How the Atlanta Hawks (and Lionel Hollins) Limited Brook Lopez in Game 1

Almost immediately after the Brooklyn Nets lost to the Atlanta Hawks, 92-99, in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, the conversation turned to Brook Lopez’s effectiveness in his limited touches. Lopez tied for the team lead with 17 points on just seven shot attempts (or one more than Earl Clark), causing Hall of Famers Charles Barkley on TNT’s Inside the NBA and Isiah Thomas on NBA TV’s GameTime to get pretty animated in calling out the Nets guards for not feeding the big man more often against Atlanta.

Head coach Lionel Hollins initially dismissed the “gotta get Brook the ball!” criticism after Sunday’s game but acknowledged it the next day and, to their credit, the remaining members of the Nets’ “Big 3” recognized it as well.

From Stefan Bondy, of the New York Daily News:

“We’ll make adjustments, man,” Joe Johnson said. “We’ll get the big fella rolling.”

“We just gotta find some actions that work for him,” said Deron Williams. “Because we definitely need to get him the ball, that little pocket pass that we were getting the last half of the season is not there against these guys. They’re doing a good job of taking that away. But like I said, swing, swing and then maybe post him up on the other side. Those are things we can do to get Brook involved, and we need to get him more involved.”

Hollins added: “We just went to other people. That’s why you have a team, that’s why you go out and play with five guys. If we had to depend on Brook to get 20 shots, we were going to lose by 25. So we did what we had to do tonight. On other nights, one player is going to get more shots than other players. You could say we should do something else but it is the way it was.”

In a way, all three are correct. Deron’s explanation is especially on point, though, by giving credit to the defensive activity of the Atlanta Hawks and appropriating blame for the Nets’ limited gameplan. There’s enough of it to go around – and we’ll get to Hollins’s comments and schematic issues in a second – but also plenty of praise for Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer in identifying and curtailing Brook Lopez’s catch-and-shoot opportunities, particularly off of the pick-and-roll.

As you can see in the above video, every high screen initiated by Lopez or roll to the rim in the first quarter drew an extra Atlanta help defender over to cheat a few steps. It didn’t matter if it was a big (Al Horford or Paul Millsap) conceding the three-pointer to Thaddeus Young from the top of the key or DeMarre Carroll leaving Joe Johnson alone at the arc to help on the roll, it was up to the closest Hawks defender to step in and body Brook on his cuts to the basket, and to prevent him from getting a clean look at his pick-and-roll runner.

The attention didn’t relent in the second half. To be fair, the Nets’ woeful shooting line (5/20 from three) couldn’t quite convince Coach Bud to abandon his defensive strategy and call for the Hawks to start covering shooters, either. Lopez continued to take the contact and collapse the defense on seemingly every cut, while Nets guards eagerly swung the ball on the perimeter to wide-open shooters. It was just the whole shot-making thing that presented an issue for Brooklyn.

In the second half the Hawks began switching up their help coverage a bit more, by sending the weak-side defender to shadow Brook in the lane and sagging off of shooters in the corners. All afternoon the Nets did a decent job of anticipating where the help was coming from on the pick-and-roll (well, except for their 17 turnovers) and even began using some misdirection on Brook’s high screens to get easy baskets with the defense out of position.

Brook Lopez squares up to set the screen towards the sideline as Joe Johnson crosses over to the middle. Jarrett Jack notices that he’s the man to help off of and keeps going towards the basket instead of settling in the left-corner, as his defender (Dennis Schröder) turns to observe Brook’s roll to the hoop and leaves Jack on the back-door cut. The spacing isn’t optimal, with Brook and Jack both basically making the same move, but Jack recognizes his defender’s assignment and beats him for a layup.

