While there were slight improvements across the board for the New Jersey Nets this week, there are still areas where the team can stand to do much better.
It's hard to say this wasn't at least a somewhat successful week for the Nets, but their loss to Philadelphia makes it feel like they should have done better, especially considering the way they competed against some pretty solid teams.
Before we get into specifics, here's a quick recap of the week:
- vs. Atlanta, W, 107-101
- at Boston, L, 89-83
- 76ers-philadelphia-4th-quarter-explosion-dooms-new-jersey">at Philadelphia, L, 102-86
- vs. Portland, W, 98-96
New Jersey went 2-2 on the week, giving them an overall record of 6-11. They sit in fourth place of the Atlantic Division.
The biggest story this week was the demotion of Terrence Williams to the D-League.
I won't spend too much time on this, but I will say that it was the right move.
"T-Will" has been a bit of a head case for the team since he was taken 11th overall in the 2009 draft. He sent out tweets a year ago that were disrespectful to the team, was insubordinate with coach Kiki Vandeweghe last season and has shown an unwillingness to adhere to team rules in his brief career.
The Nets threatened him with a demotion in his rookie year. He responded by having a very good final six weeks of the season and it appeared he was headed in the right direction.
The coaching staff spoke very highly of him in the preseason, but once the regular season started he relapsed into poor work habits.
He was reportedly always late to practice and shootarounds, and fining him multiple times did not get the message across. The Nets could not stand to continue threatening him and had to act. They had to send a message to the team that this type of behavior was unacceptable.
In short, they had no choice.
It will be up to Williams how this plays out. If he works hard and shows up to play every night, basically if he shows he's a professional, he'll eventually be brought back to the team.
If not, well, he'll be out of the league before too long. Talent alone does not make a professional basketball player. Terrence Williams needs to understand this.
Now on to this week's performance.
By understanding your weaknesses, you can turn them into strengths, which is why I like to start out with the negative before turning to the positive.
With that in mind, let's talk about Philadelphia. What a bad loss.
The Nets and the 76ers are in similar rebuilding circumstances. On paper they're a pretty even match and, naturally, there has to be a winner and a loser.
The problem I have with that game is that the Nets beat two playoff teams from a year ago who were above .500 at the time of their games and nearly beat the defending Eastern Conference champs.
How do you do that and then go out and lose to a team like the Sixers?
To be fair, Philly had a ridiculous fourth quarter. They shot nearly 80 percent from the field and it wasn't like the Nets were horrendous as they were at 45 percent in that quarter.
It takes a combination of poor defense and lights-out shooting for a team to have a quarter like that. In their other games this week, the Nets were a solid defensive team. It seems they just had a 12-minute breakdown for that one game.
That quarter was, however, a glaring example of an area the Nets need to improve upon: Their defensive rotations.
The team usually makes the right rotation, but it seems to come a little too late. By the time a defender gets there, the opposing player is either already in his shooting motion or making a strong move to the basket.
This is largely a young team so this is to be expected, and the Nets have been good this year in terms of opponent field goal percentage.
Philadelphia's 51.2 percent shooting night knocked them out of the top-10 in that category, but if you take that game away, New Jersey held opponents to 44 percent shooting on the week, right around their season average.
For that reason, I'll chalk that one up to just a bad 12-minute stretch of basketball. It happens.
Where the Nets need to improve immediately is their rebounding.
They did get better in terms of allowing offensive rebounds, which I will discuss shortly.
New Jersey is 18th in the NBA in total rebounds per game. Both their defensive and offensive rebound numbers decreased this week.
The only team they held a rebounding edge over was Boston (42-33), but the Celtics are statistically the worst rebounding team in the league. One would hope the Nets could do better than the worst team in that category.
In the other three games combined the team was out-rebounded 126-116. The biggest factor in this has to be Brook Lopez.
Coming into the season, most were expecting him to average at least a double-double and possibly have a 20-10 season.
However, he has yet to record a single double-double and only once has he hit double-digit rebounds.
He'll go through brief stretches where he crashes the boards with extreme aggressiveness, before falling back into a more passive mode. The rebounding effort of Kris Humphries is great, and it's surely taking away some opportunities for Lopez, but he has to get better as greater rebounding efforts from him would dramatically improve the team's overall rebounding numbers.
