Three Man Weave: Week 20 Edition
The Brooklyn Nets are officially impossible to figure out. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 60 games or six as the sample size, the Nets have ceased making sense months ago. Last week was the latest example of the team’s high-variance play, in defeating the Golden State Warriors in their first home game in almost a month and then losing three straight to the Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz.
Monday night’s game against Golden State was legitimately exciting, and not just because of the Steph Curry show in the fourth quarter. The offense looked good from the opening tip, dropping 33 points in the first quarter and 57 by halftime on the league’s stingiest defense, and Jarrett Jack supplied the late-game heroics in a two-point victory. The Warriors have the ability to extract entertaining games out of their opponents and Monday was no exception. Steph Curry appreciated the love, Brooklyn.
The loss to the Hornets in the Nets’ next game was one of the more frustrating (and lopsided) games of the season; particularly against a rival for one of the Eastern Conference’s last two playoff spots. Instead of clinching a tiebreaker over the Hornets in any potential ties to end the season the Nets were out-small-balled and run out of the gym early, in falling behind 35-15 after the first frame. Every Charlotte starter scored in double digits and posted a +/- of at least +14, while the Nets starters posted a bizarro-statline, with just two starters in double figures (led by Deron Williams’s 12) and a -14 as the “best” contribution (Markel Brown, in 24 minutes).
In Friday night’s nationally-televised loss (ESPN counts, right?) to the visiting Phoenix Suns, the Nets relied heavily on their bench to even get the game into overtime, before Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, and Markieff Morris finished them off. The second unit opened up a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter but the offense completely evaporated down the stretch and went the last 5:45 without a field goal. Thaddeus Young began the third quarter with the starting unit as Markel Brown sat for the entire second half, and all five bench players (Brook Lopez, Cory Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrett Jack, and Young) scored in double digits.
In similar fashion to the Suns game, the Nets’ offense abandoned them for minutes-long stretches in the fourth quarter versus the Utah Jazz. In my recap I blamed it mostly on the Deron Williams/Jarrett Jack backcourt pairing, and used some NBAwowy numbers to show the duo’s effect on the Nets’ offense. TL;DR: It’s not good. Former-Net Derrick Favors enjoyed himself in dropping 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists for the younger, more athletic, and defensively locked-in Utah Jazz, and rookie Dante Exum flashed a soft jumper in going 4-4 from three and 5-6 from the field for 14 points. The 88-95 loss Sunday evening was the Nets’ third in a row, and pushed them to 2.5 games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Another 1-3 week (or worse) this week or next could knock the Nets to the back of the playoff pack completely, as the field of mediocre-teams-below-.500-in-the-East continues to grow. As of the compiling of this week’s Three Man Weave questions, Brooklyn was one of six teams within four games of the last two playoff spots, and in the last twenty games will get their opportunity to test themselves against some of their competition. Here’s hoping that this Wednesday’s contest against the rival-Miami Heat goes a bit better than last Wednesday’s home game against the Hornets.
In this week’s Weave our experts will rank the Brooklyn Nets relative to their peers in the tier of Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls. Last week we discussed head coach Lionel Hollins’s small-ball starting lineups and how long they could possibly last, and the answer was: three more games. So our second question will concern the new (?) starting frontcourt of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, and how they complement each other. Finally they’ll finish with a hypothetical look at the bench, if Brook and Thad are truly the starters going forward.
Tuesday vs. New Orleans, 7:30pm
Wednesday @ Miami, 7:30pm
Saturday @ Philadelphia, 7:30pm
1.) Of the six teams (Indiana, Miami, Charlotte, Boston, Brooklyn, and Detroit) that are within four games of each other for the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots, how would you rank them as far as your confidence in them making the playoffs?
Jeremy Briggs: I don’t know if confidence is a word that can be used to describe my feelings with any of these teams. My best guess would be that Indiana and Charlotte make the playoffs. Paul George returning to duel with LeBron in the 2-7 matchup, anyone? Of the remaining 4 teams, I would rank them Miami, Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit in terms of projected playoff chances.
