2014-2015 In Review: Sergey Karasev

Sergey Karasev. Former teenage Russian sensation. First round pick. Womanizer?

There was a clear hype that surrounded the young southpaw when he was drafted 19th overall by the Cavs in 2013. As a Northeast Ohioan I can attest to this. The Karasev jerseys outnumbered the Bennett ones on the streets of Cleveland, despite Big Daddy Canada being the #1 overall pick. Sergey’s European descent and left-handed craftiness were enough for fans to envision him as the Manu Ginobili to Kyrie Irving’s Tony Parker.

But all the hype quickly faded. After a season in Cleveland where he looked more like the next Yaroslav Korolev than the next Ginobili, Sergey was shipped to Brooklyn as the Cavs cleared cap space for the return of the King. The 30 point EuroBasket outbursts and Ginobili comparisons seemed like a distant memory.

The move to Brooklyn offered the opportunity at a clean slate. Sergey could be a breath of young, fresh air on a team that had quite possibly lead the league in cortisone shots and MRI’s. However, in a twisted turn of events, Karasev would be the one needing an MRI, ultimately seeing his season end after just 33 appearances due to a dislocated kneecap and torn MCL.

What most stood out about Sergey’s first season in Brooklyn?

His stretch of 16 starts from early December through the beginning of January comes to mind. During that period he averaged about 10 points. per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 51. While these aren’t exactly Ginobilian numbers, Karasev showed that he’s an NBA-worthy player.

His play during that stretch led me to compare him to Mike Miller. While this comparison may be a bit of a stretch, the young Russian demonstrated many of the tools that have allowed Miller to last 14 seasons in the league; shooting, instincts and secondary playmaking ability.

Sergey has a pure shooting stroke, a southpaw hoist so buttery that it makes me regret ever learning to shoot right-handed. He shot below 30 percent on 3-pointers for the season, but his shooting mechanics are flawless and he will only improve as he builds strength, confidence, and an acclimation to the NBA’s further-out arc.

He also has proven to have a legitimate basketball intellect. Karasev lacks the type of quickness and fast-twitch ability that characterizes elite NBA wings, but he uses smarts, timing and length to make up for it. This materializes on offense often in his ability to sink off-ball to open spots on the court. This can create spacing and/or a passing lane that his teams’ primary ball-handlers can capitalize on. Additionally he has shown a propensity for making backdoor cuts, becoming a needed outlet on offense when sets become stagnant. Along with his off-ball prowess, Sergey possesses a bit of European playmaking flair. He doesn’t have the quickest first step or the tightest handle, but his vision and creativity allow him to occasionally set his teammates up for a score.

While Sergey was mostly ordinary on the court, he was Chamberlain-esque off the court. Before an early season matchup with the Heat, New York Post’s “Page Six” reported that Sergey was spotted returning to his hotel at 5 a.m. accompanied by a trio of “hot, busty, strippers”. That’s a direct quote. He may as well borrow the words of fellow countryman Mikhail Prokhorov: “Frankly speaking, I like women”.




All jokes aside, Karasev is still just 21 years old. He has demonstrated traits that are sought after in today’s NBA and he is under team control for 3 more seasons at an affordable rate. Assuming he fully heals from his injuries, the Nets need to continue to let him develop in hope that he can become a significant part of their future.


2014-2015 In Review: Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson was considered a star just three seasons ago when he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets from the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately for the Nets and Johnson, the seven time all-star has faded into a $23 million dollar role player.

Johnson had a solid year, but once again did not live up to his contract. The slip has been quick from star to role player and a little painful to watch. His usage percentage dipped to 20.3 percent this season, which was his lowest since 2004-2005. The former number one scoring option only averaged 14.4 points in the 2014-2015 season, his lowest mark since the 2002-2003 season. The Johnson that could command a double team and change a game with his scoring is fleeting.

He saw the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows throughout the season. The highs being the occasional 20 point scoring outburst and helping win the Nets a few games in a row. The lows were scoring in the single digits 21 times in 80 games and disappearing from the picture for stretches.

The usual sharpshooting Johnson struggled from behind the arc this season as his percentage slipped from 40 percent to 36 percent. The Nets could have used a more consistent shooting Johnson after the decline of Deron Williams and injury of Mirza Teletovic. Nets like Brook Lopez could have used the additional spacing.

