Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries all shined for the New Jersey Nets in Week 19, and the team's collective performance should give fans reason to be excited about the future.
It may have taken a trip to London, but the Nets finally got a division win—two to be exact. They also played a couple of close and extremely entertaining overtime games, coming up just short in one and edging out their opponent in the other.
It's reasonable to say this was the most successful week of the season for the Nets—even if they did play the woeful Raptors twice. New Jersey won two of its three games, had statistical advantages in nearly every category and got some mighty fine player performances to boot.
Before we go any further, here's a quick recap:
The Nets went 2-1 on the week, are 19-43 overall, continue to reside in fourth place of the Atlantic Division and also remain in the 12th spot of Eastern Conference.
Clearly, some numbers will be inflated due to the four overtime periods the Nets played. Going against the worst defensive team in the league (Toronto) twice doesn't hurt the offensive production, either.
That's what averages are for, though, and what's really important is playing better than your opponent, regardless of whom that may be.
I mentioned earlier that New Jersey had advantages in nearly every statistical category, and here's what I mean (these are the averages and shooting totals for the week):
|Three-Pointers Made/Attempted||26/68 (38%)||21/55 (38%)|
|Free-Throws Made/Attempted||60/80 (75%)||62/73 (85%)|
|Rebounds (Offensive Boards)||51 (12)||45 (10)|
The only areas of the game where New Jersey's opponents had edges were free-throw percentage and turnovers. And even in the three-pointer department, while the percentages were even, the Nets made more total threes on the week than their foes.
One place where the Nets need to get better is their free-throw percentage. Look at the totals. New Jersey got to the line seven more times than their opponents, yet they hit two less. Free-throw shooting nearly cost them the second game against Toronto, and it's reasonable to say that they would have beaten Phoenix if they had done just a tiny bit better (they went 12-of-16 from the line).
So, what does all of this tell us?
Well, we can safely say that the Nets are better than the Raptors. Toronto is one of the worst teams in the league, though, so that isn't really something to be incredibly proud of.
Phoenix, on the other hand, is 32-29 and fighting to make the playoffs. The Nets were one point, and really a tenth of a second, worse than them.
That's some good news.
The talent levels on NBA teams aren't all that different. If you're playing in the NBA, you're one of the best basketball players in the world.
What separates teams is having a superstar—an elite-level player or players. A guy like Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James, or Kevin Durant. Getting such a player can immediately turn a franchise around—look what LeBron did for Cleveland—and it's impossible to win a championship without one of them.
The Nets got themselves an elite player in Deron Williams at the trade deadline, and the effect has been obvious.
New Jersey can suddenly score with the best of them, and the team is actually able to win some games now.
Think about it. When Devin Harris was the point guard, the Nets lost by nine to Phoenix and six to the Raptors.
Williams joins the team, and New Jersey loses to the Suns only because time ran out and beats Toronto by a combined 14 points over two games. They also played a highly competitive game with the Spurs, losing by 10 in San Antonio, the week before.
When the Nets played that last team in New Jersey with Harris at the point, they lost by 17.
The difference is evident.
Williams has been on a tear with the Nets, and last week alone averaged 16.6 PPG and 15.6 APG. His shooting (39 percent from the field and 30 percent on threes) has been pretty awful, but that's largely due to his wrist injury.
Once that thing heals, which might take until next season, he should be able to hit shots more consistently and the Nets will be even better.
Add in what Brook Lopez did last week (29 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 58 percent shooting), and things are looking up for New Jersey. If Lopez can continue to produce like that, the team may very well have two elite players on its roster, and the championship within five years promised by owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn't seem so far-fetched.
Just as important, the Nets seem to have the power forward position locked down with Kris Humphries.
Humphries averaged 18 PPG on 52 percent shooting and 16.3 RPG last week. He's instantly developed chemistry with Williams, and the only glaring defect in his game is his free-throw shooting. With how hard he works, though, it would be surprising if that didn't improve by next season.
The team also has some great pieces in Anthony Morrow and Damion James.
Morrow only played one full game last week before he was knocked out of action with a concussion in the first contest against Toronto.
Before that, against Phoenix, he showed just how dangerous he can be when he scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and nine in the final minute to send the game to overtime. He might not be a full-time starter due to his poor defensive play, but he can provide instant offense and has the ability to drill big shots. It's never bad to have someone like that on your team.
James is simply a tremendous hustle player.
He's always around loose balls, plays solid defense and goes after rebounds with a great amount of intensity. He's also showing he can be an efficient offensive player when called upon, as he went 10-of-13 from the field last week.
Another key stat with him is the 2.3 steals a game he averaged. New Jersey has had trouble forcing turnovers all year. Having a guy who knows how to play the passing lanes and has a knack for taking the ball away from opponents should help that.
Depending on how the rookie develops, he could be the answer at small forward for the future, which would be one less hole to fill.
After returning from London, the Nets will have just two games next week. They are both at home, and they are both winnable.
The playing week will begin on Wednesday against Golden State (27-35) and will end on Friday against the L.A. Clippers (23-40).
The week could serve as another big step forward.
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