Three Man Weave: Week 22 Edition
At this point in the season, it’s probably best to forget everything you have previously read concerning the Brooklyn Nets and their chances of making the playoffs (even if it includes past instances of this column). After a strong week of play, and the sheer inconsistency of the Eastern Conference’s bottom-tier of playoff teams, the Nets find themselves just a game out of the eighth seed with 14 games remaining in their 2014-15 season.
The Brooklyn Nets have been a lot of things this season, just not necessarily resilient. They’ve been talented, and expensive, and disappointing for the majority of 2014-15 - as their 30-39 record can attest - but it appears they’ve saved their best basketball for the last month of the schedule, at a time when their Eastern Conference counterparts are collapsing.
Two weeks ago, the Nets were mid-collapse themselves. A five-game losing streak put them on the outside of the playoff hunt, closer to the reeling Detroit Pistons than the sixth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the standings, as the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, and Boston Celtics rode early-March winning streaks to leap ahead of the Nets in the race for the seventh and eighth seeds.
Two straight wins against the lottery-bound 76ers and Timberwolves gave way to a 25-point blowout loss in Cleveland on Wednesday, with a remaining schedule against just about every one of the East’s playoff teams. It took three overtimes to defeat the Bucks on Friday, and a convincing win in Indiana the next night gave the Nets four in their last five, placing them right back into the playoff conversation.
While the Nets put together their 3-1 week, their rivals have trended in the opposite direction. The Miami Heat have won three of their last four games and assumed control of the seventh spot, but otherwise the Bucks, Hornets, Celtics, and Pacers have all struggled of late. The Hornets have gone 2-5 since their five-game winning streak, the Celtics have dropped three straight after their own five-game streak, and the Pacers won seven then lost their last five. Even Milwaukee has been safely seated in the sixth spot for most of the season, but have won just four of 17 since swapping Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams at the trade deadline.
The Nets will again face a four-game week, with opportunities to help themselves continue their push to the playoffs. Monday’s matchup at home against the Boston Celtics would have otherwise been a “Titanic” Division punchline this late in the season, and instead looms as a legitimately important game in both teams’ seasons. The same with Wednesday’s game in Charlotte, as the Hornets enter the week as the East’s eighth seed. A rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers, this time at Barclays, will hopefully go a bit better for the Nets, but if not the Los Angeles Lakers will present a nice punching bag come Sunday afternoon.
This week on the Three Man Weave, our experts will not address the playoffs, but instead the inspired recent play of the Brooklyn Nets’ offense, and especially Bojan Bogdanovic. While Bojan’s increased aggressiveness goes back at least to the All-Star break (and possibly from the Rookie/Sophomore Game?), the overall offense exploded in their back-to-back over the weekend against two top-ten defenses. They’ll also address Jarrett Jack’s presence in the fourth quarter (and overtime) lineups, at the expense of starting point guard Deron Williams.
Monday, vs. Boston, 7:30 pm
Wednesday, @ Charlotte, 7:00 pm
Friday, vs. Cleveland, 7:30 pm
Sunday, vs. Lakers, 3:30 pm
1.) The Brooklyn Nets dropped 129 points on the league’s 2nd-toughest defense (albeit in seven quarters) Friday night and then 123 points Saturday against the 10th-ranked D (and 3rd-best since the All-Star break). ….How?
David Vertsberger: Thad Young has completely flipped the script for Brooklyn’s offense. This tear extends beyond just two games; it stems from the Nets’ trade for Young. Brooklyn’s scoring 107.5 points per 100 possessions with Young on the floor, which over the season would be the fifth-best offense in the league. His floor-spacing at the four has opened up the floor for Brook Lopez to work down low, pick-and-rolls to be more effective and Bojan Bogdanovic to attack the rim with success. It’s been a blast.
John Mazlish: As with anything extreme, it’s probably a combination of both luck and actual good performance. In the game against Indiana Brooklyn posted an obscene 130.0 ORTG, which would be first in the league by a mile. According to NBA.com’s player tracking box score the Nets shot an impressive 60% on uncontested field goals, but a ridiculous 62% on contested field goal attempts for an overall TS% of 69%. Indiana runs a scheme where they allow contested shots in the paint or from three, and relatively uncontested shots in the midrange. The Nets’ performance in this game was mostly luck; they weren’t getting any particularly good shots, they were just incredibly hot as a team. The 3OT game against Milwaukee was a different story; the Nets had an ORTG of 106, which is not crazy good, but significantly better than the Nets season average of 101. The stats back up what the game looked like; the Nets did a really good job moving the ball, and a Milwaukee scheme that more relies on its length and athleticism than precise rotations wasn’t quite able to keep up. The Nets assisted on 67.4% of their field goals, a big improvement on their season average of 55.3%, and Brook Lopez’s seven offensive rebounds allowed the Nets some easy put-back looks. The Nets’ hot performances shouldn’t be dismissed, however; the team has been moving the ball better and shooting it better over the past couple weeks, and these games were just more extreme versions of the recent improved play.
