Avery Johnson Fails To Maximize New Jersey Nets' Talent

John FrascellaCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2011

Which way are we going?
Which way are we going?Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Everyone knows, with their roster constructed as is, that the New Jersey Nets aren't going to win a championship any time soon. However, that doesn't mean that they should be 20 games under the .500 mark with a ghastly 11-31 record.

Avery Johnson deserves the blame for the Nets' inability to play up to their collective potential.

Even with that embarrassing record, New Jersey is only six-and-a-half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. More than half of its losses (16, to be exact) have come by 10 or fewer points. 

That statistic indicates that the Nets don't know how to close games. Anyone who has been watching this team religiously is aware of that harsh reality. So what's the problem?

It's quite simple, actually: Johnson's rotation is a mess and he plays the wrong guys at the wrong times. 

Let's take last night, for example. The Nets worked hard for an impressive 103-95 victory over the Utah Jazz, thanks to seven double-digit scoring performances. So everything is peachy, right?

Wrong. Starting shooting guard Stephen Graham, a career journeyman, played over 28 minutes and had five points on two-of-five shooting. His plus/minus for the evening was -10. He was the only Net with a negative rating. 

Guard Jordan Farmar, a legitimate free agent whom the Nets invested in during the offseason, was three-of-six with 11 points, three treys, eight assists and three rebounds. He was a +11 for the night, good for second on the team.

Inexplicably, Farmar played just 19 minutes.

It's a serious problem when a professional head coach can't differentiate between the players who are helping, and those who are hurting.

This is Graham's sixth season in the NBA and he's never averaged more than 5.5 points per game. In addition, he's never averaged more than 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, or 2.4 rebounds per game.

Graham's an easy player to summarize: He plays a little defense and brings nothing else to the table. And yet, Johnson has him starting and playing nearly 20 minutes a night.

"The General" can fix things by upgrading his starting lineup and shortening his rotation when SG Anthony Morrow returns from injury this weekend.

Johnson's current starters are PG Devin Harris, SG Graham, SF Travis Outlaw, PF Derrick Favors and C Brook Lopez.

G Sasha Vujacic, PF Kris Humphries, Farmar and C Johan Petro are the regular reserves.

In my humble opinion, this is what the starting lineup should be this weekend: PG Farmar, SG Harris, SF Morrow, PF Humphries and C Lopez, with Vujacic, Favors and Outlaw off the bench.

Farmar should start alongside Harris because he gives the Nets another ball-handler who can take some of the pressure off Harris. Farmar is also an upgrade over Graham in every aspect except size, and possibly defense (though the former is a capable defender).

Humphries is the third-best player on the team; he has to play around or over 30 minutes per game. Favors can back up at both PF and C; Petro isn't a necessity unless there's an injury in the frontcourt.

So what does this all mean?

The Nets aren't good, but they can still compete for a bottom-end playoff spot in the East. The Pacers are currently the eighth seed and they're seven games under .500.

All is not lost, Avery.

So wake up, coach!


(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston 's popular GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)