I’ve caught the Nets twice now this year (the Charlotte game and this one), and haven’t written on them so far since there’s no real good reason to overreact to a few early games for a team with so many players out. That said, tonight was very telling: the Nuggies came out flat and disinterested and exhibiting all the symptoms of a good team which had this game circled on its schedule as a glorified scrimmage where a half-assed effort was likely to be good enough. To their credit the Nets more or less made them pay for this in the first half by keeping it close, but Denver got the hair dryer from George Karl at halftime and pulled away from there with ease to the point where the 4th quarter was entirely garbage time. In essence, one quarter in 4 of serious effort from Denver was good enough for a blowout. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the word is out that the Nets aren’t just a mediocre team, not just a bad team, but one who won’t even give you a game as often as not; a bit of a joke, really. There’s few things harder to watch than a team which is treated as a bit of a joke, and regardless of who’s out, the Nets are now officially into must-do-better territory.
No one expected them to be good this year, but there’s a level of respectability- professionalism, really-which they shouldn’t sink below either. This is two games in a row now where the wheels have come off entirely in the second half, not because of brilliant tactical adjustments by opposing coaches but simply because the instant the opposition began playing up to their actual talent level the Nets crumbled. They get spooked easily, they’re young and play like it, they’ve got a few incredibly selfish players (Hi Rafer), they’re (as of right now, not counting the Denver game I assume) 28th in the league in offensive efficiency, 18th in defensive, dead rat’s-ass-dirt-worst last in rebound rate, 26th in TS%, 23rd in TO’s… the list goes on and on. They’re not one of the uniquely or unusually bad teams which the league throws up sometimes, the kind who have a distinct flaw which can be addressed, or who are so bad that they’re guaranteed a top-3 draft pick; there’s too much talent here to finish with less than 20 wins, but so long as most of it is injured what’s left is a team which is pretty much bad at everything for the moment. All of which is to say: there’s no magic bullet here, and the only way this is going to get better is if the guys who are taking the court right now get together and learn how to play better as individuals and as a team in all phases of the game, out of pride if nothing else. Start with taking fewer contested 20 footers early in the shot clock without a single pass, and go from there. There’s just not much more to say: right now this is an ordinary average 20-25 win terrible basketball team, dreadful to watch.
Fun fact: CDR led the Nets in scoring in this game, and also finished with a team-worst -36 in 36 minutes. Make of that what you will.
That didn’t take long- Prokhorov and Ratner et al. have announced the deal. Given the number of approving David Stern quotes out there there’s every reason to assume this one is done and the Nets have been sold, with the last formalities to take only about another 6 months. There’s already speculation about the impact this will have on management decisions (and decisions about management) though so far as I can tell at this point it rests largely on unsourced gossip and speculation off of the translation of Prokhorov’s blog. That doesn’t mean it’s at all inaccurate; but I would guess at this early stage and given how quickly this deal came together that Prokhorov himself probably hasn’t come to any firm decisions one way or another about the future of the club. One possible exception: Tom Ziller, who knows his shit, is convinced that the Nets are about to be gigantic players in free agency next summer, throwing money around as much as possible to improve the team quickly. I have to say, so far as I can tell the evidence points that way given Prokhorov’s funding of CSKA Moscow. It is still the Nets and it is still New Jersey for the moment which may hamper recruitment efforts, but at the risk of being flippant about it, it probably doesn’t hurt that the one brush with the law in Prokharov’s past was for showing his guests a good time.
All of a sudden, next season is a lot weirder and more interesting.
I, For One, Welcome Our Gigantic, Sketchy, Allegedly High-Class Call Girl Hiring, Kickboxing Russian Billionaire Playboy Overlords
I’ll be honest: I saw the initial reports of this one, laughed them off on the theory that these kinds of outlandish notions get booted around the press all the time, and moved on figuring it’d never be mentioned again. I appear to have been really wrong about this one- Mikhail Prokhorov appears to be genuinely interested in buying the New Jersey Nets (instantly re-nicknamed the Nyets) and ESPN is reporting that he’s sent proposals to current shareholders. So much to say about this one, much of it over time as more is revealed. There’s an apparently professional translation of Prokhorov’s blog post here.
Upfront, I’ll say this- if Prokhorov really wants this team I think he’ll get them with no trouble. Money is obviously no object for the richest man in Russia who’s listed by Forbes as owner of a $9.5 Billion fortune. Also, interestingly, so far as some cursory research can determine he appears to be relatively less sketchy than most oligarchs (the arrest for getting hookers for his guests, for which he was not charged, appears to be the only obvious thing) which should help him slide through whatever oversight process the NBA may apply fairly easily. It helps as well that he’s from a potentially important overseas market for the league, has basketball experience as a backer for CSKA, and one presumes has all the right friends and connections. As to whether Ratner is selling, he’s been slashing costs and looking for “investors” for months now, which is all but putting a for-sale sign up; moreover, if he weren’t jumping at the bit for this deal, he’d have had a denial out by now. I’d say the odds are well over 50% of this thing happening especially since in the fine tradition of crazy-rich Russian billionaire foreign sports team owners, I doubt actually making a profit off the team- or worrying about the losses discovered in due diligence- is really foremost among Prokhorov’s concerns.
