The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Lakers 106, Nets 87: How Low Can It Sink? Sky’s The Limit

I believe Michael Ray Richardson was a Knick when he provided our titular quote, but he was a Net too for a while and it’s the Jersey side of the local equation to which his wisdom best applies these days. This loss sucked of course; as an individual game it was the ordinary sort of suck, given importance beyond that only by virtue of being 17th in a line of such games and thus a record-equaling performance in its badness, if not quite unique. In its specifics it stands out only as being the sort of loss which happens to teams which have given up: despite the firing of their long-time coach earlier in the day the Nets came out flat and scored a grand total of 12 points in the first quarter- which ended with them down by 15- and never made a game of it thereafter. The deficit was 30 and change at various points; Adam Morrison, one of the worst players in the league, was on court for the Lakers by the third quarter and the game was more or less a garbage-time joke before halftime. As a contest there’s not much more to say about it on its own.

All I can add is this: Frank had to go, but replacing him with Kiki or a no-name is a major, major risk. With perhaps a few honorable exceptions this Nets team has given up; they have the talent to win, say, 20 games this season, but they do not have the talent to get away with half-assing even one game if they expect to reach even that modest goal. Put another way, if the Nets bring in the coaching equivalent of a substitute teacher who runs the same dysfunctional offense and never builds the rapport with the players to get them to give a real effort, we could be looking at a 15 wins or fewer outfit. This is now, officially, not just a bad team but a historically bad team; and unlike most bad teams where you can pretty much guess the range their final record will fall in, it’s very difficult to determine what the floor is for the 2009-2010 NJ Nets. Having seen the early 90’s Mavericks which I contend were the worst teams to come after the 72-73 Sixers, I can’t say this Nets team is worse; I also can’t definitively say they’re better. If anything they’ve deteriorated as the season has gone along, and the longer this streak continues the more of the season it’s going to chew up with low confidence, sloppy play, bad habits, apathy and other issues which make it hard for the Nets to even give a reasonable effort. This team is looking into the abyss right now, and the longer they gaze the harder it’s going to be to back away from it.

EDIT: Side note on Lawrence Frank-

I’ve never been a fan as a coach at the NBA level, yet it’s unquestionable that the man always gave his best effort and conducted himself with dignity and respect for the team, his players and the game. I wish him well. I fully expect that he’ll be an outstanding college coach at some point. He’s usually been excellent at getting players to play well at the fundamental level, to pay attention to detail, to give forth a solid professional effort. Where he lacks is the tendency of his teams to run atrociously bad offenses in the half court; you get the sense that Frank runs very conventional schemes a lot of the time and doesn’t take advantages of mismatches, the opportunities afforded by extraordinary athleticism, the ins and outs of NBA officiating, or his own players’ idiosyncrasies. Everything is very standard, cookie-cutter, basic; the sort of things which, correctly executed, are winning plays in college but at the pro level are overwhelmed by the speed of the game and the greater skill and experience of the players. This does not make him a bad coach, per se; but it does seem to make him one not ideally suited to the situation in which he’s found himself in recent years. This was the best time to part ways for both parties, I think.

November 30, 2009 Posted by | The Nets | | Leave a comment

Kings 109, Nets 96

This one hurts it’s so frustrating. Take a look at the box score; the Nets lost by 13 points overall, and 13 points in the first quarter. In other words, they played the Kings (their best chance to avoid history at 0-18) equal for the vast majority of the game; but they came out flat and unprepared and essentially gave the game away in the first 12 minutes. It is very, very difficult to not attribute this to coaching as much as to the players- it’s a coach’s job to help keep the team motivated and ready to go, it’s probably the most crucial aspect of his job when a team is on a bad streak like this, and that was completely absent tonight. Throw in the ridiculous stunt in the 4th with deliberate off-ball fouling of Omri Casspi which managed to lose the Nets their dignity along with the game, and it becomes increasingly hard to justify Frank staying on. All things run their course, and after more than 5 years it’s pretty clear that his time with this team is up. The counter-argument is that it would be somehow scape-goating the coach; I’d prefer to think of it as starting the fix at the easiest-to-reach point.

As a technical matter the Nets’ offense still stinks; they can’t space the floor, they don’t really move off the ball, they play tight and force bad shots, they lose their concentration continually (see: having two inbounds passes picked off), etc. etc. To be honest it’s not an offense with problems so much as one which is poor in every phase of the game. Some of that is injury issues as Yi Jianlian for instance, with all his flaws, would still be helpful now for the range he can add to the offense; some of it however, maybe most of it, is not. Devin Harris was available for this game, started, and played 38 minutes; Brook Lopez started and played 45. These are talented players, and in CDR they in theory have a competent third option out there. Yet once again they managed collectively to shoot below 40%, and it’s impossible to say exactly what it is that the team is trying to do on offense. It looks for all the world like 5 guys just running around, a glorified pickup game. And as has been the case, that’s still the issue; Sacramento is actually an above-average offensive team (11th), and the Nets did not turn in a shameful performance against them at all. But with an offense like this there’s only so far that will go. There was a signal play in the 3rd I believe tonight which to me said a great deal: Devin Harris stole the ball down 7 or 8 points, broke in alone towards the net and then deliberately slowed in order to allow a defender to catch up to him, hoping to draw a foul. Instead the defender did a nice job of harassing him without fouling and forced a miss. I wouldn’t criticize Harris on the play; to me it didn’t appear a miscue so much as a player who has no confidence in the offense or most of his teammates trying to use his smarts to steal an extra point in transition. It’s not a high-percentage play, and the fact that Harris was even attempting it says a lot about what he thinks of the situation. It’s desperation time.

