Grading Every Key Brooklyn Nets Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
The Brooklyn Nets' season looked like a disaster early on, but going into the All-Star break, the team has turned things around and would be in the playoffs if the season ended now.
There's plenty of work left for Brooklyn, however, as it went into the year with even higher expectations and faces stiff competition for the Atlantic Division title from the now-leading Toronto Raptors.
With that said, the way the Nets overcame their early struggles is still impressive, so it's time to take a look back and grade their 10 most important players on their performance heading into the break.
The 2013-14 season has been a tough one for Deron Williams, which has seen him drop completely out of the conversation for best point guard in the league.
Injuries, more than anything, have held Williams back, but he's managed to put up relatively decent numbers, even if they are below par for his standards. He's putting up 13.3 points and 6.6 assists, which is solid for a starting point guard.
What's really impressive about Williams is that he understands the limitations injuries have put on him this year and isn't forcing anything as he shoots 45 percent from the floor—his highest percentage since his days with the Utah Jazz.
Even more notable is that Williams at one point voluntarily relinquished his starting role to Shaun Livingston, who's been impressive in his best season since his horrific knee injury seven years ago.
In an ideal world, Williams would be the star of the show, putting up 20 and 10 and challenging for an All-Star spot, but that just hasn't been possible this season with the nagging injuries he's dealt with. The alternative has been decent taking that into account.
Joe Johnson may be overpaid, but there's a lot of value to what the guard has done for the Nets this season—namely staying healthy and leading the team in scoring.
In a season where everyone else in the original starting five has faced significant injuries of some sort, Johnson has stayed the course and been the one consistent presence in Brooklyn.
Say what you will about his style of play, the bottom line is that Johnson has come up big for the Nets, to the point where coaches around the league voted him in as an All-Star reserve in the East.
His overall averages of 15 points and 2.6 assists on 44 percent shooting aren't going to blow anyone away, but this is a year in which he has scored 29 points in a single quarter and put up 25-plus in six key games (four of which were victories).
Johnson's contract may be one of the most unattractive in the league, but there's no denying that he's been as big a part of the Nets' resurgence as anyone on the roster, stepping up in the clutch and putting up consistent numbers.
In the 29 games he played before his season ended due to a broken right foot, Brook Lopez was undoubtedly the Nets' best player.
While the rest of the team struggled, Lopez put up 20.7 points, six rebounds and 1.8 blocks—numbers that made him the best offensive center in the East and arguably in the entire league.
Still, defense and rebounding remained issues for Lopez despite the arrival of Kevin Garnett. Those are areas that he'll have to work out when he makes his comeback next season.
Had Lopez stayed healthy, it's very possible that he could have improved as the season went along, but we'll have to wait and see if that becomes a reality. For now, the offensive output he had is sufficient enough to earn him an A grade, taking into account only the games he was able to play in.
Age and injuries have no doubt caught up with Paul Pierce, but he hasn't been too bad for the Nets, scoring 13.5 points per game in the fewest minutes of his career.
In a vacuum, Pierce is very good for a 35-year-old role player. The problem is that the Boston Celtics took a heist of assets in return for his services along with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry.
Pierce, however, cannot be blamed for the mistakes of his front office, and again, his play in and of itself has not been bad at all for someone of his age. In fact, within his last 10 games, he's put up 25-plus points on three separate occasions, making significant contributions to Brooklyn's turnaround.
If the Nets make it into the playoffs—which they should at this point—that's where Pierce's value will really be shown. If he stays healthy, his experience, leadership and ability in the clutch will shine through when it matters most, especially if Jason Kidd can find a way to rest him even more after the break.
Kevin Garnett is nowhere near the all-around player he once was. For the first time in his career, he is averaging single digits in scoring, making him a pretty poor offensive player.
Fortunately for the Nets, Garnett's impact defensively can still be felt to an extent in the 20 or so minutes he's able to play each game, which has been a major reason why they've been able to stay competitive in the East.
Like with Pierce, giving away what they did for someone who is unable to play major minutes was a mistake, but Garnett can't be blamed for that. At almost 38, he was never going to be a key offensive player, but at the very least he's been able to provide some decent leadership on the defensive end.
The Nets are actually allowing more points this season than they did in 2012-13, so Garnett's leadership has only made so much of a difference and, combined with his career-low offensive production, the result is a harsh grade.
There was suspicion of foul play when the Nets were able to sign Andrei Kirilenko for just $3.1 million per year, but as someone who has played just 22 games and put up mediocre numbers, it turns out Brooklyn didn't get such a steal after all.
To be fair to Kirilenko, he hasn't necessarily been bad, as he has shot 52 percent from the floor and contributes as a defender and a passer. It's just that, like so many other players on the roster, he just isn't as good as he once was.
Though his own numbers may not be so good, his impact on the team has still been felt. He has a positive plus-minus, and the team is 14-6 when he plays.
This is a tough player to grade, as it's difficult to tell whether Kirilenko has benefited from coming back at a good time or is actually a major contributor to the Nets' turnaround, but knowing that he's a smart player, he gets the benefit of the doubt.
The re-emergence of Shaun Livingston seven years after what could have been a career-ending knee injury has to be one of the best feel-good stories of the NBA this season.
Livingston has been a journeyman since his return in 2009, playing primarily with lottery teams and struggling to find a role for himself.
Now, though, Livingston is a key bench player and occasional starter for a playoff team, playing 25 minutes a night and helping to make up for the absence of a fully healthy Deron Williams.
As great as the story of his return is, there's no need to exaggerate his contributions. He's had a few huge nights but unsurprisingly struggles to stay in front of players defensively and isn't always able to play athletically on offense.
All in all, though, he's a solid backup point guard who's able to log major minutes for a team that has struggled with injuries, and that's worthy of a solid grade.
Andray Blatche has continued to impress with his newfound maturity and production in his second season with the Nets and is now one of the best, if not the best, backup bigs in the entire league.
Playing with Kevin Garnett has helped Blatche defensively, but he's been most impressive on offense, where he's averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes on 47 percent shooting.
It's also worth noting that Blatche has continued to produce despite suffering a fractured metatarsal in late December and playing without Brook Lopez.
Outside of the injured Lopez, Blatche also leads the team in player efficiency rating with 19.8, even if that's below the 21.9 he posted in 2012-13.
For a team whose old age is often pointed out, the Nets frontcourt looks to have a bright future if Brooklyn can keep Blatche long-term along with Lopez.
Though he's unlikely to be a member of the All-Rookie first team in a weak draft class, the Nets have to be happy with their No. 22 pick Mason Plumlee.
Plumlee has displayed his athleticism and physicality in limited action. As he continues to develop, he looks like he could eventually be a key rotation player.
His 18.0 PER makes him the most efficient player of the team outside of fellow young bigs Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, which is a great sign for the future of the frontcourt.
Plumlee gets a relatively low grade, but that's primarily because of his lack of consistent playing time. Don't take it as a criticism of him as a player—he has a very bright future—it's just that he's played fewer minutes than anyone on this list other than Lopez and Andrei Kirilenko, who both missed significant time due to injury.
With all the hoopla around the additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, the signing of Alan Anderson—a solid role player for the Toronto Raptors last year—went under the radar.
Now that he's playing significant minutes (to the point where he starts every now and then), the value of having a player like Anderson is finally being shown.
Though he's averaging only eight points per game on a mediocre 40 percent shooting, he's had a few big games for the Nets and plays solid defense at both forward positions.
Anderson was never going to be a player to make or break the Nets' season, but as far as veteran's minimum players go, he's been solid.
PER stats courtesy of ESPN.