The major question for a Nets fan is: is this a good thing? The short answer is that we simply won’t know for a while. If this becomes purely some sort of weird let’s bolster-Russia’s-national-basketball-profile thing, we could end up with a coach overmatched by the league, and owner selecting the team, and trading our next 5 first round draft picks for Andrei Kirilenko. That would obviously not be progress. Let’s call that the Vladimir Romanov/Heart of Midlothian option. Alternately, we could have a team with perhaps one or two vanity let’s-have-a-Russian-on-the-Nets players, a bunch of completely harmless-to-mildly-useful background policies like providing training methods and coaching apprenticeships to Russian coaches and exposure in training camps for Russian players, plus colossal financial backing, a new area, and an owner willing to pay for success on the theory that success for a traditionally beleaguered team under Russian ownership will in and of itself bolster the image of Russia. Let’s call that the Roman Abamovich/Chelsea FC option. My instincts, for that that’s worth, strongly suggest that the Chelsea option is more likely here- we’re talking about a potential owner with a profoundly circumspect legal and ethical profile for such a wealthy and famous man, a potential owner who’s ridden the stormy waves of Russia’s politics to the absolute top at age 44 by making a series of prescient and practical decisions. This is not a man to go crazy and start demanding to fill out the team sheet- partly because it doesn’t fit his history, partly because- let’s be honest- a Russian billionaire with a taste for hookers probably has more diverting pleasures to hand than obsessing about our small forward rotation.
It should be noted as well that Vladimir Romanov came of age under the Soviet Union, and was 48 when it dissolved; Prokhorov was 26 (Roman Abramovich was 25), and has spent the majority of his adult and working life in a very different country. The land is the same, but the ideas and pressures are very different. It’s certainly possible to overstate this, but so far the evidence suggests that the younger men who rose to the heights in the privatization years- especially near the center of power- are much more calculating (which can be a good thing), much more measured and precise in their dealings, much more focused on results than bluster and fame, much more professional in a sense. Romanov, a Lithuanian citizen, claimed earlier this year that he was going to run for the presidency of that nation, only to be told that would be impossible as he was born in Russia It’s equally impossible to imagine the famously silent Abramovich making such an embarrassing mistake or causing such a pointless furor. All evidence suggests that Prokhorov’s temperament and experiences are much closer to the latter’s.
One potential concern which will have to be addressed will be in regards to funding. The versions of the deal floating about right now refer to loaning the team money to fund the new arena, rather than picking up the check outright. I’m inclined to be fine with this, on the theory that the loan terms are likely to be generous if contracted with the team’s owner or his interests and the new arena should generate sufficient revenues to service the debt load without a serious drag on competitive integrity. At the moment the team’s in major cost-cutting mode under Ratner partly because of arena debt and arena issues; even if that major drag is only reduced to a minor drag, that can be a substantial improvement.
There will also be, inevitably, some concerns raised about foreign ownership. In effect I’ve raised them myself above by noting the history of men like Vladimir Romanov and Roman Abramovich as team owners. There may be culture clash issues; but the fact that the owner is Russian really shouldn’t be an issue any more than the fact that the power forward is Chinese and one of his backups is Mexican. The issue is winning basketball games and getting this team on some kind of a solid long-term footing for the first time in its existence, arguably- if a Russian billionaire wants to help out with that and advance some his own and his country’s interests in the process, than that’s just fine by me as a fan. Everyone benefits and everyone’s happy.
On a personal note I find this incredibly funny on some level. Ever since Chelsea got Abramovich’ed into a title I’ve reluctantly accepted that similar treatment for my club, Arsenal, would have major problems associated with it (see: Alisher Usmanov) but I’ve always half-jokingly defended Chelsea (and now Man City) fans thrilled at their teams’ takeovers by wealthy foreigners by saying that I’d be overjoyed if the Nets suffered a similar fate. Life appears to have called my bluff on that one, and you know what? I’m actually really ok with that. The bottom line here is that the current situation for the Nets sucks: their arena move is stalled, they’re stuck in a swamp wasting a good young core, they’ve got no money to spend on anything including competing, their attendance is for shit, and given the increasing uncertainty over the ownership and arena issues they’re among the least attractive teams in the league for players. They are, in a word, fucked. There’s a great deal of uncertainty in an ownership change, but to my mind there’s vastly more danger associated with things remaining as they are. I am, cautiously, in favor of Mikhail Prokhorov’s takeover and I look forward to seeing what he does with the Nyets.