Johnson did find success inside the arc with his 44 percent shooting, though. His post game was lethal when used against smaller guards and he found success around the rim against less athletic bigs. Lionel Hollins had success playing Johnson at the four at times. Johnson’s post savvy and quick moves around the basket were able to bolster the Nets offense when it bogged down.

The Nets’ team defense was up and down all season and Johnson was not a bright spot on that end of the floor. His 110 defensive rating was the second worst of any Net in Hollins’ inconsistent rotation. He frequently found himself out of position or killed by a quicker player.

Johnson’s playoff performance wasn’t much more consistent in the postseason. The Nets surprised many people by pushing the number one seeded Hawks to 6 games. Johnson wasn’t an efficient impact guy though, averaging 16.5 points per game on 36 percent shooting and 29 percent from 3 point range.

Johnson even saw his name in trade rumors during the regular season. The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets were the teams rumored to be vying for Johnson’s services.

“It’s true. My name is out there,” Johnson said in February.

The Nets ultimately decided to keep Johnson, but it is unclear if he will be around after the 2014-2015 season. Johnson has potential to be a nice addition for a contending team that needs an aging perimeter player if the Nets do in fact move away from him.

It was a long season for Joe Johnson as he fell under the weight of his big contract and expectations. If he had another contract Johnson’s season would be looked at much differently.


2014-15 in Review: Jarrett Jack

It was a dark and stormy night – not too much different than tonight – that my whole world changed… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was once the hottest detective in this town. You had a problem: missing money, cheating dame, whatever, you came to me and I found your answers. Then came the case I couldn’t solve, the one that wasn’t even mine… I just got caught in the middle. Wrong place at the wrong time is how the phrase goes.

It starts as all my stories do these days, with me walking out of one of my favorite watering holes deep in that part of the city where people go when they don’t want to be found. I turned down an alley and saw the body. It was the Brooklyn Nets 2014-15 season… dead. The thing I remember most about that moment was how peaceful it looked lying there. Despite being broken and battered, it looked like it was almost glad that it was just over.

For days I tried to forget about that dead season, but it just kept popping up. I knew then that I couldn’t rest until I solved it… who killed the Brooklyn Nets 2014-15 season?

I started digging into the usual suspects, the overpaid superstars, the disruptive locker room whiner, but they just didn’t feel right. That’s when I got the call. I still don’t know who it was, all I know was that it was a whispered voice in the night from something called a “blog.” I pressed my ear to the receiver… ”Jarrett Jack” breathed the voice, “look at Jarrett Jack.”

I started digging through any records of this Jack that I could find. Turns out this guy was a major player, in fact he played the second most minutes on the Nets this season. He also seemed to be a likely suspect since he averaged the most turnovers per-36 minutes (3.1) among regular players and had the worst plus/minus (-5.1). There are two sides to every story though, I just needed to find the other side of Jarrett Jack’s.

Once you start poking around town, asking questions like the ones I’m asking, you get a little attention. A few days after I started looking at Jack, I got a visit someone who was eager to defend him. Said he was a steady hand who shot 43.9% from the field, scored 15.4 points, and averaged six assists per-36. This tall, gruff figure also told me that Jack’s numbers got better in the fourth quarter, going up to 48.9% shooting and averaging 17.7 points per-36 fourth quarter minutes. I never did get the fellow’s real name, but he let me call him by his alias: Hionel Lollins… guy was adamant that Jack was one of the good ones.

Sure those numbers are fine, but Jarrett Jack still shoots an upsetting 26.7% from 3-point territory. I also later found out that those fourth quarter numbers were offset a bit by Jack’s lower assist numbers in the fourth. Let’s just say I wasn’t convinced of his innocence in this crime, so I started looking elsewhere for clues. They say you can get the measure of a man by how well he plays with others, so I went looking for some others.

What I found was an expert, a man who knew the environment where Jack worked. He told me that net rating is a way to measure how many points a fella or group of fellas scores versus the amount they’re giving up. What he shared with me was that, of all the two-man combinations with the worst net rating (that played 500 minutes or more together), the worst four, and six of the worst seven all had Jarrett Jack in them.