John Mazlish: My rankings would be:
Indiana is in 8th right now, only a half game out of 7th, playing really well, and have the possibility of Paul George returning. In my mind they’re the favorite, after that I think Charlotte, Miami and Boston are all pretty close together in terms of remaining strength of schedule and overall team strength, so I ranked them in terms of where they currently are in the standings. Finally, I think Brooklyn is probably a little worse than Detroit, but Detroit hasn’t played well since the Reggie Jackson trade and is already 2.5 games back from just Brooklyn alone. Obviously, this leaves Brooklyn on the outside looking in, but if I had to guess I think Indiana and Charlotte get in, just as the standings say now.
Nick Huth: I’d put Miami, Indiana, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Boston and then Detroit in terms of my confidence in them making playoffs. I still find it hard to believe that Detroit or Boston could sneak into the playoffs, but as Indiana’s five-game win streak shows, anything can happen.
2.) What do you think about Lionel Hollins’s decision to keep the Brook Lopez/Thaddeus Young pairing intact and promote them both to the starting unit, and as to their effectiveness playing together?
Briggs: As I hypothesized in last week’s Weave, the (very) small-ball starters wouldn’t last long. At this point Lionel Hollins is basically throwing the names on the roster into a generator to get his weekly lineups. Thad and Brook both have the ability to put together hot streaks for the last quarter of the season. But will that be enough to propel the Nets back into one of the final playoff spots?
Mazlish: So far Brook and Thad have combined to play 141 minutes together over the course of 9 games, and in that time have amassed a net rating per 100 possessions of +1.5 with a 105.3 ORTG, and a 103.7 DRTG. Both of those are improvements over the Nets’ average ORTGs and DRTGs, with the ORTG being a significant improvement from the usual 100.5 the Nets post. These early returns seem to bode well for the Nets; Thad helps space the floor for Brook on O, and they manage to survive on D. With the lineup playing so well I think the decision to promote them to the starting lineup was justified, but somewhat risky. It is very possible the lineup will struggle more against starting units, and that great net rating might begin to fall. Also, the Nets have consistently struggled to do well in second quarters this season in large part because of their bench, so it is worth thinking about keeping the two of them as a weapon off the bench. Nonetheless, their promising play certainly justified the move to the starting lineup and I like the fit of the two of them together.
Huth: I’m all for Hollins experimenting at this point in the season, and the pairing makes sense on paper. Young’s energy, rebounding and off-ball movement fills in for the shortcomings in Lopez’s game. Even if the pairing isn’t perfect in a couple weeks, anything to get Young more playing time should help the team.
3.) Presuming a Deron, Johnson, Anderson, Young, Lopez starting lineup, what does your ideal bench look like?
Briggs: The Nets’ roster situation is a bit too bleak to put much more thought into. You asked for my ideal bench, so here it is.
Backup Point: Marko Jaric
Backup Wings: Boobie Gibson and Mark Titus
Backup Bigs: Oliver Miller and Big Baby Davis
Wild Cards: Eddie House and Damon Jones
Even the most casual of NBA fans would tune into Nets games to watch this bench unit absolutely cook.
Mazlish: My main goal with the bench units would be to engineer them so you have as much time as possible with either Joe at the four in a small-ball look, or Cory Jefferson at power forward so you can avoid the generally disastrous Brook/Mason pairing. Mason and Joe or Cory are both strong combinations offensively that will struggle on D, but are probably better than the Mason/Brook pairing that too often still gets thrown out there. Additionally, Hollins should try his best to separate Jarrett Jack and Deron Williams’s playing time as much as possible as they have proved over and over again this year that they don’t succeed well playing together. On the wings Markel Brown can play defense but can’t shoot and Bojan Bogdanovic can shoot but can’t play defense so Hollins should give them each a little time, but focus on whichever one the given matchup makes more sense for. The Nets are not a particularly top heavy team, but they have a surprising amount of depth through the bench and should be able to have a successful bench unit.
Huth: My secondary five-man unit would be Jack, Brown, Bogdanovic, Plumlee and Jordan. Jack and Plumlee are proven players, and the upside of Brown and Jordan is tempting enough to see what they can do. That 10-man rotation may give Brooklyn a decent chance to make the eighth seed, but also let the front office see what Brown and Jordan are made of for the future.