Fun facts to clinch it: Prokhorov is 6’9. In a battle between watching Devin Harris’s best years go to waste or seeing my team sold, I’m going to have to go with the gigantic Russian kickboxing billionaire on this one. Whether it works out alright or not, there’s no way this guy owning a team in America’s biggest media market- possibly in partnership with Jay-Z- can’t be a crapload more entertaining than the alternative.
EDIT: incidentally, I’ve seen some people worried that Prokhorov is talking about using the Nets to aid Russian basketball and such on his blog. Folks, let’s not be parochial on this one: the man is a Russian writing in Russian on a Russian website for a Russian audience. Of COURSE he’s going to talk about how this could benefit Russia- it would be ridiculous for him not to! And if his ownership benefits Russian basketball, great- that’s a goal which is potentially achievable alongside making the Nets a contender and improving their foundation for the long term. There’s no reason whatsoever that serving the two ends is mutually exclusive, especially when the methods mentioned so far for benefiting Russian basketball on Prokhorov’s blog are all background infrastructure-building projects which would present no obvious issues for the Nets as an organization. It’ll all be in the execution, or it won’t be- time will tell, and we can scream about interference when and if it happens.
Is anyone really surprised by this? The calculus for LeBron has always been heavily, heavily weighted towards the Cavs on every level- financial, competitive, and for LeBron’s long term reputation. Any media glare gained by going to New York would be undermined by a reputation for deserting a competitive hometown team for a mediocre big-city substitute, and he’s hardly lacking attention in the internet-league pass-multiple nationwide TV deals era. Knicks (and Nets) fans really should not get down about this, and honestly probably shouldn’t take much notice of it. Rebuilding our local teams into serious, long-term competitors was and is never going to be just a matter of suddenly signing the right free agents who would join us because, well, we’re New York- right? It’s easy to forget in the aftermath of the Celtics coming together out of nowhere two years ago, but they were an incredibly rare deal- them, the ’04 Pistons, arguably the Lakers 3 peat if you like Shaq over Kobe, and the ’83 Sixers were probably the only teams of the NBA’s modern (since 1980) era to win a title with their best player coming by means other than the draft. 6 titles out of 29 awarded, counting with the benefit of the doubt.
I’m not going to say something inane here about it being more satisfying to win a title some day without “buying it” because let’s face it- that’s pretty much horseshit. But I will say that this is one of those times where being realistic about the situation will save you a lot of grief in the long term. He ain’t coming, folks; good thing a plan trumps a man, anyday.
Not through any virtue of his own, Donnie Walsh lucked out on this one. Jason Kidd is a hall of famer, one of the best PGs of his era, and a legitimate legend; he’s also an intensely creepy individual with a bicoastal reputation as a team-killer, who’s 36 years old at a position which doesn’t forgive athletic decline and who’s found a permanently lower level of performance over the last two years as his PER has declined from 19-ish to 16-ish and his once stellar defense has been exposed by Chris Paul and other small, quick, young players. He would have been worth exactly one thing to the Knicks- as a representative “second star” player to market during next year’s free agent period. I don’t think he’d have been worth it even than, partly because I don’t expect anywhere near as strong a market as some do next year, partly because I think even Kidd + (insert star here) + the rest of the Knicks isn’t anything like a contender. And if the resulting team didn’t reach that level…well, Knicks fans just might remember a free win they got over the Nets a few years ago, when Kidd sat out with “a migraine” which nobody bought and which was widely considered part of his attempt to force a trade out of New Jersey. He could have easily become Marbury II with a few bad bounces, and absolutely no one needs that.
Trust me: as a Nets fan I’m incredibly grateful to him for his impact on that team, and I’m also completely and totally done with having to deal with him ever again. The farther away he is, the better he looks- especially at 36, drawing a 3 year deal for $25 million. Best of luck on that 1st round playoff exit, Mavs.
Missed this one, as my DVR has approximately 432 programs on it ranging from old episodes of Mythbusters and The Universe to a Hoffenheim vs. Schalke match, and the Nets game scrolled off the bottom before I’d gotten to it. Just as well as I’d seen the score. Not much to say about this one other than that the 38-24 4th quarter scoring disparity is really no good. By 4 factors, turnovers weree the same, free throw attempts and makes a slight Nets advantage, boards slightly for the Bulls but O-boards a deadlock, but the Nets once again had a terrible shooting night: 39%, 26% on 3s. That’ll do it, and it’s done it in each of the last two games. On the bright side the Nets head to Toronto tomorrow, which may give them some revenge-game energy to break this recent slide.