The stinker of the lot was when Jack and Deron Williams teamed up together, where they managed to give up 107.6 points per 100 possessions while only scoring 97.3. In fact, if Jack played with Deron, Mason Plumlee, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, or Alan Anderson they didn’t hit 100.

This expert also told me about usage, the percentage of a team’s plays used by a player, where Jarrett Jack and his meager output had the second highest usage of the regulars (22.5%), behind only Brook Lopez (26.2%). That was it, this expert convinced me… Jarrett Jack killed the 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets.

And this is where the story turns on its head, and mine. I took my findings to the police, but the sergeant threatened to arrest me! He said I was just stirring up trouble and the Brooklyn Nets season was just fine. I did manage to grift a little something from his pocket though as he tossed my unceremoniously from the building… a Russian ruble… odd thing for a policeman to have.

I tried to reach back out to my expert, but he was gone, as was my office. Gone. Just like that. It was all taken away on the back of a jet ski and all that was left was a note reading “you’re done detecting in this town, don’t let the screen door hit you where the good lord split you.”

Me? I’m still here, just a little drunker and a little more bitter. I’m starting to get over seeing the 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets just laying there, but I’ll never forget.


2014-15 in Review: Markel Brown

Markel Brown was one of my favorite Nets players to watch this season. Yes, really. I know there were better players who had better moments and better games, but I stand by my statement. I enjoyed watching Brown every time he played, mostly because of what his presence represented.

Brooklyn has some legitimately top NBA talent, and that is undeniable. The reasons why that talent hasn’t melded into a top NBA team is debatable, but the talent’s there. What doesn’t really exist is talent for the future. The short reason is because their stars are aging and they have no draft picks, but that’s a topic for another post… this is about Markel Brown.

Markel, along with fellow rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, represents the bridge that can span from this disappointing team across the river of sadness and onto the other side. What is on the other side of the stream that is littered with bad contracts? I don’t know, but we’ve got to get there one way or another. As we cross the bridge, times will get tough as we ride out the massive monetary missives sent to Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and Markel Brown is one of the players we can look for to pull us across.

So this leads to some very important questions: is Markel Brown good? Not quite. Will he be good? I think so, but I’m honestly not sure. Let’s look at some numbers and try to flesh this out a bit.

The rookie only appeared in 47 games, although 25 of them were in March and April, so coach Lionel Hollins seemed to gain trust in him as the season went along.  Another indicator of that increased trust is that Brown only averaged 5.6 minutes per game before the All Star break, but 22.9 minutes after it. The result of this faith were some pretty solid numbers (cough, for a rookie, cough). When calculated on a per-36 minute basis, Markel averaged 10 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals.

Sure, he shot a meagre 36.2% from the field and an almost embarrassing 26.6% from 3-point range, but shooting isn’t important for a guard and… oh, I can’t keep that up. Yes, Brown needs to get those percentages up, especially from behind the 3-point line, but his form looks malleable, so it’s possible. The fact that he also shot better this year while being closely guarded (with a 47.3 eFG% — up from 40.2% overall), opens up the possibility that he may just simply overthink the easy ones. Brown would hardly be the first rookie to experience that.

While Markel Brown’s offensive numbers are generally quantifiable, his defensive output is harder to pinpoint. To my viewing eye, Brown is active, aware, and athletic. He fights well through screens, commits hard on help defense, and rotates smartly. However, that doesn’t translate into the team defensive numbers, which are all pretty similar whether he’s on or off the court. In fact, players he’s guarding tend to shoot a better percentage when Markel is playing them than they normally would.

My instinct is to abandon the numbers, call everyone a stat geek, and claim that the “eye test” is the be-all-end-all. As much as I’d love to do that, what I think actually happened is that the overall defensive rotation of the Nets ranges from pathetic to mediocre. I think that Markel spends so much time chasing down blown rotations and recovering from missed switches that he’s rarely playing on-ball defense. That may just be me projecting my wishes on the situation, but I’ve thought Brown has been an average-to-plus defender this season. As he adjusts to the speed and athleticism of the game, he should be consistently above-average.

So where does that leave us on the bridge to the future? Unless some magic can be worked out, the Nets are unlikely to be much better within the next two years and the lack of draft picks means they have to dip into the free agent market once their salary cap does finally clear. Markel Brown is one of the few players that can be developed so he’s ready for those free agents to come in.

