Nets 106, Bulls 89: Starting history the right way

i

The gist of it

What sequence best summed up the narrative redemption of Brooklyn’s Game 1 victory over the Chicago Bulls? A Barclays Center standing ovation preempting a Deron Williams runner at the end of the first half to push the lead to 25 points? Deron streaking for a breakway two-handed reverse jam in the third, tabling any talk once and for all that he’d dropped a step during an up-and-down tenure with the Nets thus far? Andray Blatche, attempting to intercept two passes intended for his teammates—and actually catching one of them? For everyone who hadn’t caught a Nets game, it was all there: the unclear home crowd proven strong, the uncertain superstar made good, the individualist gunner holding onto a few endearing bad habits. All of it congealed into a runaway success, a blowout win over one of the Eastern Conference’s mainstays over the last few years.

Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose, that’s nothing to take lightly considering how quick Nets fans were to worry about this game. The franchise’s first playoff effort against a team coached by the NBA’s equivalent of General Patton, injuries be damned, considered an underdog even though they held the higher seeding? Maybe there was only so much a free “HELLO PLAYOFFS” t-shirt could inspire. But the Nets didn’t just come strong against the Chicago Bulls—they destroyed them, leaping out to an early first quarter lead and holding steady throughout the way, nearly forcing a 30-point deficit before the hapless Bulls were able to stem the bleeding in the fourth quarter.

Consider how they scored. With Joakim Noah hobbling around on a bum leg, Brook Lopez was nigh unstoppable against Chicago’s traditionally fortuitous interior defense, making nearly half of his shots and going perfect from the line. Deron Williams was a quick-footed revelation, shooting outside and inside along with that metaphorically and literally emphatic transition dunk. Gerald Wallace had his best game in months, missing just two shots while playing his brand of insistent defense that seemed to peer pressure the referees into not saying anything whenever he came crashing into a Chicago player. Joe Johnson had a relatively quiet effort but he picked up the scoring load when Deron and Brook were out, pacing things and settling a second unit that often struggled to get in a rhythm this year. Reggie Evans scored with his left hand at least twice.

It was an all-around performance, with the Nets shooting 57% against the vaunted Thibodeau defense missing a few steps from its typically crisp execution. You knew the Bulls weren’t defending Deron and Brook with Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed, nor was Carlos Boozer good enough to drive the Chicago offense by himself. They never challenged, really, and the game was basically basketball pornography until the fourth quarter: every shot made, every player getting his own, every HELLO PLAYOFFS t-shirt proudly stretched over outfit and a few whipped through the air by the Barclays faithful. It was great to watch, and if the Bulls can’t get any healthier over the next few days, this might not be the hotly contested series predicted by so many NBA pundits. What a way to kick off franchise history.

Observations

° Loved how those Brooklyn black and Chicago red uniforms played off each other; I remarked that the two squads seemed like warring factions of White Stripes backup dancers, hooping for the right to stand directly next to Jack and Meg. (I assume this might’ve been a dilemma during some mid-00′s MTV award show.)

° This might scan as heresy, but Joe Johnson had such an easier time getting his points when he was playing with the second unit that the Nets might consider using him as more of a bench asset. He’s their best iso scorer, regardless of your unreasonably positive feelings re: Andray Blatche, and it might be better if he’s able to conserve his energy for when the reserve offense needs to get going. Then again, what do I know? This was a blowout, so maybe however they were playing tonight doesn’t matter in the long run.

° So nice to see a redemptive game from Gerald Wallace, who got a big Barclays chant with every risky decision that turned out well, a far cry from the efforts of a few weeks and months ago when he couldn’t have been shooting worse if you’d fixed him a brain parasite. He gave the Nets a transition element that they’re sometimes lacking—if he keeps it going, their offense will be a lot more enjoyable to watch.

° The YES Network showed a stat saying that Deron Williams and Isiah Thomas are the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 10 assists in their first three playoff series. Lest you forget that Deron was a beast in the postseason with Utah, he had this game.

° At times, Joakim Noah just looked like he should’ve been benched altogether. He played just 13:27, with the Bulls riding a Boozer-Gibson front court that did absolutely nothing against Brook.

° Appearing at what’ll be his first and hopefully not last Nets playoff series, soon-to-be-former minority owner Jay-Z was wearing what appeared to be a leather hat with a diamond-studded strap. Let’s see Mikhail Prokhorov pull that one off.

