5 Brooklyn Nets Weaknesses to Exploit in the NBA Playoffs
By now, you’re probably well-versed in the story of the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets.
Initially, the Nets were terrible. But then, following a few months of putridity, they became what they were expected to be over the summer—a contender.
After getting off to a humiliating 10-21 start, the most expensive team in league history owns the best record in the East since Jan. 1 and the fifth spot in the conference.
At this point, we've seen what the Nets are good at. Veteran leadership, contributions from top to bottom and a tightly knit locker room have catapulted Brooklyn from an NBA laughingstock into a playoff team.
But with the regular season winding down, it’s time to answer a difficult question—how can the Nets be defeated in a seven-game series?
Nets fans: If you want your team to go far in the playoffs, don't let this slideshow fall into the wrong hands. All stats are accurate as of April 4, courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.
5. One-on-One: Attack D-Will at the Tin
At his very best, Deron Williams is an elite offensive point guard. But while No. 8 is adept at creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, he’s vulnerable on the defensive end.
Shaky ankles have slowed Williams down a bit, and his deteriorating athleticism almost certainly plays a role in his declining ability to shut down opposing guards.
According to NBA Stats, the 29-year-old point guard is allowing opponents to finish over 60 percent of their shot attempts at the rim. And per Synergy Sports, opposing guards are scoring on Williams over 40 percent of the time in isolation situations.
Brooklyn will likely play either the Raptors or the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, which means that Williams will be matched up against Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry or, if Chicago, a combination of Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin.
Lowry—who is putting up about 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds a game this season—has already seen time against Williams in 2013-14. In the two games that the point guards have squared off against each other, Lowry hit the Nets for an average of 26 points and seven dimes.
The Bulls’ combo, however, is more of a wild card. Augustine, who was picked up after Derrick Rose went down earlier in the year, is giving Chicago about 13 points a night, while Hinrich is averaging nearly nine points a game.
Neither backcourt will be easy for Williams to defend. And although D-Will has the ability to give the Nets a spark offensively, BKN will need to provide him with a good amount of help on the other end.
4. Perimeter D: Launch Threes
The Nets rely on long-range shots pretty heavily themselves and rank as the league’s 10th-best three-point shooting club.
But when Brooklyn allows opponents to get open looks from downtown, they’re very susceptible to getting torched.
From January to March, the Nets had the best record in the Eastern Conference. In wins, opponents made an average 7.5 threes. But in losses, that number jumped to 10 three-pointers per game.
Part of getting good looks from downtown is the presence of a post game that sucks the defenses towards the basket. Being that the Nets have been without Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett, they're weak on the inside.
Rookie Mason Plumlee is going to need help in the paint, which means that those big men he's guarding who have good vision will kick the ball out to open shooters.
It all goes back to Garnett’s health—if KG is playing at a high level, Brooklyn's defense is significantly stouter. Kidd indicated that his veteran forward, who’s dealing with back spasms, is an irreplaceable part of the team.
Per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
He’s played this game. It doesn’t change. If he gets to play before the playoffs, that’ll be great. If he gets to practice before the playoffs, that’ll be great. And if he had no practice or no games, for him being on the floor (in the playoffs) would help us dramatically. So however you look at it, him playing with us will help us.
Garnett won’t be defending the perimeter, but if he’s on the sidelines or is noticeably hobbled, opponents could thrive both in the paint and from beyond the arc.
3. Speed: Push the Tempo
The Nets are old. And their average age of just over 29 is misleading, too.
Youngsters Jorge Gutierrez (25) and Marquis Teague (21) are combining for a hair over 20 minutes a game this year. They won’t make or break Brooklyn’s season.
Take those two out of the equation, and the Nets’ age jumps to an average of over 30.
Because of the Nets' lack of youth, and the aches and pains that come along with that deficiency, one of the best ways to beat them is to turn the game, and the series, into a full-on track meet.
NBA playoff series often boil down to slow-paced, gritty slug fests, and that’s Brooklyn’s bread and butter. When general manager Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov opted to bring in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, they had assembled what appeared to be a team sculpted for traditional playoff basketball.
Forcing the previously injury-ridden Nets—including KG, whose back has given him some serious trouble late in the year—to play up-tempo ball would serve as a huge advantage for Toronto or Chicago.
But letting the Nets work at their punch-you-in-the-face pace will most likely result in an early exit for whichever team is their opponent.
2. Size: Feed the Post
Opposing big men need to look at the Nets the same way that a pack of hungry lions look at an unsuspecting, grazing zebra.
With Garnett's health in question and Brook Lopez out for the year, Brooklyn has been forced to turn to rookie Mason Plumlee as the team’s primary interior defender. While the former Duke star has played with admirable heart alongside fellow big man Andray Blatche, the Nets have had trouble slowing down opposing centers.
Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats hit Brooklyn for 53 points and 27 rebounds over a two-game stretch in late March with KG on the sidelines. And per RotoGrinders, Jason Kidd’s team has surrendered a smidgen under 20 points a night to opposing centers in its last 15 games.
Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Roy Hibbert, David West—Brooklyn will have no answer for any of these guys, especially if Garnett is unable to return to full health by playoff time,
If pushing the pace doesn’t work for opponents, the next step is throwing the ball inside. Feed the post until the Nets prove that they can stop it.
1. Kidd's Rawness: Force Adjustments
After an extremely disappointing beginning to the season, Jason Kidd—one of the greatest point guards in NBA history—has figured out how to thrive as a coach.
When the Nets were 10-21, and sources were telling B/R’s Howard Beck that Kidd “doesn’t do anything,” it was easy to call for his head.
But the front office’s belief in the rookie coach never faltered. Here’s what Prokorov told Fred Kerber of the New York Post on March 30 through a spokesperson:
I really had no doubts about Jason, nor did I have any doubts that building a contender with the Nets would take some time. We spoke once during the tough period and I told him not to pay any attention to what the papers were saying—no offense, New York Post—and to just do his thing.
Brooklyn certainly has turned things around, and will look to make some noise in the playoffs.
But despite the fact that he’s proven himself, opposing coaches must put pressure on Kidd, who experienced the postseason 17 times as a player but never as a coach.
The small-ball lineup that Kidd implemented after Lopez went down has proven to be successful. But while that approach worked well in regular-season contests, it may be exploitable in a series.
B/R’s Walker Harrison recently outlined why Kidd is ready to coach in the playoffs but acknowledges the risk involved with his unconventional decisions down the stretch of ballgames:
It's likely that Kidd will be faced with more close-and-late scenarios in the playoffs, requiring him to again enter into a battle of wits with the opposing coach. He might make the right call, and he also might get burned for his unorthodox decisions.
Maybe Kidd is even better during the postseason than regular season. It’s a possibility, because as Harrison notes, Kidd often goes against the grain.
But there’s also the chance that the first-year head coach will go through an adjustment period and be forced to figure everything out on the fly. Much like the beginning of the regular season, such a growth process in the postseason could lead to the Nets struggling.
There’s no time to ease into what will be a sea of roaring postseason waters. For BKN's sake, Kidd will have to swan dive into the ocean of playoff coaching.
And whether he sinks or swims will be one of the biggest determining factors in how Brooklyn’s title chase plays out.