Jonah Jordan: I think it could be due to Brook Lopez tearing it up over the last few weeks. The entire Nets team plays better when Lopez is engaged and playing like an All-Star. These teams don’t really have someone to guard Lopez when he’s playing like this. It was like Roy Hibbert wasn’t even there when he was guarding Lopez. He opens up the whole offense when he’s playing like this; Brooklyn’s three-point shooters are a little more open and have space to shoot while the guards may have more space to get to the basket.
2.) In each of the last two Nets wins, Deron Williams hardly played in the fourth quarters or overtimes, if at all. Lionel Hollins has no problem with it, but do you? Is there any correlation between Deron sitting down the stretch and the two Nets victories?
Verts: Deron Williams has been pretty bad for the most part, but Jarrett Jack is bad in his own ways. There’s no right answer here, or at least I don’t think so. Was strange that Williams was percolating in that Pacers game and then couldn’t get into the action late, though. Feed the hot hand.
Mazlish: Before researching this question a little bit I was prepared to say that I didn’t understand Hollins’s reasoning for benching Deron in the fourth and that it didn’t make any sense. Against the Pacers Deron looked really impressive; he made a couple nice crossover moves and was setting up his teammates well, but against the Bucks he was poor to the eye test as well, as he didn’t create much for himself or others. However, looking at the advanced stats it seems that Hollins was smart to bench him in each game. In the Milwaukee game Williams had a team worst net rating (per 100 possessions) of -48.8 while Jarrett Jack was at a team best +29.1, and in shockingly similar fashion Williams had a team worst net rating of -18.9 against the Pacers while Jack had a team best +44.0. There is noise to these numbers obviously, but in both games the Nets were at their best when Jack was on the floor, and their worst when Deron was. There can be all the noise and explanation in the world, but from that it seems like Hollins was making the right decisions. Looking to the future though I am less sure; the Nets have consistently been better with Deron on the court than Jarrett this year, but it is worth giving Jack more extended run to see if he can keep this hot performance up. If it turns out that this was just a couple game funk for each of them, Hollins will need to transition away from the current rotation.
Jordan: That is some classic Lionel Hollins. I don’t have a problem with it as long as Jarrett Jack is playing well in his place. If the Nets were playing terribly without Deron WIlliams in the lineup it would be a problem, but they aren’t. It probably has to do with him being a huge liability on defense, but I don’t think Hollins will admit it.
3.) Bojan Bogdanovic has looked like a completely different player in the last week or so, averaging 17.8 points on 11.8 field goal attempts and in 35 minutes per game over his last four. Are you buying a Bojan breakout to end the season and, if not, how much longer do you need to see him producing before you consider it sustainable? Is it as simple as him playing with more confidence?
Verts: Confidence seems to be it, really. He used to be much more passive; probing around the perimeter and not doing much with the ball in his hands. And then… I don’t know. He’s trying to attack his defender on every possession and it’s working. He’s looking for his shot more and it’s working. Point is: it’s working, and Nets fans want it to continue working. I don’t expect much regression. Defenses will start respecting him more but I doubt that will completely shut him down.
Mazlish: Am I buying a Bojan breakout? Kind of. Oftentimes for rookies, and in my own personal subjective opinion, for shooters, it takes longer to adjust to the speed of the NBA game. Shooters and less athletic perimeter guys are not used to having guys close out at them with the speed and athleticism of NBA guys, but once they get more comfortable with the speed they can start hitting their shots. Bojan has started hitting his shots, and that has given him the confidence to start making a lot more happen off the bounce. As teams begin to recognize his recent play they will start to scout him a little more, and it will be harder for him to create and play at the same level he is now. I think Bojan’s shooting will regress a little and his ability to play off the bounce will decrease, but he seems to have finally adjusted to the NBA game, and that should be there to stay. It’s an encouraging development for the Nets, and hopefully his budding confidence will lead to Bojan showing off more and more of his diverse skill set.
Jordan: I don’t think it is sustainable. He is hot right now, but I think it’s a side effect of these games being played at a high pace with not a ton of defense being played. In three of the four games each team scored 105+ points. I think he was playing with more confidence since he was playing consistent minutes, but I expect the production to taper down a bit.