Before They Can Contend for a Title, The Nets Have Some Adjustments to Make
Opening the season with wins against the Warriors and Celtics, the Nets gave the impression of a potential championship team. They were a well-oiled machine on offense, and better yet, Brooklyn held both opponents under 100 points. Just as fans got their hopes up, they dropped three of their next four to the Hornets, Grizzlies, and Hawks. In those losses, Steve Nash's team mustered an average of 103.7 points and allowed 112 points. How is a team featuring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving dropping games like these?
Durant and Irving are not the problem; that's for sure. Durant is averaging 28.2 points per game (3rd in the league) and Irving is averaging 26.2 points (8th). Both are top ten in the league in Player Efficiency Rating, and they've combined for nine 20-point performances already. They know when to pass the basketball and when to back off for the other to run an isolation play. For two players that have received their respective shares of criticism throughout their careers, they sure know how to let their game do the talking.
The answer to the Nets' minor struggles lies below the two stars: the lack of bench scoring. In their three aforementioned losses, Brooklyn's bench shot a measly 25.5% from 3-point range. The Nets simply don't have a knockdown shooter off the bench. When Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL against the Hornets, an irreplaceable hole was created in the starting lineup. Since that game, the Nets have experimented with Timothee Luwawu-Cabarrot, a star in last season's bubble seeding games.
Fifth-year man Caris LeVert assumed the role of sixth man this year, but he's struggled thus far. The Michigan product has shot 37.3% from the field and 27.3% from 3-point range, and no Net on the bench has fared much better. Despite his career 3-point percentage of 39.6%, advertised sharpshooter Landry Shamet is 5-for-23 from deep. Taurean Prince is 7-for-18 and Chris Chiozza is 3-for-9.
The James Harden trade rumors aren't sounding too bad for Brooklyn right now. Unfortunately, losing Dinwiddie for the season set the Nets back their best trade piece. Jarrett Allen would probably be attached, but with the emergence of Christian Wood in Houston, the Rockets probably aren't in search of another center. Plus, Brooklyn's bench would become even shallower and likely hurt their chances of holding their own against opposing second units.
To improve their already effective starting lineup, the Nets need to make a switch at center. Currently, 12-year veteran DeAndre Jordan is receiving starts night in, night out for Brooklyn. The problem with that is twofold: Jordan has lost a step in terms of athleticism and the Nets have a younger and sprier big man in Jarrett Allen. It's strange because Jordan is averaging less minutes than Allen, so the latter might as well be considered the starter. Allen is the more effective rebounder, averaging 10.8 boards in 22.7 minutes per game. And who knows? Jordan has infectious energy; he may help with LeVert as a spark off the bench.
Of course, the Nets have only played seven games with this year's roster. Stars like LeVert who were primary options last season need to become accustomed to delivering as a sixth man. This offseason, training camp was shortened and teams had less time to build chemistry. We're seeing it happen with some of the best rosters in the league: the Denver Nuggets have dropped four of their first six games despite MVP-level play from Nikola Jokić.
As the season progresses, the Nets will only get stronger, both in the locker room and on the court. Still, if they want to make a championship run, Steve Nash has some roster sorting to do.