Nets Playoffs Preview vs. Hawks: Three keys & certainties

In case you didn’t hear, the Brooklyn Nets are in the Playoffs. They’ll be facing off against the East’s first seed in the Atlanta Hawks, who won 22 more games than Brooklyn this season. In anticipation of the Nets’ third-straight Playoffs appearance, here’s three keys for Brooklyn to win the series come away with at least one victory and three certainties to expect heading in.

Three keys:

  • Go under Teague and Schroeder screens: The respective breakout seasons for Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder have been pivotal to the Hawks’ successes, which is bad news for the Nets, whose point guard rotation is, let’s say, not best equipped to chase these speedsters around. Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack are not very fleet of foot, while Teague and Schroeder wreck havoc swooping by defenders on the pick-and-roll. Teague averaged 14.8 points and nine rebounds on 47.9% shooting from the field against the Nets this season and Schroeder 11.7 points on 53.8% shooting. An upside for Brooklyn is that the two aren’t superb three-point shooters, with Teague shooting 34.3% from deep and Schroeder 35.1%. It’s for this reason that Lionel Hollins should have his ones go under every screen with Teague or Schroeder as the ball-handler lest the Hawks’ duo kill the Nets with their speed. Brooklyn would essentially be hoping Tague and Schroeder don’t hit those pull-ups consistently, but it would beat almost certainly giving up easy layups every trip down.
  • Shorten rotation and hope for best from bench: Brooklyn’s bench has been, well, bad. The Nets get outscored by seven points per 100 possessions with Williams and Thaddeus Young off the floor, and Jarrett Jack is fifth on the team in minutes per game despite dragging them down on both ends. Brooklyn’s rotation has changes seemingly every week, with 14 different Nets appearing in 30 games. The rotation has somewhat stabilized as of late, but Brooklyn’s shallow depth warrants further tightening. With the Nets’ starting lineup likely to be Williams-Brown-Johnson-Young-Lopez - which has started in 19 of Brooklyn’s last 21 games and is outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions in 256 minutes - the only other Nets that should play for long stretches in this series should be Bojan Bogdanovic, Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson and Jarrett Jack. Bogdanovic has been a different player since the All-Star break, attacking the rim with gusto and shooting with confidence. He’s averaged 11.6 points on 42.9% shooting from deep with a true-shooting clip of 61.4%. He along with Alan Anderson will bring some necessary outside shooting and perimeter defense to the mix. Plumlee is simply Brooklyn’s only solid big off the bench, but Earl Clark could play spot minutes and stretch four it up, which would be huge against these Hawks. Then there’s Jarrett Jack, who despite the on/off numbers is primed for a big game in this series, because that’s what he does. Everybody else on the Nets’ roster will get run out of the gym, and even those listed shouldn’t be playing much.
  • Transition play: Breaking news, the Nets are old, slow and unathletic. Well, the additions of Brown and Young have somewhat absolved that, but it’ll take more than a couple of able bodies to improve Brooklyn’s horrid transition game on both ends. The Nets give up 1.15 points per play in transition, sixth worst in the league, and score 1.04 points per play on the break, which is fourth worst. These numbers need to improve, especially since the Nets won’t get anything easy against the Hawks in a halfcourt setting. Thing is, expecting a turnaround in this series is a pipe dream. There isn’t one problem, it’s a roster-wide issue of being a step and mental beat behind.
    Players don’t stop the ball, and when they try they get beat. They don’t hustle back, they give up too easily on closeouts, assignments are mixed up, etc. On the other end, the Nets struggle with execution and beating the opposition down the court, neither of which will go away with the flip of a switch. This will have to be a major emphasis in practice to see any positive returns.

Three certainties:

  • Kyle Korver is going to be an absolute killer: When isn’t he, right? Well, in the Nets’ case, the 49.2% three-point machine’s gravity will be amplified by the lack of capable defenders to stick on him. Korver is among the top of the league in distance traveled per 48 minutes, running around screens and opening up a million opportunities every second he’s on the floor. You can read a much more in-depth piece on just how much Korver impacts Atlanta’s offense (and opposing defenses) here, but the point remains: he’s an autonomous shooting cyborg that the Nets have zero answers for. Let’s look at the options for players to chase after the league’s deadliest marksman: Bogdanovic, Anderson and Jack are too slow. Williams will get fatigued and likely won’t have much of an effect contesting him. Sergey Karasev hasn’t played in a month. That leaves the most “obvious” choice in Brown, who will be starting at the two anyway. Brown has some tools to at least bother Korver - in a couple of seasons. He’s a tremendous leaper that has blocked a few jumpers, he puts in effort on the defensive end and is pretty quick. But asking him to have the recognition and patience to glue himself onto Korver for at least four games at this point in his career is like asking a high school honor student to pass the bar. It’ll be fun to watch Brown try, but expecting it to work out for the Nets is wishful thinking.
  • The Nets are only winning in a shootout: Brooklyn allowed 103.3 points per 100 possessions in February. In March, that number jumped to 106 and in April to 108.1. Their post-All-Star Defensive Rating of 105.6 ranked them 23rd in the league. The Nets are not a good defensive team, not since trading Kevin Garnett. The frontcourt of Lopez and Young are severely lacking in the rim protection department. Young, a second-round pick in his first year, is likely Brooklyn’s best overall defender. Point being, if the Nets manage to steal a game or two, it won’t be on the defensive end. Hollins may be a defensive wiz, but you need to apply a decent defensive roster to the scheme to come away with a team that doesn’t resemble five turnstiles. This isn’t the case though, so the Nets will have to try and force the Hawks into a barnburner every night. Good news is, the Nets have proven that they can have ridiculously good shooting nights. In fact, Brooklyn has been a top ten offensive team since the All-Star break, which also helps their case. 
  • The Nets aren’t winning more than one game: Sorry. The Hawks are really good. I’m not even sure this can even be labeled as a “bold prediction,” but there you go. See you on Sunday.