It’s easy to feel like history is repeating itself.
The Nets are 0-3 since Kevin Durant sprained his right MCL for a loss at 22-23 Oklahoma City Thunder and 14-31 San Antonio Spurs. Their record last season after Durant, yeah, twisted his MCL? … 2-1 … which then gave way to an 11-game losing streak that eventually led to James Harden asking for a trade, and Brooklyn later broke out in a first-round sweep at the hands of a team Boston Celtics.
It was assumed that because the Nets upgraded their roster in the off-season, the Nets could better afford to lose their large-caliber star MVP. Plus, with Kyrie Irving brought back full-time, free from the constraints of COVID-19 mandates, and with no drama in sight for Harden’s indignant question, the Nets situation has improved a lot.
“Well, the past year has just been a kind of toxic environment,” the Nick Claxton Center said Tuesday. I didn’t know if everyone wanted to be here at that time this year. There is no break between each person there. We’ll find out.”
Despite a slow start, there’s little reason to give up all hope for Durant-less Nets. But Brooklyn must restructure its way of playing and play around with its philosophies. The real test now comes for Jacque Vaughn, who by all accounts has passed every challenge thrown his way this season in the NBA.
For starters, Brooklyn’s half-court offense needs some new seasoning. With a healthy Durant, the Nets ranked third in criminal court half efficiency behind only Dallas and Boston. Now, Brooklyn’s half-court offense has gone downhill all the way The dead last in the entire NBA during the three-game losing streak.
Plenty of uninspired half-court properties in Brooklyn looked the same: without pace, without purpose, and disjointed. The ball rarely breaks the three-point line as the Nets pass along the perimeter like a college offense. Anytime you end up pointing Yuta Watanabe’s tally or isolating Seth Curry on a slew of fake pumps late on the shot hour, you haven’t done your job as an offense.
The game guide needs to be reworked, at least a little bit. For example, there’s a lot of reliance on the “Chicago” move, which involves a player throwing a line from a hanging screen in the process of delivering their drool. This resulted in an incredibly predictable attack.
Simple plays, like this one I broke out on my Twitter account, are a great antidote to prediction.
Break (play the sound!!):
The Nets will need to get creative in their attack with Kevin Durant sidelined. Third quarter possession was a great example of this.
– Matt Brooks (MattBrooksNBA) January 17, 2023
Even something as simple as forcing defenders to sail a second screen, which the Nets do here on Patty Mills’ run-down ‘double run’, could breathe similar air into this lost-at-sea offense.
On a macro level, however, there is a bigger problem with the game. The Nets have lost the key component that made their offense shine: Kevin Durant’s mid-range shooting, which led the league with an impressive 57.1% accuracy in the interlayer. The Nets as a team have gone from hitting average goal with historic accuracy (50.6%) to ranking in the bottom half of the league at 40% just as their star player has improved.
Jack Vaughn spoke about this predicament after the Brooklyn crisis 109-98 loss to the Boston Celtics, noting that Brooklyn should avoid some of these midrange picks with three-pointers. And while that may be true, you could argue that it’s very important for grilles to maximize their paint touches.
Only 28.6% of Brooklyn’s total shots came over the edge with a Durant health. since then? 28.7%. Their diet, at least within the paint, remains largely unchanged. it’s a problem.
Reaching the edge warps defenses and forces spin-ups, which can open ways for 3-point dredges. It’s very similar to what Durant’s healthy presence does on Brooklyn’s offense, drawing crowds of two, sometimes three defenders to give the Nets advantages from depth.
Take for example the possession below. Yes, Brooklyn ended up with a triple pointer like Vaughn begging for it, but the process is messed up. The ball touched Brooklyn’s six hands but never went more than a foot behind the three-point line, resulting in a contested three with 16 seconds remaining on the shot clock. The defense is not forced to turn, move, or even think.
The two plays below also lead to triples, but the way there is much gentler. Both are set up by Royce O’Neale, who does an excellent job of keeping his dribbling alive and knife all the way into the painted area to force alternations of assists from Lu Dort and Derrick White. Then I whiz skip passes to the open shooters on the other side of the floor.
Good things happen when offensive players get inside the three-point line; Better things happen if these players touch the paint.
Of course, it’s a problem when Royce O’Neale is one of the most consistent drivers around.
This brings us to Kyrie Irving. Irving didn’t fare as well with his brother-in-arms on the sidelines, averaging only 19.5 points on 36.4% from the field and 22.2% from three. Oddly enough, but his aggressiveness left much to be desired. He was all too content to defer to others, giving up the ball to stand to the side and watch his teammates try to create their own.