° Speaking of Prokhorov, he gave a speech before the game started that roughly translated to, “We will bathe in the blood of our enemies.” Very inspiring stuff.

° Troll gaze: defeated.

° Andray Blatche in the playoffs. We did it, everyone.

Call the radio right now / Deron Williams just put it down

From our buddies over at The Brooklyn Game, here’s a shot of Deron’s immaculate two-handed dunk in the third quarter. There’s a statement!

Up next

Game 2 on Monday night. Let’s hope the team keeps it going.

Away from Washington, Andray Blatche & JaVale McGee reinvent themselves

BlatcheMcGee

For those of us lucky enough to have the option of mobility, there’s a moment when you realize you need a change of scenery: a new job, a new city, a new social circle. The rhythms of your everyday life are too convenient, the interactions too typical—nothing has changed and it seems unlikely that they will, so perhaps it’s just better to move on and try somewhere new.

I’m thinking about this adult phenomenon as the Nets head to Denver tomorrow night, where two former Washington castaways—Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee—will play against each other in a radically new context (not for the first time, I should note). A year ago, they were both underachieving Wizards prone to goofing off, inconsistent play and the occasional fistfight, poster children for the perils of throwing young talent together and expecting things to automatically jell. Now, they’re indispensable bench elements of two playoff teams: McGee the game-changing transition weapon there for the block or alley oop, Blatche the instant offense capable of remapping shot charts with his unconventional but somehow effective shooting selection. Statistically, both players are having their best years ever, with career-high player efficiency ratings and improved numbers across the board. More importantly, they’ve been decoupled from the expectation of being a franchise player. No longer are they judged against the idea of what they might be, but against what they’re capable of right now—which, as it turns out, is plenty.

Both players came to Washington on the tail end of the Gilbert Arenas years, when the team’s ceiling had already been hit without the ownership’s realization. They were given big minutes and expected to play a big part going forward, but any sense of continuity was upset by the chaos of coaches coming and going, teammates getting suspended, and an imprecise, constantly redefined rebuilding plan. Were they expected to be veterans and mentor new Wizards like John Wall and Jan Vesely? Were they still works-in-progress? Did McGee deserve a big contract? Did Blatche deserve his? The situation seemed increasingly tense, with McGee’s mother memorably calling out the team for how they were coaching her son (a biased perspective, of course, but it’s not like her comments were out of line). Eventually, they were both given away: Blatche was amnestied, while McGee was unloaded in a multi-player trade to Denver.

It’s hard to get athletes to go on the record about how they really feel about a former team: There are too many things at stake, whether it’s social standing or a future contract, and the media has a long history of blowing things way out of proportion. However, Blatche has been increasingly candid after an initial reticence; he’s talked about his motivation to screw the Wizards salary cap, and even showed up to a Washington radio show to get chewed out something fearsome by the understandably bitter hosts. ”I’m trying to move on,” he said. “You know, it’s kind of hard to move on,” he said a moment later. Eventually, some enterprising reporter will get the story of how things really went down in a way that holds everyone accountable: player, coach, owner, organization, fanbase and whoever else. Still, it might take a while.

A few days ago, a spectacularly edited mixtape of high level high school prospect Andrew Wiggins’s senior season was dropped on the Internet, prompting Internet effusion over what might be if he weren’t limited by the NBA’s age restriction. While I’m wary over how pro ready we can deem a player based on his ability to crossover laughably overmatched 14 year olds, I feel like the more important question is judging how ready any teenager is to take care of himself. How ready for adult life were you at 18 or 19 or 20? Maturity is situation dependent—it’s not something that grows apropos of nothing, but from the specific experiences and lessons any particular person will go through.

“Duh,” you remark, but I’m not sure if there’s enough sympathy for how young players who haven’t had that mental transition are thrown into the machine. Blatche was drafted out of high school, while McGee left college after his sophomore year; I’m about the same age as them, but they’ve been working as millionaire employees of a multi-billion dollar industry for a combined 13 years. How did they handle it? It’s easy to laugh at the image of a Kwame Brown (another Washington castoff) who throws his suits in a corner, but who was telling him to do otherwise? Andrew Wiggins isn’t Kwame Brown or McGee or Blatche, and he could be very well ready to handle such adult considerations. But watching players like DeMarcus Cousins or Tyreke Evans struggle to get it together says something about the importance of where one’s formative adult experiences take place, and it’s little coincidence that McGee and Blatche perked up as soon as they got out of Washington.

