Grading Jason Kidd's Season for the Brooklyn Nets so Far
Jason Kidd's first season as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets has been sort of like a freshman's first semester on campus. After a lot of excitement about the new opportunity, Kidd, like many college first-years, found himself a bit overwhelmed by the responsibilities.
The results were inadequate. Kidd flunked the first two months of the season, as the Nets began 10-21. His job security was being questioned before he'd even gotten a chance to get comfortable roaming the sideline.
But Kidd, as would any capable student, made some adjustments and Brooklyn has since climbed back above .500 and into contention for the East's third seed in the playoffs.
Following are four evaluations of Kidd's performance so far—motivation, player development, rotations and game management—which conclude with an overall grade.
Having a roster crowded with star players doesn't mean much if they don't play at their full capacity. In this respect, Jason Kidd's performance has been disappointing.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have both seen significant drop-offs in their performances. Garnett's field goal percentage of .439 is far below the .496 figure he posted just last season. Pierce's numbers are down across the board, including important measurements like three-point shooting percentage and assists per 36 minutes.
Some of this downturn can be attributed to Garnett and Pierce's advanced age. Then again, one wonders if the duo truly cares as much as they did while building a perennial contender and one-time champion for the Boston Celtics.
Do they still have the assassin's mentality after being shipped away from Boston's smoldering roster last summer? Or is the Barclays Center more of a retirement home to them than the site of renewed aspirations?
The potential lack of motivation doesn't end with the two ex-Celtics. Joe Johnson's game is marked by occasional apathy, as the star forward doesn't appear completely invested on a night-to-night basis.
Take a particular stretch before the All-Star break for example. Johnson, who averages 15.1 points a game on 12.7 shots, took eight shots or fewer in five out of nine games between January 24 and February 12. Not surprisingly, his poor effort coincided with Brooklyn's return to mediocrity after a strong three-week run.
It would be unfair to chalk up each individual Net's shortcomings to Kidd's lacking motivational skills. Plus, the team seemed to undergo a positive attitude change heading into the New Year.
But when arguably the team's four most important players can't muster their best energy for every game, one wonders how adept Kidd is at the mental side of coaching.
All statistics per Basketball-Reference.com
Player development is a difficult area to assess because of the Nets' elderly roster. Brooklyn has the second oldest team in the NBA. Therefore, improving a player's abilities is a simple impossibility in some cases: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirlienko, and Joe Johnson are all past their primes, no matter what new tricks Kidd is able to teach them.
However, the Nets did come into the season with a handful of projects that, under Kid's eye, have come to fruition.
Mirza Teletovic, after averaging 9.4 minutes and 3.5 points per game last year in his rookie season, has emerged as a three-point specialist off the bench. He has drained 95 threes already and is shooting a solid 38 percent from beyond the arc.
Moreover, Mason Plumlee is rounding into an important frontcourt asset for the Nets, despite inconsistent minutes. The Nets' 2013 first-round selection leads all rookies with a .631 shooting percentage, and his averages of 14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes bode well for an expanded role in the future.
Yet Kidd's successes with such role players are overshadowed by his inability to create a dynamic partnership with Deron Williams, the team's franchise player and a fellow point guard. Going into the season, Brooklyn hoped that Williams could serve as a proxy for Kidd's proven leadership and game management skills.
Instead, the Nets have watched the continued decline of Williams' career. He has battled physical and psychological obstacles and is averaging his lowest points, assists, and rebounds per game since his rookie season.
Williams' productivity has been up a tick since the All-Star game, and a strong finish could put a ribbon on an otherwise flawed season. But the grand collaboration between Kidd and Williams has yet to materialize.
All statistics per Basketball-Reference.com
NBA coaches often say in the beginning of the season that it might take a few weeks to figure out which rotations maximize the roster's talent. For Jason Kidd, it took more than two months.
Touted as an imposing and physical team at each position, the Nets appeared slow-footed and overexerted in the season's early stages. They played poor transition defense and had trouble guarding the perimeter, leading to a bloated Defensive Efficiency and an unsightly winning percentage.
Kidd responded well to the early problems, even if it took him a little while. In December, he demoted assistant coach Lawrence Frank.