As I discussed in the Playoffs Edition of the Three Man Weave, the Atlanta Hawks are not afraid to let their opponents shoot from the perimeter. Combined with Brooklyn’s regular season track record of futility from beyond the arc (26th in the league in team three-point field goal percentage), Atlanta’s “let ‘em have threes” defense shouldn’t be too surprising. Perhaps that’s what Coach Hollins meant with his “if we had to depend on Brook to get 20 shots we’d lose by 25” statement, but at a certain point a team has to rely on their strengths and at least get their best player involved in the offense. As Deron expressed perfectly, once Atlanta took away Brook’s go-to move – the P&R pocket pass-to-runner – there were no secondary actions or post-ups to get the big man touches, outside of self-generated put-backs from his six offensive rebounds.

To hearken back to the Hot Takez for a second, Isiah Thomas wasn’t exactly wrong in admonishing the Brooklyn guards for ignoring Lopez on his many rolls to the rim or (halfhearted) post-up attempts, but the above quote by their head coach puts it into a bit more context. As Bondy wrote, Brook Lopez “became more of a decoy as Atlanta converged on Brooklyn’s pick-and-rolls,” as evidenced by his 42 touches (fifth-most among all Nets in Game 1) and minuscule single-game usage rate (12.2% of possessions). It was apparent early that Hollins’s offensive scheme featured a heavy dose of Iso Joe; which worked to great effect individually, if at the expense of Lopez’s inclusion in the offense.

Regardless of Atlanta’s activity in the lane, forcing the ball to Brook Lopez at least a couple of times on the pick-and-roll would have really opened up room for shooters in Hollins’s perimeter-oriented offense (wait, what?!). The team committed 17 turnovers by skipping the ball around the arc when they could have turned it over just as easily by trying to establish Lopez off the pick or in the post, which might be his best opportunity to touch the ball again in this series (even if he’s trended away from his post-game all season).

The Nets were the league’s third-most effective team at scoring in the paint over the regular season and still generated almost 60% of their points from the paint Sunday, despite completely ignoring Lopez on offense. The Atlanta Hawks worked all afternoon to shade an extra defender towards Lopez to take him out of Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll attack and dared the Nets to beat them from the perimeter. While Lionel Hollins readily accepted the challenge in Game 1’s seven-point defeat, the Brooklyn Nets’ lack of spacing and the national attention on Brook Lopez’s shot output could change the complexion of Wednesday’s offensive gameplan.

2014-15 in Review: Jerome Jordan

After bouncing around the basketball globe playing in Serbia, Slovenia, Erie, Reno, the Philippines and Italy, this season was the first in which Jerome Jordan actually looked like he possessed the tools to be an NBA player. Jordan was originally drafted by the New York Knicks as a second-rounder in 2010, but couldn’t make the team until the season after and even then failed to crack the rotation. His upside began and ended with “he’s 7’1″ with a 7’5″ wingspan.” Coordination? Nope. NBA-level skillset? Nada. Jordan fell right back off the map.

Fast forward to 2014-15, and Jordan’s back in the league as a Brooklyn Net, new and improved. It wasn’t a ginormous sample – rightfully so given Brooklyn’s depth at the five and Jordan still not quite a second-string player – but he impressed in limited minutes this season, teasing that he could be on a tangible rise. Jordan appeared in 44 games, playing 8.7 minutes a night, giving us little to work with.

Let’s start with his per-36 minute numbers, which aren’t too shabby: 13 points and 9.9 rebounds on 53.2% shooting from the field. A downside was his 1.4 blocks, a low number for such a lengthy center who should be imposing around the rim. These stats don’t offer much though, so let’s dig deeper.

Jordan was a +/- nightmare for the Nets, but his meager playing time and awkward fit in Brooklyn’s system had a lot to do with this. That awkward fit is major in trying to determine just how useful Jordan is, especially on the offensive end. His offensive game revolves around pick-and-roll crashes to the rim, probing lob finishes and offensive boards. Think DeAndre Jordan, minus the inhumane athleticism. To best excel as this type of offensive center, you need a spaced out lineup with lots of pick-and-roll action, things the Nets relied on only after the All-Star break. It almost makes it unfair then to bemoan Jordan’s low-impact offense, considering he only played in eight games following the festivities compared to 36 prior. Throw this guy in a spread pick-and-roll system and let’s see what he can do.

