The championship-hopeful Brooklyn Nets are struggling, and no one's been more at fault than the man expected to help realize those dreams.
Kevin Garnett knows a thing or two about change.
He revolutionized the power forward position shortly after breaking into the NBA in the 1995-96 season. He shifted the league's balance of power when he moved from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics in 2007, then seemingly did so again when he signed off the Celtics-Brooklyn Nets trade this past summer.
Through the first six games of this, his 18th season in the league, Garnett's starting to change the reality for the on-paper superpower in Brooklyn.
That was to be expected. The way he's changing that reality, though, is nothing like we'd imagined it.
No Offensive Rhythm
Defense might win championships, but the cliche only holds true if the offensive attack is strong enough to complement the defensive onslaught.
Right now, Garnett looks unrecognizable to basketball fans, and that has nothing to do with his offseason wardrobe change.
The same player who once overwhelmed smaller defenders with size and wore out bigger ones with speed, suddenly has lost his touch from inside and out. His shot chart, once as green as his old Celtics jerseys, has become a wince-worthy sea of red.
He's been a non-factor no matter where he's found his looks. To say this boggles the mind is an understatement. Garnett, a career 49.8 percent shooter from the field, holds a league-worst 33.1 true-shooting percentage this season, via NBA.com.
But Nets coach Jason Kidd isn't pumping the brakes on his Hall of Fame forward just yet. He told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post that Garnett knows this business and will find his way out of this funk:
I’m not going to have him come and shoot early or late. He’s been doing it for 20 years. My job is to put him in his comfort zone, and for him to get in his comfort zone. So there’s nothing that we’re going to change. He’s getting great looks, he’s just got to keep shooting.
Returning to the mean feels inevitable given his track record, but the real question for Kidd to solve is how long he's willing to wait for Garnett to get himself going.
The Nets (2-4) have been atrocious when Garnett is on the floor. Brooklyn's managed just a 95.3 offensive rating and a 107.6 defensive rating with Garnett in the game, both of which would be bottom-three marks in their respective categories.
Now, KG isn't the only one on the floor when those frightening figures have been put together. Perhaps he's just paying the price for an equally inept supporting cast.
Well, Daniel Savitzky of TheBrooklynGame.com tried to give the big man the benefit of the doubt and looked beyond these numbers. His findings were just as troubling:
Sub Andray Blatche in for Garnett, and suddenly the Nets become, like, the best team ever. The 5-man unit of Deron Williams-Joe Johnson-Paul Pierce-Blatche-Brook Lopez notches 114.6 points per 100 possessions and surrenders only 88.6, good for a net rating of +26 points per 100 possessions! The original starting lineup? -2.3 points per 100.
So, what's wrong with Garnett? You mean, besides all of that NBA mileage on his body?
I’ve got to quit thinking so much and be more aggressive. I’m trying to make things easier for Brook [Lopez] and cause opportunities for other people out there. I’ve got to be a little more aggressive and look for my offense a little bit.
As bad as they've been, Garnett's offensive woes aren't the real cause for concern. For someone tasked with bringing title-worthy toughness to Brooklyn, he's looked marshmallow-soft at the defensive end.
From D.P.O.Y. to Defensive Liability
Despite his non-stop chattering on the floor, Garnett remains somewhat of a mystery man in today's open-book NBA.
We've watched him grow up in front of our eyes, but we know very little about the man himself. But even the few truths we thought that we knew about him have been hard to hold onto this season.
He was brought in to help fill a spot that most teams no longer employ: an intimidator.
With the wounds still fresh from their bent-then-broken performance during a seven-game loss to the undermanned Chicago Bulls in last season's opening-round matchup, the Nets went searching for toughness this summer.
Once the Garnett acquisition became official, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News wrote that Brooklyn had found what it was missing. "Kevin Garnett will growl, set moving picks, degrade the opponent and give the Nets everything they were lacking with his obnoxious and grating personality: Toughness."
But if he's making anything tough this season, it's the wavering belief behind Brooklyn's flickering championship dreams. He's become a defensive sieve, a glaring hole even greater than the ones he was supposed to help fix.
Kidd has tried using Garnett as both a power forward and a center, but the big man's been used and abused at either spot. He's yielded plus-20 player efficiency ratings—league average is 15.0—to both opposing 4s (22.9) and 5s (20.1), via 82games.com.
As CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote, as rough as the stat sheets have been for KG, his game film has graded out even worse:
Numbers are part of the equation, the eye test is certainly worth some input as well. And it's not good. I've seen Garnett dominated inside, tosssed aside like loose cardboard by Nikola Vucevic and Nene. I've seen him slow to rotate...He looks nothing like himself, nothing like the force of nature he's been in this league for eighteen years.
His rebounding rate is about the only figure that hasn't fallen off the map (16.7), but that's hardly a cause for celebration. If Kidd really wanted a one-trick glass cleaner, then Reggie Evans (26.7 rebounding rate in 2012-13) would still have a spot in the starting lineup.
Garnett's minus-12.3 net rating is no doubt influenced by his atrocious offensive output, but his overly generous work at the other end shares a major chunk of the blame.
With a win-now edict issued by owner Mikhail Prokhorov's $200 million investment and voiced by general manager Billy King, how long can the Nets afford to wait for Garnett to find his footing?
Is KG Finished?
The question evokes a sense of basketball blasphemy, yet it's coupled with an uncomfortable feeling about the answer.
He's accomplished everything he set out to achieve. He's been an NBA champion, an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year. Individual and team success have removed all doubts from his status as a future first ballot Hall of Famer.
Take away all of the accolades and any personal attachments to the player, though, and what do you really have left? His best days are clearly behind him, but how many above-average nights does he still have in the tank?
Should Nets fans be hitting the panic button?
"I wouldn’t be terribly concerned about his slow start," an Eastern Conference scout told Mazzeo. "Come April, May, June, if it’s still like this then, then it’ll be time for concern."
That's assuming, of course, Garnett has exorcised these early-season demons by then. If these issues linger, I can't see Brooklyn's schedule running deep into the month of May.
Garnett's been a problem throughout his 18-year career. But never before has his own team been the one forced to fight that battle.