The Brooklyn Nets–for the most part–have been competitive in their fair share of games the last two months. Under interim head coach Tony Brown, the team has preached “pace” and getting into their offensive sets quickly. In the process, however, they have completely abandoned the defensive end.
Defense is the hallmark of any good team. The lack of it explains why the Nets are 21-53, and why they lost to the Orlando Magic in a staggering 139-105 result. Yes, the offense has made the team more competitive, but if the team is serious about developing its players, setting a defensive standard is a must. The 2015-16 season has run its course, but the Nets need to make that their goal heading into a pivotal free agency period come the summer.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the kind of player the Nets need. (He rested Tuesday night, by the way.) While his offense may be suspect in his young career, defense is far more important. And one guy playing defense while four others stand around in statuesque fashion will not make a bit of difference. Against the Magic, the Nets played defense like it was the All-Star game.
Even though Nicolas Batum would be considered the longest of shots to join the Nets, players like Kent Bazemore and Allen Crabbe should be on Sean Marks’ radar. Wing defenders who can hit three-pointers are a must have in today’s NBA, and the Nets are severely lacking. Their wings can shoot. Bojan Bogdanovic has been a torrid pace–on offense. In order to truly make an impact, he will need to refine the other end of the floor.
In back-to-back Florida losses, the Miami Heat and Magic put up eye-opening numbers. The Heat erupted for 72 points in the paint on 57.1 percent shooting, and things actually got worse one night later. The Magic exploded for 40 assists, leading to 61.5 percent shooting. A.J. Nicholson went 9-for-9 from the field and scored a career-high 24 points, while four of Orlando’s starters scored in double-figures in less than 27 minutes apiece. The Magic also accounted for 56 points in the paint. To put that in perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers–dead last in the league in points allowed in the paint per game–yield 47.6 a night. The Nets rank 29th at 47.2.
“Mentally it’s tough,” said Thomas Robinson, who scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Orlando. “But that’s part of being a pro. We’ve got to lock in, finish. It’s a pride thing now. It’s not about making the playoffs or doing any of that. It’s about pride. We can’t let guys come out and basically kick our ass.”
The Nets also entered the Orlando game ranked 28th in the league in defensive efficiency and 30th in field-goal percentage defense. Even in the Nets’ recent wins–namely against Philadelphia and Indiana–the Nets allowed 116 and 110 points, respectively.
“We gave up 32, 41, 30, 36 points each quarter,’’ Tony Brown said. “No resistance throughout the night. And they played great. Obviously I didn’t do my job in having these guys ready to play.”
Many people could point to the meaningless nature of these games, given that the Nets have been eliminated from playoff contention. Many of these players are not guaranteed careers beyond this season, however. Creating good habits should matter. Rotating when the other team swings the ball and closing out on jumpers should be a staple for any NBA player. Brown said as much after the game.
“It was too casual out there. We weren’t really getting into people. Nothing we were doing on either end of the floor was working, and I was just looking to make a change to see if some other guys would give us some energy and some heads-up play,’’ Brown added. “As a group, we didn’t get it done.”
Hoping and wishing that a jumper will clang off the rim is not an acceptable defense, and Marks’ pedigree with the San Antonio Spurs will almost assuredly address this problem in the offseason. Heading into Tuesday night, the Spurs ranked No. 1 in PPG allowed at 92.6. The Utah Jazz were second at 96.1 PPG allowed.
From that perspective, the games are not meaningless. They serve as auditions for players–and not just for the Nets. All 30 teams have the opportunity to evaluate players like Markel Brown, Thomas Robinson, Sergey Karasev, and Shane Larkin, to name a few. The game extends beyond the offensive end, though. That fact will become apparent when the playoffs get underway in two weeks.