What Markel’s ceiling is can be a tricky question. My guess is that his best-case scenario is that he turns into a decent point guard. In fact, his rookie per-36 numbers are almost identical to Detroit’s Reggie Jackson (although Reggie, believe it or not, was a worse shooter), which is an apt comparison to Brown. There is also a chance, if Markel’s shot and defense both improve a little, that he can be a 3-and-D player that is desired by every team that doesn’t have one.

I know that much of this is speculative, but speculation guards us from the reality that is a rushing river containing 20+ million dollar contracts for underperforming players and draft picks that are continuously being fished out by competitors. Our only hope is that the land on the other side of the river contains some smart personnel decisions and some good young players. If it’s done correctly, one of those players will be Markel Brown.


2014-15 in Review: Deron Williams

Coming off career lows in playoff shooting percentage, minutes played and assists, Deron Williams finished the 2015 campaign on a low. The lackluster ending to his worst season as a professional was made even worse when his head coach publicly admitted that Williams is not the player he once was.

“He’s not a franchise player anymore,” Lionel Hollins told ESPN a day after the Nets were eliminated. “He’s a good player, he’s a solid player, but I don’t think he’s a franchise player anymore. That’s just my opinion. He’s a good player. I’m proud of the way he’s bounced back and played, and there’s so much pressure on him to be a franchise player, and everybody talks about a franchise player, but we need to have a franchise team.”

Hollins has usually defended the point guard since he arrived in Brooklyn, but the same could not be said of his former teammate, Paul Pierce. The Washington forward told ESPN that Williams hasn’t handled the national spotlight well and stopped looking like the point guard that dominated in Utah.

“Before I got there I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate. But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that,” Pierce said in April.

The strong words from a former teammate and current head coach confirms what the stats have been showing since Williams was traded to Brooklyn in 2011. While his production declines, the payment on his contract only increases, despite the fact that he’s already the 10th highest paid player in the league.


Williams’ shot chart from the regular season

Despite a regular season where he recorded the worst field goal percentage of his career, Williams made $19.7 million this year and that’s slated to increase to around $21 million in 2015-16. The good news for the Nets is that he becomes increasingly trade-able when his contract reaches its final year.

Defensively, Williams has shown signs of aging when closing out on shooters. Opponents are shooting 45 percent from the field on baskets guarded by Williams, which is a slight decline from last season.

The silver linings are there for Williams, who will soon turn 31. He has shown that he isn’t the 20-point scorer from earlier in his career. However, there’s a possibility that his game can stabilize next year.

His assist-to-turnover ratio during the regular season was the highest that it’s been since 2010, the same year that he was voted as the best point guard in the league by GM’s. Yet his offensive success may be rediscovered by being in fewer ball handling situations or better embracing his role as a passer.

In a season that saw his usage go up from 2013, Williams made the lowest percentage of the team’s field goals in his career. Fortunately, he also attempted the lowest percentage of the team’s attempts in his career, meaning that efficiency is possible if Williams changes where and when he gets his shots.

If the Nets were able to add another pass-heavy ball handler in the offseason, Williams can buck the trend of pullup jump shots that marred his percentages in Brooklyn. Last season, he had the second-highest amount of unassisted field goals of his career. In his impressive 2010 season, Williams made just 53 percent of his field goals in the same situation compared to 62 percent this season.

Like most aging players, increasing the spot-up situations for Williams could prove beneficial for his scoring. But having another player to run the offense at times would help Williams to define his role easier while on the court.

While handling the ball, Williams decreased his turnover rate this season, but began to struggle when pick-and-rolls ended in unassisted jump shots. His highest frequency of shot type this season was pull-up jumpers, and he boasted just a 36 eFG% on those shots. On the other hand, he shot his highest effective field goal percentage (61.8%) in catch and shoot situations.

It’s hard to look at William’s production during his time with the Nets and think that brighter days are ahead for the aging point guard. Yet if the Nets, and Williams, can accept his status as a “solid player” instead of a franchise cornerstone he can find a more beneficial role. Who the front office decides to bring in to bolster the backcourt this offseason could decide whether his production continues to decline or if he can redefine his playstyle on his way to a bounce back year.