I can’t speak to the frustration of being a Wizards fan and watching them plateau year after year, but I’m inclined to be sympathetic to any young adult’s journey toward maturity. Again, sometimes you’ve got to move on before you can move on, if you get what I mean—and pardon my inner sap, but it’s nice to see two undeniably entertaining and talented players finding their place in the league.

Trending in Brooklyn: 2015 is Terrible

If you thought being a Brooklyn Nets fan was hard in 2014, well, the new year hasn’t exactly been any easier. Let’s take a look at why:

Everything About 2015 Has Been Awful

Here are a few unfortunate trends from 2015 so far. I would love to go into more detail on each one other than just bullet points, but if I were to do so this piece might not be published until 2017 or so.

  • The Nets are 3-11 in 2015, compared to 15-16 in the 2014 portion of the season
  • The Nets have not won a single game in Brooklyn in 2015
  • Brooklyn is shooting an astonishingly bad 27 percent from three in 2015, down from an only kind of bad 34 percent in 2014
  • Both the Nets’ offensive and defensive ratings have been notably worse in the month of January, and they combine for a net rating of -10.5
  • In 14 games in 2015, Brooklyn has eclipsed the 100-point barrier only four times
  • Brooklyn has lost its last three games by 85 combined points
  • In 2015 the Nets offensive rating has plummeted to 94.3 during the fourth quarter
  • Brooklyn’s defensive rating has also been worse in the fourth, giving up 106.5 points per possession in January
  • All of these numbers could have potentially been even worse if the game against Portland wasn’t postponed

The Nets have only one more game left in January, and it’s against the 31-15 Toronto Raptors. Let’s just try to get through that and hope that these awful numbers are a January thing and not a 2015 thing.

Mason Plumlee. Still Good at Basketball.

Despite the team’s struggles Mason Plumlee has continued to improve his numbers over the last several games, and is now shooting 67 percent with averages of 14 points and seven rebounds in almost 27 minutes per game in his last 10 contests. I wrote on Plumlee’s improved play in my last Trending in Brooklyn column, but I’m doubling down this week for two reasons:

  1. Plumlee is still playing well even when nearly every Net has shot the ball worse than their seasonal averages lately
  2. I must find at least one positive thing to write about in order to retain my sanity, and well, there’s just not a lot of positive Nets things to pick from.

But seriously, check out the field goal percentages of the team over the last 10 games:

Screenshot 2015-01-29 22.58.20

Click to enlarge. Green text signifies a player’s last 10 games stats being better than their seasonal numbers. Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference

Of the 13 players that have logged minutes, Plumlee is one of only four players to be shooting above his average for the season, and he’s blowing that number out of the water. He’s shooting 59 percent on the season, and if he can keep up his pace from the last month he could finish the season with a field goal percentage in the 60s for the second season in a row.

January Has Not Been Kind to Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson is shooting only 37.7 percent for the month of January, which marks his worst shooting month since January of 2009* when he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks. His three-point percentage is all the way down to 31 percent as well, and he’s been unable to make up for the poor efficiency by getting to the free throw line. Johnson has shot only 24 free throws in January, compared to 38 and 40 in November and December, respectively (with the same number of games played in each month. As a result his scoring is down to only 14 points per game in the month, and if the Nets are to break out of their recent slumps they’re going to need Johnson to bounce back.

*Not including October months with only one game played.

2014-15 in Review: Bojan Bogdanovic

Like most rookies, Bojan Bogdanovic had an extremely up-and-down first season in the NBA. Things started off promising as he was named the Nets starter to begin the year. After starting the first 19 games of the season and playing 30 minutes a game Bojan was demoted to the bench. He spent the next 16 games coming off the pine and only playing 11.5 minutes a game, a low point in the season for the neophyte. His rotation spot solidified after that, his minutes increasing to 20-25 a game, though mostly coming off the bench unless injuries gave him a rare start.

Bogdanovic ended the season on a high note, coming through as the Nets made their playoff push. In 28 MPG over nine regular season games in April, he averaged 14.4 PPG, his best monthly rate by a wide margin of 25.6 points per 100 possessions. Bojan shot a staggering 48.8% from three over this stretch, indicating he may have been more lucky than good.