On the defensive end is where the biggest concerns lie. Although Jordan understood what rotations to make and when, he was often slow-footed at executing and couldn’t do much when he got there. Jordan allowed opponents to shoot 50.4% at the rim, not a bad number, but not nearly good enough for a player his size who doesn’t send away many shots. His rebounding as a whole isn’t much different. Although he was pesky on the offensive boards to the tune of collecting 15.3% of available O rebounds, Jordan managed to rein in only 52.5% of rebounds per chance according to the SportVU’s public data.

For those eager to see how Jordan develops as a third-string center on this Nets club may be shifting in their seats, as Brooklyn did not extend a qualifying offer to him. Worry not, though, for this is likely just salary cap mumbo jumbo:

The non-tender is as much bookkeeping than anything. Jordan played the season on a non-guaranteed contract (until early January, when all contracts become guaranteed), and a qualifying offer is a guaranteed offer with a cap hold of slightly over $1.1 million. The Nets could still elect to bring back Jordan following their other major free agent decisions on a minimum contract. – The Brooklyn Game

Here’s hoping the Nets keep Jordan around for what he could become, as they can use all the surprise value from cheap contracts they can get

A Longer Look at the Nets Draft

This might be the last time for a few years, but the Nets actually managed to walk away from this years draft with three new prospects, two of which were first-rounders. Analysis of the trade can be found elsewhere, this is strictly an introduction to and overview of each prospect, along with analysis of their potential fit on the Nets.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the premier defensive prospects in this class, and arguably the best wing defender of the whole group. Virtually everything you would want from a defender, Hollis-Jefferson has. He’s super quick, long (7’2″ wingspan), well built, explosive off the ground, has fantastic instincts, and plays with the energy and intensity that all great defenders do. In college he guarded 1-5, and his quickness combined with his length and strength should make him effective switching onto almost any player in the NBA, the only exception being a truly dominant big guy like Demarcus Cousins. There’s no telling how fast he will be able to pick up advanced NBA defensive schemes, but he should be a great one-on-one defender from the start, and his awareness in college was very good so he will probably turn into a great team defender in time. Ultimately, Hollis-Jefferson has a real chance at becoming one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, the type you can stick on whoever the opposing team’s best perimeter player is and be happy with it.

Why then, did such an elite defender fall to the 23rd pick? Well, he cannot shoot, at all. Last year at Arizona he shot 20.7% from three, and defenders frequently ignored him anywhere outside of 15-feet. His form is pretty broken, and it is unlikely Hollis-Jefferson ever turns himself into an outside threat. The other aspects of his offensive game are much more palatable. Hollis-Jefferson’s ball-handling is a bit wild, but he’s quick and shaky with his moves, and when he gets into the lane he flies into the body of defenders to get to the foul line or finish spectacularly with his athleticism. Additionally, Hollis-Jefferson is a very good passer for a wing, and a great cutter off the ball. Defenses will sag off Hollis-Jefferson and really hurt a team’s spacing, but he can make them pay with his cutting, passing, and finishing ability. Hollis-Jefferson can probably get away with his lack of shooting in the regular season, but in the playoffs there is a chance teams will be able to scheme him off the floor like Golden State did with Tony Allen. Still, Hollis-Jefferson was a good value at 23, and if he did miraculously turn around his jumper his upside would be enormous.

Fit: Hollis-Jefferson’s immediate fit with the Nets makes sense, and his drafting might be a sign that the Nets are not going to re-sign Alan Anderson. Between Joe Johnson and Bojan Bogdanovic the Nets have two offensively oriented wings, so adding a third wing who specializes on the defensive end makes sense. Hollis-Jefferson is the rare rookie who might be able to step in and have an immediate impact on the defensive end, and it will be fun to see if the Nets give him a chance against some of the NBA’s star wings.

Chris McCullough: McCullough is one of the more athletic and skilled players in this draft. Standing at 6’9 with an over 7’3 wingspan McCullough is clearly suited to play power forward, but his quickness and leaping ability allow him to be a free safety type threat on the defensive end. Playing in Syracuse’s zone McCullough had free reign to make plays on the ball, and he used his length and athleticism to rack up and impressive 2.3 steals and 2.9 blocks per-40 minutes pace adjusted. His frame is somewhat frail, and his awareness is inconsistent at best, so McCullough is going to take some time to adjust to NBA defense, but he has the physical tools to be a very good defender down the road.