The worst thing about this game is that I really don’t know when this streak is going to end now. The Lakers and Dallas are the next two teams up and those are near-certain losses. Charlotte follows and could be a win, but they’ve just had a team shakeup with the Jacko trade, have won 3 in a row, and will be well-rested with three days off between games. After them it’s the Knicks in one of those derby games which take place in a world unto themselves, away to Chicago, and then home to Golden State. The not-particularly-Ultimate Warriors look to be the best bet to end this streak, which would have risen to an ungodly 21 straight by that point- over a quarter of a season. If that game is lost… well, we get another shot at Minnesota on the 23rd of next month. God help us if that becomes relevant. It’s not worth dwelling on but this has the potential to be one of the all-time bad teams; they can make history in two games obviously, but beyond that- for large chunks of these games, the Nets are really trying. And they’re STILL getting pasted. If Frank is kept around for money reasons or management blindness reasons and the team thoroughly quits on him it’s really anyone’s guess how bad this could be. It’s going to be an utterly wretched season regardless, but it would be nice to get at least 20 wins for respectability purposes.

November 28, 2009 Posted by | The Nets | | Leave a comment

It Still A Gwaan, Just Like An Ongoing Story

I have not written much on the Nets this season; after all, how often and in how many ways can you write “the team sucks, they lost, this season hurts like an angry beard of bees”? Well, actually, let’s find out:

Nets scoring average this season in 14 games: 85.1 per game.
Opponents’ average: 95.5.
Average margin of loss: 10.4

Smallest margin of Nets loss: 1 point (against Miami, Nov. 14)
Largest margin of Nets loss: 28 (against Denver, Nov. 4)

Best record of a Nets victor, as of now: Orlando, 11-3
Worst record of a Nets victor, as of now: Minnesota, 1-13 (yes, they could only beat the Nets… by 2 points)

Rank of the Nets’ leading scorer in PPG, in the league: 31st (Brook Lopez)
Rank of the Nets’ leading rebounder, in rebound rate: 33rd (Josh Boone)
Rank of the Nets’ leading assister, in assist ratio: 30th (Devin Harris)
Rank of the Nets’ leading shooter, in TS%: 103rd (Chris Douglas-Roberts)
Rank of the Nets’ leading PER producer: 66th (Chris Douglas-Roberts)
Number of teams in the league: 30

Games where Nets’ leading scorer had <20 points: 5

Nets team offensive rating: 89.8
League rank: 30
League leader: Phoenix, 112.2

Nets team defensive rating: 101.8
League rank: 13th
League leaders: Boston, 94.4
Sidenote: Defense wins championships, amirite?

Nets team TS%: 47.5
League rank: 30th
League leaders: Phoenix, 58.8
Sidenote: same position, leader and rank for eFG%

Nets team rebound rate: 48.8
League rank: 23rd
League leaders: Portland, 54.0

Nets team turnover rate: 26.9
League rank: 27th
League leaders: Atlanta, 20.6

Nets team assist ratio: 11.2
League rank: 30th
League leaders: Boston, 17.3

Nets team pace: 22nd in league

…And there you have it, really: an average defensive team with a slow, turgid, worst-in-the-league offense holding them down and losing them game after game in horrifically boring fashion. There's fewer blowouts here than you might expect, and given that defense is often a proxy for effort it's pretty clear the team hasn't given up. That's heartening so far as it goes, especially since when young teams get beaten down like this it often escalates into full-blown chaos and self-destruction. Their trouble is, well, at the NBA level they're a pretty terrible collection of offensive players once you factor in the injuries and such. Is it Larry Frank's fault? Depends how you look at it. Keeping a team playing hard and well at 0-14 is difficult to do and impressive for a coach. On the other hand, in Frank's full seasons in charge of the team the Nets' offensive rating has placed 26th, 25th, 16th, 25th, and 16th. That's not so good. Their defensive ratings in that time span have gone 7th, 4th, 15th, 21st, and 24th as well. Much of the defensive decline you can likely ascribe to changes of personnel, but given that Frank consistently produced below-average offensive teams with Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson on them, it's more than fair to question exactly what he's contributing (or not) to the current state of affairs.

Should he go? Ironically, Frank would to my mind be the exact kind of coach you'd like to bring into a situation like this as a caretaker- good motivator, professional demeanor and demands such of his players, tends to maintain emotional balance in rough times; a steady hand at the wheel. And yet, for all of that, the blight on this season continues unabated by anything he's said or done. Sometimes a team just needs a new voice, and someone can be a good or even great coach who just doesn't fit anymore. I don't know if the team has tuned him out precisely, but if RodandKiki get that sense… well, yes, he should probably go. For many reasons he's not the kind of coach who would be likely to lead the next serious Nets team (small reputation, too defensive, too slow-paced in his offense, etc.), which means he's going to go sooner or later. If a reasonable caretaker can be found to keep the team motivated, tweak the offense and generally mind the store until a long-term solution can be brought over for the Brooklyn move, then this is the time to do it, before this becomes an all-time awful season. I honestly think money and the desire to not pay two coaches at once is part of what's kept Frank in his job so long, and now that it looks like the Nets are officially going to be owned by a crazy Russian billionaire, it's probably worth some money to him to ensure that his team doesn't enter a crucial free-agency summer as a league-wide laughing stock which has just set records for futility.

November 25, 2009 Posted by | The Nets | | Leave a comment