Not much to say about this one other than watching it was like being kicked in the eye with stilettos. Sometimes there’s a detailed tactical reason for a result and sometimes one team just out plays the other, which happened tonight as the Raptors were clearly the better team on the evening. Despite a good performance on the boards (20 offensive, 50 total) the Nets shot prodigiously poorly (31% and worse from 3, partially creating all those offensive board chances) and committed way too many turnovers (18), and there’s your result. Everyone just seemed to be out of sync all evening as passes flew by on miscommunications, bad shots happened early in the shot clock, the energy level was a bit low and so on. The team’s entering a slump at the moment. On the up side, as bad as this was, they get to play again tomorrow in the friendly confines of Other Team’s Arena, so hopefully playing the perpetually disordered Bulls will get them back on track. It can’t get much worse than this, honestly.
– Brook Lopez had a sequence early in which he went up soft on a dunk and got snuffed, then a few plays later went up soft against a double team and hit a nice, difficult semi-hook. he’s got a great touch, but needs to know when it’s time to go Conan on dudes. On the plus side, he had a hard dunk in the third, so he may be learning.
– Yi was brutally outmatched by Chris Bosh and ended with 5 fouls. Obviously Bosh is a tough guard for anyone, but I will again suggest that some minutes at the 3 might be good for him.
– Vince Carter: 29 MP, 3 TOs, 4 PF, 0-13, 3 points. Aaaaaaaaaargh.
– Statistical oddity: Trenton Hassel had seven boards tonight, all offensive.
– In a game his team won by 23 and defended mostly by a rookie, Jermaine O’Neal’s line: 30 MPs, 2-9, 3-3 from the line, 2 boards, 3 dimes, a steal and two blocks, 2 TOs and 3 fouls. 7 points. Dave Berri may still be a bit harsh on him, but in general, he’s right: this bird has flown, this ship has sailed. And now it be sinking.
Net of the Game: Trenton Hassel
Man of the Match: Jamario Moon
The injuries this season to Josh Boone, Eduardo Najera and now Stromile Swift have taken some of the pressure off, but with Boone ready to go and Najera back soon the Nets are reaching the point where they’re going to have to start making some decisions about playing time in the front court. Some of the available players can play multiple positions which helps, but with arguably 9 guys available to fill 3 starting slots and perhaps at most 3 regularly used backups, something is going to have to give. Let’s take a look at the staff on hand and see if any useful lineups jump out:
Note: PER from basketball-reference.com (average is 15). WP48 only available through last year and only for time with the Nets, thus no numbers for rookies (average is 0.100), adj. +/- from basketballvalue.com, where I’m using last year’s numbers to get a reasonable sample since we’re only a quarter of the way through this season- thus, again, no numbers for rookies. Salary data from Hoopshype.
3rd season, 24 years old, contracted through 09/10 at $2m per. Career PER 14.9, this year 16.4; WP48 1.66; -4.14 last year.
Profile: The team’s second best shotblocker (1.43/game this year, a career high) though not a great overall defender (-3.2 points per 100 possessions last year relative to the team), Boone’s been an offensive boost throughout his career by running the pick and roll well and being a very good offensive rebounder- in a tiny sample size he’s actually the top center in the league this year in offensive rebound rate (ORR) at 17.9, and was a 3.9% team positive last year in that category. His downside is that he’s one of the worst free throw shooters you’ll ever see and has a shooting range of “dunk, hopefully”. Listed at only 6’10 and 237, he may yet find himself at power forward over the long term.
Rookie, 20, contracted through 09/10 at $2.5m per, team options rising to $3m next two years. 15.2 PER.
Profile: considered an offensively skilled semi-project entering the year, I would contend he’s fulfilled and in some respects surpassed expectations, especially on defense. His TS% of .527 places him 34th among centers, which isn’t bad at all for a 20 year old rookie in his first 20 games. He’s 21st in ORR among centers and 17th in overall rebound rate (RR), and he’s the team’s leading shotblocker as well at 1.8 per game. He’s still badly turnover prone but at 7’0 and 260 and already a productive player at age 20, he’s clearly the team’s center for the foreseeable future barring injury.
2nd season, “21”, contracted through 09/10 at $3m per, team option at $4m subsequently. Career PER 11.8, 13.5 this year; WP48 0.035; -6.14 last year in Milwaukee.
Profile: The change from last year to this year in his skills is probably going to save his career as someone getting real minutes and keep him around as a role player and specialist. From a guy who shot very few 3s and made less than 30%, he’s become a guy who shoots 3 a game and is hitting 44%. He’s one of the worst defenders at the 4 you’ll see, has low basketball IQ, can’t really rebound (59th in ORR among 4s, 39th in RR), and despite being a very good athlete for a 7 footer he’s not much of a finisher (.419 on close shots this year), but that shot makes him a useful part of the Nets’ offense which requires range shooters, especially bigs, to function. He may, in some circumstances, be able to play the 3 given his athleticism and the way his speed and quickness excels his strength. More on that below.
