What We Learned About the Brooklyn Nets During Season's First Half

Garrett JochnauCorrespondent IIJanuary 22, 2014

What We Learned About the Brooklyn Nets During Season's First Half

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    Associated Press

    How does one accurately describe the Brooklyn Nets?

    To its biggest detractors, the team is a colossal failure and the product of too much hype.

    On the other end, there are plenty of people ready to change their views on the 2013-14 Brooklyn squad after the team has coasted through a difficult month of January. 

    Either way, one thing is clear:

    Things are a bit confusing over in Brooklyn.

    Despite this ambiguity regarding the Nets' status, however, the first half of the season did provide us with a handful of conclusions regarding the players, the team and most importantly, what to expect in the coming months.

There Is Life After Lopez

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Though Brook Lopez's injury initially signified doom for the Brooklyn frontcourt, a series of solutions have since popped up, allowing the Nets a portion of their recent success.

    The first of which came in the form of Andray Blatche, a talented big man who is beginning to make a name for himself in Brooklyn after being amnestied by the Washington Wizards.

    Blatche, a true center, has become an essential facet of the Nets' recent success, having performed admirably after re-signing with the team over the summer. Averaging nearly 12 points and six rebounds in just over 22 minutes of playing time, Blatche has compiled an impressive resume over the course of the 2013-14 season. 

    Recently, though, he has increased his production as noted by NetsDaily's Tom Lorenzo.

    Per the #Nets: "Andray Blatche's last 3 games: 19.0 points on 61.0% shooting and 10.3 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game off the bench."

    — Tom Lorenzo (@TomLorenzo) January 22, 2014

    If Blatche can continue this high level of play, Lopez's injury should hardly deter the Nets from living up to their potential.

    The second suggestion that Brooklyn can succeed without their leading big man has recently unearthed after the team unleashed a small-ball lineup that has since become a go-to source of production.

    Of the five-man groupings that the Nets have tried—excluding ones that include Lopez—three rank significantly above the others in the plus-minus category, per 82games:

    After these lineups, which all average between a plus-20 and a plus-30, the next highest plus-minus is a plus-four, coming from a lineup that features two players who were recently traded away.

    Garnett's presence at the 5, along with Pierce's inclusion as a stretch-4 have been essential elements that have ensured success from this small-ball set.

    Until it breaks, the lineup should be used frequently.

Smaller Signings Have Been Very Important

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Though the additions of Garnett and Pierce constituted the vast majority of Brooklyn's offseason headlines, it has been the under-the-radar signings that have been the most intriguing. 

    Alan Anderson, Shaun Livingston and Andrei Kirilenko have been the X-factors thus far, despite being relatively unheralded—specifically the first two.

    It is no surprise that the Nets backcourt has been plagued with injury. Jason Terry began the season on the sidelines, and Deron Williams' status remains a day-to-day mystery.

    Despite entering without a lot of hype, Anderson and Livingston have since emerged as key role players for the team, having carved their niches in a star-studded lineup and have left a positive mark, especially during the team's recent barrage of victories. 

    Livingston, who fell off the league radar after his high-potential was diminished following a career-changing injury, has become relevant once again, filling in during Williams' absences nicely and complementing him at the 2 when they play alongside each other.

    With the pinnacle of his recent success coming during the Nets' upset of the Miami Heat, Livingston has shown that when presented with the opportunity, he can help the team thrive.

    Similarly, Alan Anderson has taken advantage of an increased role, scoring and maintaining a defensive presence at a high rate.

    Both Anderson and Livingston have left a positive impact on the squad, despite drawing little buzz during the offseason. 









Andrei Kirilenko Has Been the Team's Secret MVP

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Andrei Kirilenko returned from injury on Dec. 31, 2013. 

    Since his return, the team has won eight of their 10 contests, including victories over the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors.

    During his time on the sideline, Kirilenko watched his team lose 20 of their 30 games. 

    A coincidence? Hardly.

    Kirilenko is one of the league's most gifted all-around players, and while his statistics may not be overwhelming, his impact has been enormous. 

    Providing assistance in nearly every facet of the game, on both ends, Kirilenko has helped to stimulate energy that the roster previously lacked, as Shaun Livingston noted to Newsday's Roderick Boone.

    He plays the right way and his energy out there is contagious because he's kind of all over the court. He makes plays offensively, defensively. So it kind of makes you feel good and that's contagious. Some of the stuff shows up in the box score -- blocks, steals, assists. So, his floor game is pretty incredible, honestly. That's what he does. That's why he is a household name.

    The Russian talent was identified as one of the offseason's biggest steals, and his value continues to elevate with each game.

    Though he might not fill up the stat sheet on a nightly basis, Kirilenko has emerged as one of the team's most important talents, and his continued presence should continue to positively benefit the roster in its entirety.

The 2013-14 Nets Were Overhyped...

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Though the team has encountered some success as of the late, I'd be remiss not to acknowledge the Nets' rocky start.

    Prior to the season, Brooklyn—showered with hype concerning their seemingly imminent dominance—was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, along with a caption that read, "Who Wants a Piece of Them?"

    After a few months, nearly every team would raise its hand at that question.

    Though Garnett's presence at the 5 has been statistically welcoming, you cannot deny that the former-great has lost his luster.

    Averaging unimpressive and inefficient stats, age has caught up with Garnett, and individual expectations have not been reached.

    Even Paul Pierce hasn't lived up to his hype, a consequence of age that the team should have accounted for before they dumped away their entire future.

    However, though it is now clear that this superteam is hardly super by any stretch of the imagination, before the season began, the Nets were among the league's championship favorites. 

    In hindsight, we can see that the expectations were simply too lofty and the goals rather unreachable. 

    It hasn't been smooth sailing for a Nets team that was originally hyped beyond compare, and even though they have gained some footing, their 18-22 record remains unsatisfactory. 

But the Season Is Far from over

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    For the Nets fans who remained loyal during the team's initial struggles, I applaud you. A 10-21 record prior to the month of January was hardly ideal considering the aforementioned expectations, and the entire team faced endless scrutiny regarding their inability to mesh.

    But recently, things have started to shape up, and the team morale has risen significantly, as Williams told the Brooklyn Game.

    Deron Williams: "I think we got that swag now, that we can feel like we beat anybody when we step out there." #Nets

    — The Brooklyn Game (@TheBKGame) January 22, 2014

    Having won nine of their 10 January contests, the Nets are on fire, rising in the power rankings and the standings into playoff contention.

    Even with Williams' health status uncertain, the team has found other sources of success. Joe Johnson has again emerged as one of the league's best go-to scorers, while the team's role players have also increased their production.

    As a whole, it has been a strong new year in Brooklyn, and with the Eastern Conference at an all-time low, Brooklyn can still make playoff noise should this resurgence continue.