With the All-Star break only a few days away, now is as good a time as any to take a step back and assess the Nets' performance so far this season, especially in light of their expectations on both an individual and team basis.
Let's start with the key players.
Devin Harris: A-
While Harris has only averaged 15 PPG - down 3 points from a season ago - he is dishing it out at an outstanding rate, averaging close to 8 dimes per game. While all of this adds up to an average season for Harris, his real value has been the intensity he brings to the floor. While other players may seem to take some nights off, Harris is always running full throttle and shows his desire to win. He has really matured as a team leader in the first half of the season, and is probably the reason for many of their gritty wins.
Brook Lopez: C
After dodging the Sophomore Slump last season, Lopez has hit a wall on the defensive end of the floor. His scoring is up from last year at 19.1 PPG, but he is averaging a measly 5.7 boards, a number unacceptable for a seven-footer. However, there is a case for justifying this odd stat. Last season Lopez saw a drop-off in production off the glass when Yi, a rebounding presence, returned to the lineup, so it is not unbelievable that Humphries' ferocious rebounding has merely stolen boards from Lopez. Either way, he has often looked slower on the offensive end as well, and could really use some work on his post moves.
Kris Humphries: A+
Intensity (n.) - great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence, etc. see also Kris Humphries
Okay, maybe the last part was my addition, but there is no denying the hustle "The Hump", as the team calls him, brings to the floor. Once an energy player struggling to crack rotations, Humphries has emerged as an elite rebounder whose skillset seems to improve with every match. Kris has begun to knock down mid-range jumpers at a fairly consistent rate and sure knows how to finish an alley-oop. While his trade value is probably higher than it ever will be right now, I would love to see the Nets hold onto him for as long as possible. His contributions to the team so far cannot be understated. He gets the '+' for dating Kim Kardashian.
Derrick Favors: B
The Nets knew when they drafted Favors that he would be a "project" that would take a few year to fully develop. While the youngest player in the league has had his fair share of disappointing games and bad fouls, such is to be expected from a rookie. Averaging about 6 points and 5 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per contest, Favors has put his potential on full display at times, throwing down monstrous slams and attacking the glass with power. Favors has made huge strides since his weak preseason performance, and the Nets should be happy with what they have seen. However, coach Avery Johnson has chewed Favors out multiple times for his lack of effort and intensity, which is not something you want to hear about a player with such potential. With the season basically in the drain at this point, look for the Nets to focus more and more on developing Favors and working him into the offense.
Travis Outlaw: D
Mikhail Prokhorov once stated that he wants to be prudent when it comes to signing players, because one bad contract can hurt you for many years. Then why did the Nets have to go and sign Outlaw for 5 years at $7M a year? If it weren't for Damion James' unfortunate ankle injury earlier in the season, Outlaw would already be on the bench, where Johnson plans to move him when James returns. Outlaw has been frustratingly bad this season, averaging just under 10 PPG at a dismal 37% from the field. On a team that is trying to rebuild and stay focused, nonchalante play is just not acceptable. I think most Nets fans agree with me here when I say that I hope the Nets find a way to move him sometime soon.
Anthony Morrow: B+
A pulled hamstring kept Morrow out of action for a large chunk of the first half of the season, but that has not stopped him from putting up solid numbers. Currently the all-time best three-point shooter in percentage, Morrow has shown the ability to create his own scoring opportunities and has really picked up the slack on nights where the team is struggling. The emergence of newly acquired Sasha Vujacic has taken some of the pressure of Morrow to provide and has given the Nets a deadly outside tandem at shooting guard.
Sasha Vujacic/Jordan Farmar: A-
This ex-Laker backcourt has done wonders for the Nets bench, which has been one of the most productive in the league in recent weeks. Even with Morrow sidelined, Johnson stuck with Graham in the starting lineup in order to bring Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic off the bench for some instant offense. Even in his bench role, Vujacic is averaging 11.3 PPG, and scored a career high 25 points against the Hornets recently. This tandem's solid play has certainly given the Nets a boost and allowed the starters to rest assured on the bench.
Avery Johnson: B
Avery has been tough to judge so far. He says all the right things to the media and is very active during games, but I still wonder what he is like at practice. He seems to be doing a good job motivating Favors, but I am not quite sure about the rest of the team. At times they have put on some uninspired performances that would make you think Kiki Vandaweghe was still coaching. With the new Harris trade rumors surfacing, it looks like Avery's relationship with his point guard hasn't been much better than it was in Dallas. Only time will tell with Avery.
Nets' Front Office: D-
Could their dealings with the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony have gone any worse? Not only did they fail to secure a deal when it was reasonable and then look defeated when they pulled out of negotiations, but they also managed to kill the Nets season by leaking all of the rumors and dragging out the process. During all of the Melo Drama the Nets went on a horrid losing streak and played some of the worst basketball I have seen in a while. Then, not surprisingly, the Nets won four of the next five after the talks were ended. So now the Nets are a long shot to get Melo, looking to deal Harris for an aging veteran, and are thinking of buying out Murphy's contract instead of trading him. Not terribly promising.
As of now, the season looks like it is going to be ending on its scheduled date for the Nets, so I think it would behoove them to focus on a few areas that will help them down the road. The most obvious one, of course, is developing Favors. I would look for them to get him more involved in the offense and really learn how to make an impact in the game. It may be ugly at times, but it will be worth it. The same goes for Damion James.
After that, it is important that they continue to play hard and make a statement to the league and future free agents. If they really show promise and potential, maybe the next wave of starts won't pass them over so easily.
Or, of course, they could tank for a higher pick, but I wouldn't expect them to do that considering their ability to move up in the draft if need be via trade.
Either way, the Nets could use the long weekend to regroup. Their next game is Friday the 25th in San Antonio.