2nd season, 22, contracted through 09/10 at $1.6m per, team option subsequently at $2.5m. Career PER 12.7, this year 4.2; WP48 0.070; -5.07.
Profile: it’s getting ugly now for Williams, who’s been mixed up a lot recently in reports of discontent. He’s been riveted to the bench this season playing 172 minutes in 15 games- as compared to 180 for Josh Boone in only 7 games. His TS% has cratered to 40%, his rebound rates are down, blocks down, usage rates down, turnovers up, and he still can’t remember plays or rotate well for anything except weak-side blocks. He lacks the offensive go-to move or skill which someone like Yi has, and as a result he’s fallen far down the depth chart. I don’t know if he’s going to make it; if he does, it probably won’t be in Jersey.
Rookie, 20, contracted through 09/10 at $1.3m per, team options rising to $2.3m next two years. 14.8 PER.
Profile: Very similar to Yi so far, he’s hitting 44% of his 3s, is 34th in RR and 49th in ORR, and appears to be a fluid natural athlete though not a leaper or flyer. At 6’10 and 240 he’s probably a pure 4, as he’s both stronger and slower than Yi.
9th season, 29, $6.2m in final year of contract. 16.2 career PER, 7.0 this year; WP48 0.017; -5.32.
Profile: he is what he is, an athletic leaper and decent shotblocker and rebounder who can give you passable minutes at the 4 or the 5. His contract expires after this year and he almost certainly won’t be resigned, and that set of circumstances probably means he should get emergency minutes only when everyone else is healthy.
9th Season, 32, contracted through 11/12 at values declining from $3.4m to $2.6m. Career PER 12.7, this year -3.; WP48 -0.337; +9.25 last year in Denver.
Profile: I tend to think of Najera as an insurance policy and assistant coach at this point, a hard worker and experienced player who can help teach the many other young bigs how to Play The Right Way and slot in for minutes here and there as another big who apparently, after last year’s 53-147, 36% performance, can hit the three in the Nets’ system. Not a candidate to start, but a solid reserve.
7th season, 28, contracted through 09/10 at roughly $10.5m a year (seriously). Career PER 13.5, this year 9.9; WP48 oddly not available; -1.14 last year with Milwaukee.
Profile: in his third straight year of PER decline not counting the entire year he missed due to injury, he’s having a weird shooting season where his FG% is south of 40 but he may be having his best ever range shooting year averaging 1.5/3.5 for 42% on the season. His rebounding is ordinary at best (36th in RR among SFs, 27th in ORR), and as a defender he’s ok-ish, a net positive last year in Milwaukee and a net negative so far this year according to 82games.com.
6th season, 27, contracted through 09/10 at $2m per. Career PER 11.0, this year 11.9; WP48 oddly not available; +0.43 last year with Detroit.
Profile: His three point shooting is lagging 60 points behind his career average and his assist% has fallen way off, but he’s posting easily the best rebound rate of his career at 10.0. Hard to know how much of that is noise. He’s got a reputation as a terrible defender and was a net negative last year in Detroit according to 82games.com, but has been a net positive this year- probably more noise along with teammates effects. Assuming he eventually returns/regresses to past performance levels he’ll continue to be a useful spare-part jump shooter who fits the offense without really being a guy you want to commit to long term. He’s basically here to fill gaps until the summer of LeBron, et al. On a side note, catch an interview with the man; he comes off as one of the nicest and most intelligent guys in the league.
So what does this all shake out to? The Nets’ offense is the first thing that has to be taken into account: it’s a system which depends on speed in the backcourt and range shooting everywhere, especially among the bigs and at the 3. The bigs draw people out to the perimeter and clear space for the guards to penetrate and either draw fouls or else kick the ball out, and the system works well enough so that a team expected to largely suck this year is over .500 and has the 6th best offense in the league. When a system is working that well it’s probably best not to screw around with it too much unless there’s a clear purpose in mind, so let’s take that as a template for how to organize these guys.
At the five, Lopez should start. If he develops his mid-range jumper to the degree Zydrunas Iilgauskas has in Cleveland this offense will be unstoppable as he’ll be able to flash to the high post or elbow area off the pick and roll, but as things sit he’s still got vastly more offensive range to spread the floor than Josh Boone and doesn’t give up much if anything in regards to rebounding and defense. On talent and performance I’d love to slot Boone at the 4 and there’s actually a good case that his offensive rebounding makes him the best choice as a starter at the 5, but this team needs shooters to work and Boone is not that. Against some teams, I’d love to see huge lineups with Lopez-Boone-Yi just for a different look and to test from time to time whether that lineup with the standard backcourt can still maintain effectiveness on offense while potentially gaining on defense and the boards. For whatever it’s worth, 82games.com indicates that that lineup hasn’t been tried this year.