Offensively, McCullough uses that same length and athleticism to run the floor and dive in pick and roll sets for impressive finishes at the hoop. Unfortunately, McCullough did have some struggles finishing at the hoop because he tended to try and shy away from contact, and his touch wasn’t good enough to complete the difficult shots he attempted. As a shooter, McCullough isn’t consistent yet, but he has pretty nice form and has shown the ability to hit from 18 feet confidently. His 56.3% FT% is a bit concerning, but McCullough’s solid form and confidence in shooting from the deep midrange gives some hope he could even develop range to the corner three later in his NBA career. If he’s not shooting from outside or right at the rim, the rawness of McCullough’s game can get exposed. He’s a pretty good ball handler for his size, but his decision making is shaky, and he is turnover prone when he tries to take his man off the dribble or find teammates. Like Hollis-Jefferson, McCullough was good value at 29th, and though I would’ve preferred the Nets take Kevon Looney who went next, McCullough is a really fluid athlete who has the chance to turn into a skilled offensive player and defensive force.

Fit: One of the reasons McCullough fell all the way to 29th is that he is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered midway through Syracuse’s season. Coming off the ACL tear McCullough won’t play in summer league, might not play in training camp, and will probably get less minutes at first than the typical first round rookie due to his injury. Once healthy, McCullough is a good fit next to the slower moving Brook Lopez, and McCullough can play a similar role to the one Thad Young did last year, whether or not Young stays around with the Nets.

Juan Vaulet: Vaulet was billed as the draft’s mystery man coming in, but after going 39th it’s clear NBA teams had him on their radar. I’ve only seen two full games of his, but Vaulet is an interesting long-term prospect. Vaulet is an athletic wing, and just from my own anecdotal observation he looks to be very long as well. Defensively Vaulet is a very good prospect, as he is quick on the ball, and plays very physical, allowing him to switch onto big guys and compete well. Off the ball, Vaulet isn’t a big time defensive playmaker like the Nets other two picks, but on the ball Vaulet’s quickness and physicality are really impressive.

On the offensive end, Vaulet plays a similar brand of physical, aggressive basketball. He attacks the rim with abandon, off the bounce on his own, cutting to the basket, and crashing the offensive glass as hard as any wing I’ve seen. Around the hoop Vaulet is a good leaper, and isn’t afraid to jump through contact, resulting in him spending a lot of time at the foul line. At the foul line, Vaulet isn’t so impressive, he’s a pretty bad free throw shooter, and a reluctant shooter from outside the arc, though his form isn’t that bad. As a creator and passer Vaulet has good vision, is very unselfish, and has a nice low handle, but he doesn’t execute many advanced dribble moves. It will be key for his NBA career to improve his jump shot because Vaulet’s offensive game relies on attacking the basket with his quick first step in straight lines, and he will need defenders to play tighter up on him to be able to attack at an NBA level. At 39th Vaulet is a good value, he looks like he could be a good defender, and his jump shot isn’t that far off from making him a useful offensive player.

Fit: Vaulet is a bit redundant with Hollis-Jefferson, but if Vaulet does end up proving his worth as an NBA player the Nets will be happy to have four good wings, a rarity in today’s wing scarce NBA. I’m not sure when Vaulet will come over the Nets, and if he comes over this year he may not play much, but hopefully he will get a real shot in the NBA sometime in the next couple years.

Overall this looks like a very good draft for the Nets. Last year’s Nets team was one of the most unathletic in the league, and adding three young and dynamic athletes will be good for the Nets, and their fans. Most importantly, every player the Nets pick seemed like fine or even good value for where they were drafted, something I didn’t expect from the Nets management. The Nets might not be adding much young talent the next couple years, but they did a very good this year, and hopefully these guys will come to be staples of the Nets team down the road

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.


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.


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.

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