It's simply unacceptable for a 7'0" center to be averaging six rebounds per game.
Lopez probably has the most potential of anyone on the team. He can stretch the floor with his shot and can be extremely effective posting guys up when he wants to be. It's completely reasonable to hope for a 20-point, eight-rebound season average from him this year.
If he really puts his mind to it he should eventually become a 20-10 guy.
For right now, I'll give him a pass and allow him to grow. It's been said that he is very coachable and he's done a fantastic job of handling the criticisms that have been thrown at him this year.
At the very least, we know he will not wilt under the demanding glare of Avery Johnson.
The Nets also need to do a better job of creating turnovers. They've improved greatly since the beginning of the season in turnovers committed and have even found their way into the top-10.
They are dead last in opponent turnovers, though. Their high this past week was 13 and against the Sixers they forced just five.
They counteract this deficiency by being smart with the ball, but think about how much better they could be if they stole the ball away from their opponents more often.
It's something to look for going forward.
Okay, now to the bright side.
The Nets got better this week in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, free throw attempts, opponent free throw attempts and the amount of offensive rebounds they allowed.
This team is a very good free throw shooting team so getting to the line often greatly benefits them.
Last week they allowed far too many opponent free throw attempts, but they drastically improved this week -- allowing just 84 total free throw attempts compared to their 110.
They actually made more free throws than their opponents attempted, which is a complete reversal of what happened last week. Kudos to the team for straightening that out.
They can still get better at shooting threes as they were at 35.7 percent for the week, but against Portland they were 7-of-14, hopefully a sign of things to come.
Decreasing the amount of second-chance opportunities they allowed opponents was, to me, their greatest need.
They responded (I'm sure the players and coaches read this column and take my advice to heart) by giving up an average of three less opponent offensive rebounds this week.
If they can continue to do that, keep doing the things they did well this week and improve their weaknesses, they could creep closer to .500.
On the individual level, Devin Harris was fantastic this week.
He averaged 22.8 points, seven assists, 57.2 percent shooting and was even 7-for-17 on threes for the week. His decision making has been excellent and he is developing into the leader Johnson wants him to be.
As mentioned earlier, Lopez is doing a good job of scoring, but needs to rebound better.
Anthony Morrow seems to have rediscovered his stroke and Humphries is still performing way better than expected, rebounding and even scoring some points.
Travis Outlaw continues to be a disappointment. He shot under 30 percent for the week and his scoring high was nine points.
He does try, I will give him that. It's not lack of effort that has me upset with him, it's just that he's getting paid way too much to perform this way.
It's not his fault that management gave him too big of a contract, though.
Jordan Farmar continues to be a solid back up at point guard and Derrick Favors is still finding his way coming off the bench. He'll get there, he just needs time.
Damion James and Johan Petro saw increased minutes this week.
Petro is actually starting to hit the 18-foot jumper he loves to shoot, although he needs to learn how to set screens. In the games against Philadelphia and Portland he was called for at least three fouls when trying to set a pick.
The demotion of Williams freed up minutes for James. He was on the floor for just five minutes against Atlanta, but saw significantly more playing time in the other three games.
His shot seems a bit flat for someone who was a good shooter in college, but I have to think it will start to fall at some point. He provides really good effort and had games of five, seven and five rebounds this week.
It's clear that Johnson is going to play the guys he feels are giving the best effort, which I have to agree with.
Draft status or the size of a player's contract should not determine minutes. Johnson is being very hard on the players, but they do seem to be responding.
Lopez has said he likes Johnson's style because it "shows he cares."
Troy Murphy seems stuck on the bench, and I think it's only a matter of time before he is traded. He has an expiring contact and is clearly not in the team's future. If he was he'd be getting more time on the floor.
New Jersey has a tough schedule in the coming week -- going against New York (9-9), Oklahoma City (11-6) and Boston (12-4).
To me, 2-2 would be a success. If they can play with the effort and intensity they did against Atlanta, Boston and Portland this week while avoiding a let-down like they had against Philadelphia, 3-1 is not too much of a stretch.
We'll see what happens.
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