At the four, and with the preceding kept in mind, Yi is arguably the best available starter given the way he fits the offense. But here’s an interesting wrinkle to try: given that Ryan Anderson and Yi Jianlian are both range shooters doing better than Bobby Simmons and Jarvis Hayes, and better rebounders than that duo, and not a man in the four of them can defend, why not try Anderson at the 4 and Yi at the 3? Yi is a quick player and, frankly, not a man of great physical strength- why not try him defending small forwards where his strength is less of a problem and his length may bother his guard? He can’t be much worse than he is trying to defend the 4. 82 games again suggests that Yi has had virtually no time at the 3 this year or last, but I would judge this a good lineup to at least experiment with if the goal is to keep shooters on the floor and try to minimize the amount of time being taken up by marginal players.
I think, then, we can safely say that Lopez, Boone, Yi, Anderson, and one of Simmons and Hayes (whoever is playing better) should be the basic set of players to choose from for vast majority of the minutes at the 3, 4 and 5 slots. All of them save Simmons/Hayes represent a real step above the second level of options for the team, and their skills are in most cases those most appropriate to the current offense. Yi and Boone and to a lesser degree Simmons are all reasonable risks at more than one position, so the number of minutes which leak through this first category of players to the second ought to be relatively small. Lopez, Yi, and Simmons start, Boone backs up the 4 and 5, Anderson backs up the 4 and Yi and Simmons/Hayes spit the rest of the minutes at the 3; or, Lopez, Yi, and Anderson start and Simmons/Hayes back up the 3 while Boone backs up the 4 and 5. Lopez and Boone can be swapped as their form ebbs and flows. In late-game situations where one bucket is needed, you could even throw out a five man unit of Harris-Carter-Simmons/Hayes-Yi-Anderson and spread the floor in every direction. The point is, with this core group you have flexibility and options within your chosen system.
What to do with the rest, then? Simmons and Hayes are at this point essentially marginal players regardless of Simmons’ contract or Hayes’ Detroit pedigree, and it makes little sense to try and force minutes to them. One of them is probably enough to cover the 3, and they can be interchanged based on recent form. If Anderson falls back to earth they may find their role expanding, but realistically I would prefer Najera to either of them in that event- he can shoot too, and he can also defend a little. Stromile Swift should see emergency minutes only; he’s simply not in the plans. Sean Williams and Nenad Kristic, lurking out there in Europe while the Nets retain his rights, are the tough calls. I want to like Williams- he’s a superior athlete and an exciting player, and despite an early rep there’s been little word of personal issues or laziness, but he’s rapidly becoming the forward equivalent of Marcus Williams- a busted prospect who can’t quite get all the way around the mental aspect of the game. Marcus drifted where Sean just lapses, but it’s the same basic issue. I’d like to say Williams could be showcased for a trade or at least allowed to play his way into the rotation, but right now there’s a lot of people ahead of him and it’s not clear what the overwhelming skill or ability is that he brings to the table. He’s athletic, but…well, at least Stromile Swift had a peak of sorts. I suspect Williams gets one more year, and if it doesn’t click for him, he’s gone. If the Nets can get a late 1st for him, it’s a good deal. Kristic, as well, I don’t expect to see again; he’d be perfect for this offense in many ways, but his long term potential especially after the knee injury just isn’t the equal of Lopez or, really, Boone.
The bottom line for the Nets is that they have a lot of options and ways to experiment with the available personnel within their current system, so as long as those opportunities are taken advantage of they should be able to ride out injuries, slumps, guys hitting the rookie wall, etc. fairly well. It’s a good place to be in, especially given how much better some of these players may be in a few years.
Well, that wasn’t what I expected exactly. It was indeed a fun game overall, but there were two notable injuries to David Lee’s back and Stromile Swift’s ankel and a lot of sloppy stuff- notably traveling and offensive fouls- on the way, and it appears that the early reports of Josh Boone being ready to go were a bit premature. He was badly missed tonight. The Knicks did a bit better in some areas than you would expect, including outrebounding the Nets overall and on the offensive side; the Nets did a bit worse, 17 ugly turnovers being the most notable bit. But the major story of this one has to be the way Mike D’Antoni gameplanned for this contest and two major choices he made which did as much as anything to tip this one the Knicks’ way.
Most importantly, the Knicks did a brilliant job defending Devin Harris. He finished with 32 points on 12-22 shooting and 7 assists which doesn’t look too bad, but he had started 6 for his first 6 before the Knicks made adjustments and thereafter he went 6-16, committed 5 turnovers and was clearly rattled and pressing in the 4th quarter. The job the Knicks did on him and Carter seemed to unsettle the Nets’ entire offense enough to gum up the works a bit and, in concert with D’Antoni’s other move on offense, give the Knicks the advantages they needed. The way the Knicks did it from the second quarter on was mostly by allowing Chris Duhon, and for short stretches Wilson Chandler to guard Harris one on one in an advanced close position taking away his jumper which was working in the first quarter, and daring him to drive past the first man. When he did so, which was not easy against either defender despite their positioning, he usually ran into a wall of Knick forwards looking to take charges against him, which forced him time and again to peel off often at awkward angles and throw passes which didn’t really break down the defense. He finished with 5 fouls and took only 6 free throws, and spent the 4th quarter throwing up quick, off-balance jumpers which were never a good idea. The Knicks deserve credit for their excellent rotations, and D’Antoni deserves credit for switching to this strategy when the initial one of daring Harris to shoot failed.
