Coming off their dreadful 12-70 season, the New Jersey Nets, for the most part, played well opening week.
As is the case for every team, there are some areas for improvement, but there are also strengths that were not there a year ago.
Here's a quick look at what the Nets did this week:
- vs. Detroit, W, 101-98
- vs. Sacramento, W, 106-100
- vs. Miami, L, 101-78
The team is 2-1, tied with Boston for first in the Atlantic Division.
Let's start with the bad before moving to the good, so that we can end on a positive note.
The Nets are turning it over a lot, an average of 17.3 times a game. Now, that number is slightly skewed due to the 26 they had against Sacramento, but it is something to watch going forward.
Against Miami on Sunday, the Nets had a chance to get themselves back in the game with a good run, but a number of bad passes in the third quarter effectively ended the game. New Jersey had 15 turnovers in that game; nearly half of them came in the third.
Terrence Williams was especially turnover prone this week, averaging four a game despite playing an average of 24 minutes.
Hopes are high for Williams, and with the struggles of Travis Outlaw (who sandwiched two bad performances around one really good game), Williams has an opportunity to play himself into the starting-five.
If he can't protect the ball, however, he will lose a great deal of his minutes to Jordan Farmar, who has been solid coming off the bench.
New Jersey is also allowing quite a few points-per-game, 99.7 to be exact. Keep in mind, though, that many teams are going to allow 101 points to Miami this year. Only elite defensive teams like Boston are going to be able to consistently make things difficult for the Heat.
Sacramento also averaged 100 PPG last year, making that pill easier to swallow.
It's still early and the Nets have plenty of time to work on their defense, 79 games to be exact, but there were times when they were slow on their rotations.
Particularly against Miami, Brook Lopez was late in providing help, and opposing teams were able to get to the basket without too much trouble.
It should be noted that when Derrick Favors has been in the game, the team improved defensively, as it appears he knows what he's doing on that end. He needs to be more careful about racking up fouls, but if he continues to play as well as he has, he could crack the starting lineup before too long.
Speaking of fouls, opponents got to the free-throw line pretty regularly against New Jersey, averaging 30 free-throw attempts. League average was about 24 attempts-per-game last year, so they will need to get better in that department.
New Jersey could also stand to score more on the break. They are not a running team, but with guys like Devin Harris and Williams, they should be better than five fast-break points-per-game.
Okay, are you done hearing about where the Nets messed up this week? Let's look at what they did well.
First off, they scored points and they played well in the fourth quarter.
The team averaged 95 PPG and cracked 100 points twice. Miami put a stranglehold on the team, but they are looking to be an elite team on defense, so let's not be too hard on the Nets.
The Nets also came back from fourth quarter deficits against Detroit and Sacramento, something they were unable to do a year ago.
Compared to last season, the team was exceptional in many regards.
They upped their numbers in points, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and rebounds.
Also, although they allowed their opponents to get to the charity stripe fairly regularly, New Jersey got there just as often; attempting 92 free throws compared to the 90 they allowed.
Rebounding was a major emphasis over the summer and it's paying off so far. The Nets averaged 41.7 rebounds-per-game this week, including grabbing an average of 11 on the offensive end.
Favors is their leading rebounder with an average of 10, while seeing just 21.3 minutes on the court. Once he learns to stop fouling people, it will be hard to keep him on the bench.
The Nets' three-point shooting was really the main reason they won their first two games. It appears that, like the Orlando Magic, their success will hinge on the three. When it's going, they'll have a good chance to win, when it's off, they'll shoot themselves out of the game.
In their games against the Pistons and Kings, New Jersey went 12-of-24 (50 percent) on threes; against Miami they were 3-of-14 (21.4 percent).
As far as individual accolades go, Lopez, Harris and Farmar stood out. Favors will also get a mention for the reasons noted above.
Lopez averaged 24.7 PPG and it's clear Avery Johnson wants him working in the post. They went to him there on the first possession of each game and were generally successful when they ran the offense in that manner.
Harris was fantastic, averaging 18.7 points on 57.6 percent shooting and dishing out an average of 8.7 assists. He also got it done in the clutch in New Jersey's wins and was 4-of-6 on threes; showing that quality is much more important than quantity.
Farmar gets a nod because his late game threes against Detroit and Sacramento sparked the runs that would eventually lead to victories. His numbers are not eye-popping, but more important than just scoring points is when you score those points, and Farmar was crucial in the two wins.
Overall, it was a successful week for the Nets with plenty of excitement and late game drama. Going 2-1 every week would land them in the playoffs, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
The Nets host Charlotte (0-3) and will travel to Orlando (1-1) and Miami (3-1). All three were in the playoffs last season, so the coming week will provide a good barometer on just how good this team is.
And, if you're wondering, I will be doing a breakdown like this every week; looking at how the team played and what it means for the season as a whole.
Based on this very limited sample size, it should be a fun year.
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