At the time, the move appeared indicative of budding front office turmoil associated with the poor start. As the Nets picked up their play, opinions shifted in favor of Kidd, who was now unshackled from Frank's basketball philosophies and could experiment freely with the team.
What were those experiments? Kidd adopted a smaller lineup, shifting Kevin Garnett to center and depending heavily on Shaun Livingston. He called upon Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche for more minutes, relying on Brooklyn's depth over their star power.
The adjustments paid off. The Nets won ten of their thirteen January games, earning Kidd Coach of the Month honors, and are 21-9 since the calendar turned to 2014.
Their two most frequent five-man rotations both include Garnett and Pierce shifted to center and power forward, respectively. Combined, those units boast a +61 plus-minus and allow a superb 90.1 points per 100 possessions.
Kidd has been able to accomplish all this while being hamstrung in a way that most NBA coaches aren't. The Nets head coach not only has to worry about the effectiveness of certain rotations, but must also always consider the physical burden on players like Garnett, Pierce, and Joe Johnson, who have over a hundred years between them.
Thus, Kidd's calculations must include significant rest for his older players, making his challenges more difficult and his successes more impressive.
Kidd's work is not finished, though. His team still struggles on the boards, consistently losing to good rebounding teams. If the Nets are to make any noise in the playoffs, Kidd will have keep juggling the lineups.
All statistics per 82games.com
As with his rotations, Jason Kidd took some time to figure out how to best direct his team on the court.
After a poor start to the season on the defensive end, Kidd has made adjustments to the team's strategy. According to Zach Lowe of Grantland.com, Kidd employed a more aggressive approach on defense. He asked his big men to give up less ground on pick-and-roll switches to put pressure on ball-handlers.
He also directed the team to defend closer to the paint, hoping to make up for Brooklyn's lack of size by congesting the area around the basket. So far, these changes have been successful, as Brooklyn has climbed from the very bottom of the Defensive Efficiency rankings all the way up to 15th, per ESPN.com.
Kidd made some alterations to the Nets' offensive tactics as well. Brooklyn began the season victimized by its own surplus of one-on-one talent. The offense stagnated, clearly lacking much cohesive ball movement, and the team's Offensive Efficiency sank well below a point per possession.
Since then, Kidd has leaned more on wingmen like Andrei Kirilenko and Mirza Teletovic who can stretch the floor. The adjustment leads to more open perimeter shots and gives players like Joe Johnson and Deron Williams a better chance in isolation.
Kidd has also recognized the limitations of his team's abilities. A starting lineup that includes Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is likely to suffer in transition. Under Kidd's tutelage, the Nets are playing a slow brand of basketball—they rank 26th in Pace Factor, according to ESPN.com. Such a deliberate style minimizes opponents' opportunities to outrun the Nets.
Kidd's decisions have not been mistake-free. He has committed a handful of late-game errors that might have cost the Nets a few precious victories. He was unable to draw up a successful inbounds play against the Toronto Raptors on January 27, leading to a turnover and the game-winning bucket. His spilled soda fiasco back in December was a direct consequence of mismanaging his timeouts late in an eventual loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In general though, he has shown the capacity to make changes where needed and has steered the Nets skillfully on both ends of court.
In giving Jason Kidd a cumulative grade for his performance so far, one must decide how heavily to weigh his early season struggles.
On one hand, the Nets dismal November and December probably have doomed them to a first-round series on the road come the NBA postseason.
Then again, some room for early adjustments should be granted to a rookie head coach, especially one given the reins to a freshly assembled team.
Besides, Kidd has shown his worth on a variety of fronts. He was not afraid to severely rethink Brooklyn's rotations and philosophies on offense and defense, leading to the team's turnaround. Plus, several players have experienced important upturns in their career in the few short months he's been at the helm.
No, he has not gotten enough out of Joe Johnson or Paul Pierce, and the much hyped connection with Deron Williams has yet to transpire.
However, the Nets have steadily crawled up the Eastern Conference standings in the past ten weeks, and they are in a position to play at least one competitive playoff series in April.
Professors often say not to worry if you fail the first exam, since what they truly crave is improvement. That logic is upheld in the NBA.
Overall Grade: B+
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