The other big choice was that, partly by intent and partly because of David Lee’s injury, the Knicks didn’t run too much pick and roll tonight as compared to their usual volume. Instead there was a lot more individual play against a man look and quick ball movement against the zone which allowed the Knicks to isolate their forwards against the Nets’ (and occasionally the guards on switches), and run wild. Remember when the Hawks did this to the Knicks? What goes around comes around, and the result here was that the defensive issues of many Nets forwards was badly exposed, especially when Brook Lopez (4 blocks) was out of the game. The signal moment was when, in the 4th, the Nets put Vince Carter on Al Harrington after the 3rd or 4th forward had failed to guard him and Carter did a better job than anyone else. Several Knicks forwards ran absolutely wild: Al Harrington had 39 on 11-21 shooting, and saw the line 16 times as a long succession of Nets forwards- Yi, Anderson, Williams, etc.- could only foul him as he blew past; Wilson Chandler had a great bounce-back performance and put up 24 on 10-12 shooting; and Tim Thomas had 26 off the bench on 8-12 shooting. All three made some good tough shots, but a huge amount of this was the Knicks hitting ridiculously open looks because of bad Nets rotation and over-biting on moves, as well as the Knicks’ forwards simply being athletically superior to the Nets’ and more skilled offensively than their counterparts were defensively. That, combined with the layered defense on Harris and Carter, is what produced the enormous free throw disparity: 10-17 for the Nets, 32-35 for the Knicks.
Next up for the Knicks is away to Sacramento on Saturday; for the Nets, home Friday against Toronto.
– Wilson Chandler was awesome tonight, one night after a real nightmare in Chicago. His offense was noted above, but he should also be singled out for his defense on Devin Harris in short stretches which was shockingly good for a small forward guarding one of the fastest points in the league; it was his work in the second quarter which seemed to begin to turn the tide against Harris after his strong first quarter. We may have something here.
– The one issue that cropped up for the Knicks defensively is one that’s been seen before, a tendency to lose shooting bigs in transition. Something to keep an eye on.
– Brook Lopez had a pretty good game tonight. A few stupid turnovers and a few hiccups early against the screen/roll, but for the most part he was defensively strong and active despite his reputation. And prior to David Lee’s injury, he kind of ate Lee’s lunch holding him to a single board in 24 minutes while Lee mostly got his points due to the failure of other Nets to rotate. I’m not entirely clear why Lopez spent the 4th riveted to the bench, unless the turnovers just got to Frank.
– The Knicks did a good job taking advantage of mismatches while playing their bizarre big man Jefferies-Thomas-Lee-Chandler-Richardson lineup, until the Nets countered with zone.
– Something really has to give with the Knicks’ roster. Lee is now hurt, Mobley is retiring without ever having played a game for the team, Roberson is clearly not regarded as an option, Marbury’s done, Nate’s still hurt, and no one wants to see Malik Rose or Jerome James. The team’s got until Saturday to sort this out, but there’s simply no way they can play many more games with 6 or 7 players they trust to actually see the floor, especially if some of those like Lee and Duhon are nursing injuries.
– This game highlighted what Josh Boone can do for the Nets, in terms of giving them another option on the screen/roll offensively where Boone excells Lopez and no one else runs it too much, and defensively where, while he’s not overwhelming, he can certainly do a better job than Yi. He wouldn’t have stopped Harrington tonight, but he probably could have slowed him a little which might have made a difference.
Knick of the Game: Al Harrington, who was just unstoppable on offense.
Net of the Game: Vince Carter, who shot well, boarded, ran the offense at times and was the only guy to even slow Harrington down.
Man of the Match: Harrington. It’s not often you see a player run rampant like that, especially one not considered a “star.”
That said, the most important factor in this one was Mike D’Antoni. Been a long time since the Knicks had a real coach.