Bojan had some interesting statistical splits on the season. Most noticeably, he shot way better at home than on the road. He shot better from the field, 48.3% vs. 41.2%, better from the free throw line, 86.3% vs. 78.2% and from 3-point range, 38.3% vs. 31.4%. It’s often easy, and many times wise to brush game splits off as more chance than anything, but in this case it seems like the difference might not just be variance. Bojan’s number of attempts was almost exactly equal in all three areas, but his effectiveness was drastically different. As a rookie adjusting to the NBA, Bogdanovic probably felt more comfortable at home, making his future slightly brighter considering he should, in theory, be able to improve in opposing arenas.

In the playoffs Bojan’s role shifted; after game 1 he was inserted into the starting lineup for the remainder of the series. He played great in the Nets two wins, shooting 46% from three and scoring 19 and 15 points in those games. Things were not so rosy the rest of the series. In losses Bojan shot 25% from three, and was worse in almost every single statistical category. Bojan’s playoff performance was still a positive on the whole. He started in a series against a good Hawks team and held his own on the court, earning the minutes he got.

Looking back on Bojan’s season we see an interesting player. His role on the team was essentially that of a spot-up shooter, and he wasn’t asked to create for himself. These 3-and-D players can be very valuable in today’s NBA, but Bojan struggled to be consistently impactful as one in his first season.

Any single one number metric obviously has its flaws, but if all available metrics paint the same picture it’s likely to be close to the truth. In Bojan’s case he was below-average to very bad in just about every all encompassing metric. Bojan was bad in terms of RPM, PER, WS/48, and BPM. Bojan was a rookie so expecting him to have been a very positive player would’ve been unrealistic, but it still would be nice to see him perform better. One cause for optimism is that his play did tick up towards the end of the season. He was more confident taking and making shots from both inside and outside the arc.

Offense:

Bojan isn’t and was not a bad offensive player, he just isn’t a good one either. Yet. Bojan doesn’t have the athleticism or ball-handling to really be a creator for himself or others, but at times he can make things happen. The biggest and most obvious thing for Bojan is his shooting. On the year he shot a solid 35.5% from three, but if he wants to really draw defensive attention to himself he’s going to need to improve to a 38-40% clip. Bojan has a high and quick release that is hard to stop when he shoots it with confidence, and going forward he shouldn’t be afraid to shoot the ball whenever he has the opportunity.

The other area in which Bojan is already very successful is as a cutter. Bojan has great timing and instincts as a cutter and was first among all non-front court Nets in points off cuts according to synergy. Even without strong creation skills the combination of good shooting and almost elite cutting can make for a very useful offensive player. Bojan isn’t great at it yet, but as he continues to improve attacking closeouts he will only become more effective. Becoming a more consistent and efficient shooter will be important for his career, but the real questions lie on the defensive end.

Defense:

By all accounts Bojan was a poor defensive player this year. Despite his great instincts cutting on offense he was really poor for most of the year at keeping track of players off the ball. In isolation situations Bojan often played on his heels, and against high-level wing scorers he was torn apart. Bojan was also poor closing out on shooters as he doesn’t have great length to contest shots and also possesses poor quickness recovering. Across the board Bojan lacks positives on the defensive end. He does a decent job navigating on-ball screens, but he’s subpar to bad in almost every other area.

The numbers back this up. According to synergy, Bojan gave up the second-most points of any Nets player in isolation, ranking in the 27th percentile on a per possession basis. Bojan’s defensive rating of 107.9 was the worst of any Nets rotation player. There is a lot of noise to DRTG, but Bojan being worst among the Nets is a pretty obvious sign he was hurting the Nets on the defensive end. Bojan can improve on the defensive end. He’s got a big frame that if he adds strength to will help him even more in screen-and-roll situations and help him in isolation. He also will just naturally get better with time. Picking up the speed and rotations of NBA basketball isn’t easy, and though Bojan might never be even average on the defensive end, he will almost certainly improve.

Next Year:

Bojan is one of the few young Nets, meaning he is likely to be a part of the team’s future. As he gets more comfortable at the NBA level he will inevitably improve on both ends of the court. If he can become a more consistent threat from 3-point range and bump up his defense he can be a valuable rotation piece for Brooklyn. It was fun watching him gain confidence over the course of the year, and he might be able to add to the little bit of off-the-bounce creation he flashed towards the end of the season.  Until next year, Prince William Bogdanovic.

PicMonkey Collage-2