 2013-14.
With more than a third of the season to reflect on, let’s take a moment to analyze Pierce’s and Garnett’s performances in Brooklyn and why they haven’t been able to help the Nets as expected.
After 15 seasons in green, Pierce’s desire to retire as a Celtic was well known. The Nets took a serious gamble bringing him in and hoping that he would be able to provide the same clutch playmaking and leadership in a different jersey for the first time in his career.
Pierce’s averages of 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists are decent, but he’s shooting just 39.2 percent and 33.7 percent from three-point range while struggling to find a role in Kidd’s offense.
He began the season starting at small forward, but he suffered a hand injury and is now coming off the bench, serving as a backup ball-handler and leading the Brooklyn second unit.
Pierce has played the role of point-forward before, but he has struggled to find his footing as a bench player, going scoreless in a game for the first time since his rookie season against the Indiana Pacers.
He did have two quality games against the Washington Wizards (27 points, six rebounds) and the Philadelphia 76ers (24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) but his play has been erratic, and he has not been reliable on either end of the floor.
Pierce is not thriving as a catch-and-shoot scorer, connecting on just 33.8 percent of his spot-up jumpers, per Synergy Spots (subscription required), and he has taken a step back as a defender as well.
He has also not been as reliable of a late-game option. Pierce cannot create separation as easily and, while he can still hit the occasional clutch jumper, Brooklyn cannot run their crunch-time offense through him like Boston did.
Beyond the quantifiable decline, though, Pierce looks absolutely miserable on the Nets bench.
His body language has been dreadful, he hasn’t been particularly vocal on the court and he was even ejected for clotheslining Indiana’s George Hill.
Pierce questioned the Nets’ mental toughness as well as his minutes and role with the team in a conversation with Newsday’s Roderick Boone.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his team or their play thus far this season.
No one was expecting the Pierce who averaged 18.6 points, 6.3 boards and 4.8 assists last season in Boston, but his decline as a leader on the court and his struggles to fit in with the Nets have been far worse than anticipated.
If Pierce’s struggles have been mostly emotional, KG’s have been mostly statistical.
The 37-year-old big man, with more miles on his body than almost any player in league history, has not been able to find his shooting touch all season and has often been a non-factor offensively.
You know it’s bad when the fact that Garnett is averaging 8.5 points over his last five games is a marked improvement from his season numbers.
On the year, “The Big Ticket” is averaging 6.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 37.2 percent shooting from the field, a career low by far.
He is also getting to the line just 0.9 times per game and has become almost exclusively a standstill jump-shooter.
Unfortunately, it seems he can’t even do that particularly well. He is shooting only 39.3 percent on spot-up jumpers, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Garnett hasn’t been a threat in the pick-and-roll, either, as Synergy notes he is making just 38.5 percent of his shots as the roll man. The KG-Williams pick-and-roll was expected to be a key part of Brooklyn’s offense, but the two have not developed much offensive chemistry.
Defense and rebounding are still Garnett’s fortes, but he is getting less tough, contested rebounds than in years past. The majority of his boards are uncontested looks on the defensive end, versus the rugged boards he snatched in traffic with regularity for the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves.
With Lopez going down, Garnett will likely be forced to play more center, and he experienced a renaissance playing the 5 for Boston over the past two seasons.
He posted a PER of 20.3 per 48 minutes at center in 2012-13, per 82Games.
It’s unlikely he can replicate that productivity with Brooklyn, though, as he has simply looked a step slow on nearly every Nets possession on both ends of the court.
KG is no longer a disruptive force guarding pick-and-rolls, and he has had trouble containing some of the game’s better post players.
Even just watching Brooklyn play, it’s obvious that Garnett is not the same vocal leader and defensive anchor that he once was.
Offense was not expected to be a main concern for KG with these Nets, but with minus-defenders like Williams, Johnson and Lopez in the starting lineup, Garnett needed to still be a defensive force.
That has not been the case, as Brooklyn is 27th in defensive efficiency at 106.3, barely edging out the Sacramento Kings.
Garnett is under contract with a no-trade clause through 2015, so the Nets need him to step up, if only so his Beats by Dre commercial doesn’t look so hilariously outdated.
How the Situation Can Be Fixed
The situation is not beyond repair, but it is going to take a concerted effort from Garnett and Pierce to change the fate of the Nets.
Pierce needs to be more vocally supportive of his team to the media and seem like he has at least bought in somewhat to Brooklyn and Kidd, while KG needs to find consistency with his jumper and become a more vocal, defensive force.
Can Pierce and KG right the ship in Brooklyn?
Offensively, both need to focus on driving to the basket and drawing contact instead of settling for difficult outside jumpers, and they need to continue encouraging their teammates to share the ball and not rely too heavily on isolation play.
The two former Celtics were brought in as much for their vocal leadership as for their actual statistical production, and while they will never put up the kinds of numbers they did in their primes with regularity, they can still be the valuable leaders they were when Boston won the 2008 title.
It has often been said that the Nets have too much talent to be a lottery team, but unless KG and Pierce step up, it is difficult to see them doing much better than an eighth seed given their injuries and defensive ineptitude.