Below, Irving skips a drive pass completely with his fullback, Kendrich Williams, behind him and instead resets it at the top of the corkscrew. The end result is O’Neale’s follow-through, which isn’t exactly the kind of shot you’re looking for if you’re Jacque Vaughn. In the second stanza, the Nets run’CenturiesThis flows into the ‘Chicago’ motion, and it gives the Nets the advantage at first when Irving’s defenseman, Dort, gets caught onscreen. But Kerry gives up the advantage by getting a 21-footer with only rookie man Gaylen Williams standing between him and the rim.
Irving was great when he was assertive. He shoots 63.6% on drives in the two games he has played without Durant, which is better than the 59.9% he shot on the slopes over the entire season. It all comes down to Irving’s mentality. Better looks, thanks to the improved Brookyn spacing, are definitely there to enjoy.
Then there’s Ben Simmons, the very famous punching bag while sliding on three matches. Simmons is not without his faults, which we’ll touch on for a moment, but the Nets were a combined +13 with him on the ground in the same stretch.
The transition offense was the only way Brooklyn had accumulated points without Durant, and Simmons was the main driver of that. +2.3 points generated on the net in transition with Simmons on the floor is second only to Durant over the entire season.
His ability to grab rebounds and initiate breaks himself is a unique skill for this group, especially with Durant out. Pulling slashed dimes to open shooters and tying hit passes against Boston on Jan. 12, Simmons is a major reason the Nets scored 7.6 points per 100 possessions in transition, good for the 84th percentile (meanwhile, their half-court offense generated a 23-percentage). ramshackle rating).
However, Simmons still has plenty of moments of uncertainty or just plain shocking decisions. In that same game against Boston, Simmons famously finished with just 0 points three Total shots. After the game, Vaughn backed off on the idea that the Nets needed more in the scoring department than their de facto second star.
“I wouldn’t ask him to score more than he got. I think he likes to make it easy, and that’s good for our group. Can he get Joe Harris another three? Can he get Seth on another thirty? Can he get another three-ball from Utah to make up the deficit without Changing his game? So he didn’t add anything to his plate either,” said Vaughn. “We’ve talked about him playing aggressively, and that continues throughout the course of the match. Therefore, he did not add any additional points that I asked him about.”
I think it’s fair to say that Simmons isn’t a natural marksman, so asking them to do something they’re not particularly adept at with more repetition is a tough conversation. But some plays, like the plays below, are not acceptable.
In the first clip, Simmons screens Irving, rolls over, then passes a layup in front of a withdrawing Luke Kornet. Speaking of which, Simmons desperately resisted rolling at the basket after putting up screens all season. In the second clip, Simmons sets the screen for Seth Curry and then pops (???) to the top of the arc as a long-range scorer with 14.3%. Roll to the brim, dude!
Or take this play. Someone, please, anyone. Explain the thought process here. Simmons pushes the ball up to the ground, catches his dribble, then flicks it to… wait, what? Nick Claxton? Only to stand at the elbow and get in the way of Claxton’s post-delivery roll? huh?!
Simmons’ shortcomings are only magnified when he’s the only star on Earth. Brooklyn scores just 98.3 points per 100 possessions when Simmons plays without Irving and Durant this season, an offensive rating as bad as the one put by the team. Philadelphia Seventy Sixers that went 10-72 in the 2015-16 season.
His pairing with more natural goalscorers is a good way to survive the minutes Simmons plays without Irving in the next few weeks. TJ Warren and Curry are the second and third best shot creators in Brooklyn after Irving, and although they are a very limited sample, the formations with Simmons, Curry, and Warren sharing the floor without Irving and Durant produced an offensive rating of 112.7 (don’t ask) on defense, though) in 31 minutes of play. Again, this sample is probably too small to make much of it, but it’s at least something to watch as Brooklyn does its best to keep its head above water without a KD.
Sophomore microwave enrollment Cam Thomas could also be worth a look either in classes with Simmons or on his own. Thomas got his first bit of non-NBA significant time in over a month vs Tottenham on Tuesday And he immediately filled it with 15 points on 6-of-12 from the field. We know what his shortcomings are—creativity to others, defense, spacing on the floor—but his NBA-level skill, scoring in isolation, is in demand more than ever.
If Grids can clean up a few things when attacking, they’ll be in good shape while marching forward without Durant. Their staunch defense remained largely unharmed thanks to the mighty efforts of Nick Claxton. The Nets ranked ninth in defensive efficiency before Durant fell. since then? They are ranked sixth. By comparison, the Nets finished 29th in defense over the 21 games Durant missed last season.
It’s their insult, which ranks 30th since Durant was injured last week, that’s the problem. Even hitting average efficiency in the league would do wonders for this team.