And so it begins, the first of four games this year between the local rivals as the Knicks visit the swamp. It’s always a bit strange to watch these games from my perspective, as when I became a basketball fan way back in the early 90’s (Blazers/Bulls was the first finals I really watched) it was the first team sport I became a fan of and I’m not sure I really understood the rules of fandom yet. Like: you only get one team; and you REALLY only get to root for one half of a rivalry. At 10 years old those nuances were lost on me; both teams were on television and I loved to watch basketball, so I dove in headfirst and found myself simultaneously thrilling to the Knicks’ quest to unseat the Bulls and bemoaning the horror of The Derrick Coleman Era which was enough to induce severe whiplash, let me tell you. At this point as a fan I’ve seen good and bad times with both teams and really couldn’t pick a favorite at all so my rooting interest tomorrow is entirely for a fun game with no injuries. Which is, I expect, what we’ll get especially since this is one of the few times in the history of these two teams when they’ve been at a roughly similar level of quality. Here’s a selection of bullet points on what to watch out for tonight:
– Defense: will be notable by its absence. The Knicks kinda suck at it (107.1 DeEff, 25th in the league), but the Nets REALLY suck at it (108.0, 27th), so this one is likely to be a shootout. Pace-wise the Knicks are first in the league while the Nets are only 22nd, so while high-scoring this won’t be the Golden State game; don’t expect records to fall at any rate.
– Rebounding. The Nets are middling (50.1 Rebound Rate, 12th; 16th Offensive RR, 11th Defensive RR), while the Knicks are…not (47.0 RR, 30th; 28th ORR, 21st DRR), and this may end up being the difference especially since the Nets are getting Josh Boone back for this one (7 games played this year due to a leg problem), whose 17.3 RR places him 14th in the league among centers. I doubt he’ll start as he’s coming back from injury, but the Nets will have depth on the boards.
– Point guard is the key matchup for this one. Chris Duhon has been playing a million minutes this year and doing pretty well overall (13.54 PER, 39th among PGs, best of his career), especially so when you factor in his defense which is generally above average. That will be the most important facet of his game in this one, as Devin Harris is having a monstrous, ridiculous season so far (27.61 PER, 3rd among PGs, best of his career as well) and is far and away the key player for the Nets at this point. Everything in their offense starts with him and Vince Carter, and if you can’t stop their penetration they will run you over. The Nets are 5th in the league on offense this year (107.4 OEff); if Duhon can’t keep Harris somewhat under control, the Knicks are just screwed. I think he’ll do alright at the start, since Harris is devastating primarily for his quickness and I think Duhon is quick enough to at least not get blown by over and over. This could change as the game wears on since Duhon’s going to be sprinting all over for 40+ minutes, and there’s no way Anthony Roberson is going to be asked to guard the Blur. If Harris can get Duhon into foul trouble, and he’s an expert at that, it’s all over. More on the Nets’ offense below.
– When the Knicks have the ball the major question is how the Nets’ bigs will handle the pick and roll. The Knicks shoot a million three pointers, but a lot of those come off of plays which begin with Duhon and Lee running the two man game and Duhon making the decision about when and where to move the ball. Brook Lopez has pretty good mobility for a giant stick insect of a man and Josh Boone usually does as well when his ankles work, so the Knicks may be in trouble in that respect. If this part of their attack is stymied, expect to see a lot of Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler off-balance heaves. Those are No Buys, and probably mean a Knicks loss.
– When the Nets have the ball, the Knicks are going to have to hope that Duhon and Q Rich can handle Harris and Carter to some degree, because the offense all runs through them. They break down the perimeter contain and either score themselves and draw a foul as often as not (11.2 free throw attempts per game for Harris, 6.0 for Carter), or else kick the ball out to one of the Nets’ many three point shooters. Jersey are 5th in the league in 3 point attempts at 20.4 a game, but 6th in percentage at 39%; the Knicks, while they lead in attempts, are only 12th in efficiency at 37%. The Knicks’ bigs are going to have to hang with Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Jarvis Hayes and (if he plays) Bobby Simmons on the outside, because if they collapse too often or get caught ball-watching the Nets will shoot them full of holes. Keep a close eye on Carter and who defends him- he’s having a strong bounce-back year (22.80 PER) and has been using his passing very well, playing almost as a second point at times for the Nets. Duhon on Harris is probably a kinder match for the Knicks than Richardson on Carter, even given how good Harris has become.
– Turnovers. The Nets make the 4th fewest (13.2 PG), the Knicks are mired in 20th (15.6). They’re actually an almost deadlocked 20th and 21st in causing opponent turnovers.
– A final interesting wrinkle: the Nets are 29th in the league in allowed opponent 3 point%, giving up 41%; the Knicks are 3rd at 32%.
I expect this to be a fun, up-tempo game with a lot of scoring and not a lot of defense, which will be determined largely on whether the Knicks can rebound from last night’s terrible shooting woes. If the Knicks have an average shooting night the Nets probably win as the more talented team; a poor shooting night could make this a blowout. But an above-average shooting night could easily see the Knicks clip the Nets on the road and take advantage of their abhorrent defense. Given the back-to-back with travel schedule for the Knicks and the recent form of the Nets I expect the home side to hold serve in this one, probably with something like a 115-108 final score. Should be fun!