Game 6 Recap: Goodbye, 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets

At one point during Brooklyn’s 111-87 loss to the Hawks in Game 6, the Barclays Center crowd rained boos upon the Nets after a flurry of gut-wrenching turnovers allowed Atlanta to break the game open. This run gave the Hawks the elimination game win after a back-and-forth series that nobody expected. So why boo?

The Nets weren’t supposed to be here. We’re not saying goodbye to one Nets team. We’re saying goodbye to four Nets teams that finally found an identity that felt right just soon enough to squeeze into a Playoffs spot. If Brooklyn knew what its best looked like from the start of the season, perhaps it wouldn’t have had to face the first-seed Hawks in the opening round. But the Nets cycled through different starting lineups, rotation players and methods of attack all the way down to the year’s final stretch.

Humble beginnings: 

The Nets got off to a shaky start back in October and November, failing to beat any good teams while arguably running the most unwatchable offense in the league. Coach Lionel Hollins tried to make Mason Plumlee a post-up player. Bojan Bogdanovic did very little to impress. Deron Williams was visibly old and slow. The Brook Lopez we know today looked washed up. It wasn’t all bad, because Brooklyn was a solid defensive team in these early months. It wouldn’t last, though.

Lottery team:

Lopez injuries and general struggles gave Plumlee another chance to shine, this time with better results. But the Nets team as a whole fell off a cliff as the calendar flipped to 2015. Jarrett Jack took on a starting role with D-Will hurt, Darius Morris played rotation minutes and Sergey Karasev became Hollins’s go-to 3-and-D wing. Brooklyn finished with the second-worst point differential for the month of January. Thing is, you couldn’t even call the Nets a lottery team because the Hawks have the ability to swap picks with them. There wasn’t a silver lining. Brooklyn was bad everywhere, until the All-Star break came around.


The Nets traded Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young over the break, but didn’t give Young big minutes right away. Instead, Joe Johnson started at the four for a stretch, and good things came of it. Lopez began dominating, Bogdanovic became a menace and Markel Brown emerged in the rotation. The Nets weren’t winning many games, but their offense was NBA-worthy and we saw many schemes and twists introduced that would define the rest of their season. This team wasn’t going to be a patented Hollins burly defensive unit. No, it was going to maximize on its starpower and outscore teams.

Offensive force:

Once Young became a starter, the Nets finally saw some real success. They weren’t destroying teams, but they were winning games good teams win and putting up fights against the league’s best. Young had revitalized Brooklyn’s offense while bringing some frontcourt stability that was lacking with Johnson at the four. Bogdanovic and Lopez continued their stellar play. Brown more and more looked like a must-keep prospect. Plumlee was no longer a factor and the Nets had to make a postseason push with Mirza Teletovic recovering, but it worked.

Despite this evolution, Brooklyn forced the Hawks to six games with three Net losses coming in tight contests. They fought, and came much closer to overthrowing the East’s best team than many, including myself, expected. So why boo?


How the Nets Can Win Game 6

The Brooklyn Nets will enter Friday’s Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks on the precipice of playoff elimination, but still with a legitimate chance to topple the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded team. The two victories in Brooklyn in Games 3 and 4 altered the tone of the series and the Nets’ playoff upside, in hanging with the spacing and shooting of the Hawks and holding a (slim) 394-393 edge in scoring after four games. Game 5 in Atlanta was no different, as Al Horford’s 20 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists led the Hawks to a 3-2 series advantage and a 10-point victory, but Brooklyn’s bench duo of Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson combined for 41 points (on 24 shots) and it was a one-point game as late as the 4:41-mark of the fourth quarter.

Game 6 returns to the Barclays Center Friday night for an 8:00 pm (EST), ESPN tip-off, before a potential Game 7 situation Sunday afternoon at 1 pm in Atlanta. Two weeks ago, the very concept of a Nets/Hawks Game 7 seemed ridiculous, and a sweep appeared to be the far more likely outcome. Even down 3-2, though, the Brooklyn Nets remain in position to force a deciding seventh game and even, potentially, a series upset, given some continued strong play, adjustments on the part of players and coaches, and just a little bit of luck.

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