By: Victor Nash
With the season starting on Wednesday, the Nets and their fans(not too many anymore) are already thinking about Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Favors’ growth over the next couple of years, and the move to Brooklyn. Still, the Nets have to play through this season and try to wipe of the stain of a 12-70 season by following up this year as at least a contender to make the playoffs. This seems like an outlandish idea to many sports fans. The Nets?! Playoffs?! It’s true that this team won only 12 games last year, and really looked like a college basketball team at times, especially against high-scoring and athletic teams. However, this was more or less due to the extremely poor coaching of Kiki Vandeweghe, the bitter taste of injury, and a season that started off on the worst note possible. So is the playoffs a possibility for one of the youngest teams in the league? Let’s find out!
The Nets of last year were quite possibly one of the worst teams on the offensive end of the court in the history of the NBA, and definitely the worst in the league last season. With an offensive efficiency of 98.1, the Nets fell almost 7 points below the league average. The Nets were unable to shoot 3s, unable to score inside, unable to move the ball well in transition, and just generally unable to do anything. However, Bobby Simmons is no longer the best “shooter” on the team, or Yi Jianlian using his sole post move to throw up a contested layup. The Nets made very underrated and solid moves this offseason to fix last years’ problems on the offensive end of the court.
With the signings of Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Jordan Farmar, as well as the trade for Troy Murphy, the Nets acquired three players whom are above average shooters from beyond the arc, and one shooter that can light it up from three point land in his sleep, in Morrow. Gone are the days of the Knicks using the zone defense to stop the Nets from scoring. With these additions, the Nets added a whole new dimension to the team. As seen in preseason games, Farmar is great at pulling up from the 3 in the heat of the moment, which was really put on display when he torched the Knicks’ pathetic defense. While Outlaw hasn’t had a good preseason, he has perennially averaged close to 40% from three point land in his career, and should be able to keep that up for the season. For a full review of his game, click here. Murphy, who has yet to don a Nets’ uniform in a game, has a sweet shot for even a shooting guard. Last season, Murphy shot 38.4 percent from three point land, and is really a threat from downtown. With the additions of Murphy, Outlaw, Morrow, and Farmar, the Nets have multiple three point threats, including three in the starting lineup.
The Nets also gained some perimeter quickness to complement Devin Harris’ skill set, which is getting to the rim and scoring, drawing a foul, or doing both. The Nets have a very good play that they can run in the pick and roll, which can be the best play in the NBA if it is run correctly. Avery Johnson’s system calls for plays to start on the perimeter, so expect to see plenty of pick and rolls being called throughout the season. With the addition of Derrick Favors, Harris, Terrence Williams, and new addition Jordan Farmar have two reliable pick and roll partners in Favors and Brook Lopez. The Nets look like a team that can really take advantage of its quick feet on offense, athleticism, and ball movement, something that Johnson has been preaching since he was hired.
Finally, there is the constant growth of the Nets’ young players. Brook Lopez, as we all know, is a budding star and looks to have an All-Star season this year. His game is going to continuously improve, and a 20-10 season is bound to happen this season. The range of his shot should continue to improve, as well as what is already a solid post game. Terrence Williams, who played like a mini-LeBron in the months of March and April, has the ability to turn in a very good season if he can work on his shot and his turnover rate. With his incredible court vision, and his rebounding ability, the question of whether T-Will becomes a great player becomes a when, not an if. Devin Harris’ revival also seems to be coming. After a disappointing season last year, Harris has a much more talented crew coming into the fold, as well as a much better coach. Look for Harris to regain some of the incredible speed and scoring ability that he had in the 08-09 season, and his gradual improvement in his shot form, after he shot 40% from the field last season. If he can fight off injury, Harris should have a great season offensively.
One of the main reasons that the Nets chose to hire Avery Johnson as coach was his known defensive genius. While he was with the Mavericks, they were a top 5 defensive team year in and year out, especially due to the great defense of one speedy point guard.
However, the problems that the Nets face this season on the defensive end have nothing to do with Johnson, but more with the players themselves. The Nets don’t really have any one defensive stopper on the team. While Harris has been documented as a good defender in Dallas, he seems to have completely lost interest in it. Anthony Morrow has never even been average on the defensive side of the court, and generally looks lost at all times. Terrence Williams has the size to be good on the defensive end, and Jordan Farmar is a pretty good defender, but the Nets still need a lot of help in terms of guarding the perimeter, which could come in the form of Quinton Ross.
In the offseason, the Nets did manage to cover another of its’ many weaknesses on the defensive end by trading for Troy Murphy. While he won’t amaze you with his actual defense, Murphy is one of the best defensive rebounders in the league. The Nets ranked 28th in that category last year. I just loved that trade.
The frontcourt defense in New Jersey will not be pretty, to say the least. Last year, fans of the team had to deal with the horrible defense of Yi manning the PF ship. Unfortunately, Troy Murphy is no better. Both Murphy and Brook Lopez are very slow on the defensive end, and need hours upon hours of work to become above average defenders. Lopez has some shot-blocking prowess, but both of them are way to slow to keep up with the Amare Stoudemires of the league, or even players like Andray Blatche. While Derrick Favors might help in this category with his size and knack for defense, the Nets will have to sit through many nights of opposing PFs looking like all-time legends during the Nets post-game show.
While the Nets certainly have weaknesses, I think this team is playoff material. The Nets signed many role players that really improve upon the weaknesses of the team last year(except frontcourt D) and look to be a good team this year, as long as they don’t let the injury bug bite. My prediction? 41-41, as well as the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.