The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Sifting The Wreckage

The Nets are now officially halfway through their ongoing nightmare of a season, having already set one all-time league mark for futility. They are 3-38, which seems like it’s about as bad as it could be. Is it? Let’s compare them to the fabled Worst Team Ever, the 9-73 1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers.

Sixers record through 41 games: 3-38
Nets record through 41 games: 3-38

Sixers final winning %: .110
Nets current winning %: .073

Sixers final Pythagorean record: 15-67
Nets current Pythagorean record: 6-35

Comment: It’s easy to say that the Nets have been unlucky so far between injuries and bad bounces, and it is in fact also true; they’ve underperformed their Pythagorean and are an unlucky 1-6 in games decided by 5 points or less. On the other hand, the exact same was true for the Sixers- they rebounded in the second half, won twice as many games then as they did in the first half of the season, and… finished as the worst team ever by record, still six games worse than their Pythagorean. For the Nets to avoid a similar ignominy, it’s going to require an even sharper improvement/regression to the mean than the Sixers got. That’s not immensely encouraging.

Sixers allowed PPG: 116.2 (17th of 17 teams)
Nets defensive rating: 110.7 (28th of 30)

Sixers PPG: 104.1 (13th of 17)
Nets offensive rating: 97.7 (30th of 30)

Comment: not strictly comparable stats, but offensive and defensive rating aren’t available for the Sixers in that era so far as I can tell. Either way, the general picture is the same: both teams were among the very worst in the entire league on both sides of the ball. This might also be the place to note that while in theory the greater number of teams in the current NBA might imply talent dilution and the chance for the Nets to sneak more wins playing their fellow worst of the worst, as it happens the ABA was up and running in ’72-’73 with 10 teams of its own. Talent was every bit as diluted back then, especially when you factor in the lack of European and South American talent in the league(s) in those days. That, and the Nets have somehow managed to lose twice to Minnesota already this year….

Sixers top player in PER: John Block, 17.6
Nets top player in PER: Brook Lopez, 21.6

Sixers players at 15 or better in PER (average) with 500 minutes or more: 5
Nets players at 15 or better in PER (average) with 300 minutes or more: 2

Comment: A bit revealing, this. Admittedly the cut-offs are a bit artificial (Yi Jianlian has a 14.7 PER, for instance) but the general outlines are fairly suggestive- the Sixers had a variety of average-ish players and no one much better, where the Nets have one guy performing like a star in Lopez, one guy performing decently in Devin Harris, and a whole bunch of awful behind them. It’s always easy to blame the stars, but if the Nets want to avoid another place in bad basketball history it’s really going to have to be guys like CDR (13.2) and Courtney Lee (11.5), second and third on the team in minutes played so far this year, who step it up. There’s risk as well in being so reliant on Lopez: he’s started every game so far and played 36+ minutes a night, and if he gets hurt for any length of time this team is so utterly screwed there won’t be words for it.

Sixers head coaches: Roy Rubin (4-47), Kevin Loughery (5-26)
Nets head coaches: Lawrence Frank (0-16), Tom Barrise (0-2), Kiki Vandeweghe (3-20)

Comment: The Sixers seem like a good example in favor of the new-coach-smell argument, that sometimes changing the man in charge lights a fire under the team. It’s not like they were GOOD under Loughery, but they weren’t nearly as bad. The Nets have obviously attempted to follow this path and they have won more games under Kiki; they’ve also pulled this move off sooner, their hands having been forced by the team’s historically inept start to the season. The trouble is that this gives a lot more time for the new-coach-smell to wear off, for the team to be ground down by losing and tune Kiki out as well. The moves to get rid of the team’s disgruntled veterans were smart and may help avoid this, but it’s still a gamble. And with the effects of new coaching the Nets are still doing just as bad as the Sixers were BEFORE the older team pulled the plug on Roy Rubin. I am not encouraged by this.

Bottom Line: Not only is it not unreasonable to compare these two teams I think, it’s actually a depressingly close comparison right down to their identical records at this point in their respective seasons. To put it mathematically, basketball-reference.com has an all-in-one measure of a team’s abilities they call Simple Rating System- that measure turns out a value of -11.51 for the 76ers, worst in that league, and… -11.59 for the Nets, worst in this year’s NBA. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a rather eerie similarity. For any team to be the worst ever in their respective sport is a very difficult achievement, by definition a massive outlier of a performance; but it’s not impossible, and with a meaningful portion of the season gone it’s fair to say that the Nets are on target to reach those depths. If anything, there are areas where this team seems worse off than their predecessor. With management apparently increasingly unwilling to take the risk of a major trade during the season before they know what the draft lottery holds for them, it’s essentially all up to the guys on the current roster to improve themselves- by better production, better health, bloody pacts with dark Gods, etc.- to avoid that fate. Here’s hoping.

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January 21, 2010 - Posted by | The Nets

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