The Brooklyn Nets Are All Sizzle And No Sausage
There’s an old saying in sports, “offence wins games, defence wins championships”.
Unfortunately for this season’s Brooklyn Nets, it’s a saying that well and truly rings true in the world of NBA basketball.
But first, a short history lesson: Since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976, there has been just one team that finished in the bottom half of the league in defensive rating to win the NBA championship.
That team was the 2001 Lakers, featuring Shaquille O’Neal at the peak of his powers along with Kobe Bryant who was just entering his athletic prime.
Since that season, every single championship team has been a top-10 rated defence except one, the 2018 Warriors, who had the four-headed monster of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and who finished 11th in that stat.
The Brooklyn Nets, with their defensive rating of 111.3, are currently sitting in the bottom third of the league in that category, while also being a bottom-5 team in opposition points per game. There’s simply no precedent for a team this bad on defence winning a title, even with three players as gifted offensively as KD, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
To add insult to injury, in order to acquire Harden, the Nets had to trade away a lot of their depth and versatility which would have made them a formidable opponent.
The loss of Jarrett Allen’s athleticism, shot-blocking and rim protection looms large as DeAndre Jordan appears to be a shell of his former self.
Allen’s value to this team was undeniable. Contributing 26.5 minutes per game last year, Allen posted a ridiculous +26 net rating, and has even managed to up that production to +27 in the 12 games he played with the Nets prior to being shipped to Cleveland.
Their defensive rating of 106 with Allen on the floor would have made them the second-best defence in the league during his minutes.
The reality of the situation for the Nets is that they simply do not have the personnel to defend the best offences in the league, especially come playoff time.
In a starting line-up of Kyrie, Harden, Joe Harris, KD and DeAndre, only Durant can really be relied on as a net-positive defender. And it’s far from ideal to be forcing your best player, and probably the second-best player on the entire planet, to be expending energy chasing the LeBron’s, Kawhi’s and Giannis’ of the world on defence, potentially limiting his potency on the offensive end.
Equally as worrying is their lack of depth, particularly at forward/centre. At this stage, 6’8” Jeff Green is both their backup 4 and backup 5, and he will be simply manhandled by the likes of Anthony Davis and a Joel Embiid.
So, is there anything the Nets can do? Unfortunately for them, they have very few trade assets under their control. Houston essentially owns all of their available draft picks either unprotected or via swaps, while Caris LeVert is also gone.
Spencer Dinwiddie has gone down with an ACL tear, and with this year being the last guaranteed on his contract (he has a player option this off-season), his value is at the lowest it could possibly be.
The Nets could wait for the buyout market and pickup a backup centre there, but who's really going to become available who will be usable in the playoffs? JaVale McGee got played off the floor for the Lakers last season (his on-off rating in the playoffs was -2.0), Andre Drummond is almost certainly not going to be willing to agree to a buyout with the amount of money he would have to leave on the table, and after those two the pickings get very slim.
There is no precedent for a title contender trading a star player in his prime, but the Nets may be forced to set one.
Kyrie Irving is an offensive phenom, there is zero doubt about it. There is also zero doubt that he is the clear-cut third best scorer on this team, and that fact is going to limit his ability to produce at the highest level, given he's someone who needs the ball in his hands to reach his potential on a nightly basis.
The combined powers of arguably 2 of the 5 greatest scorers to ever live is all the offensive production one team could ever need, and having Kyrie there seems to be overkill. A strong argument can be made that the Nets would be best served to look to move Kyrie in exchange for some defensive specialists on the wing, and especially at the rim.
There are, of course, several factors which could complicate matters. Kyrie has been even more enigmatic than usual this season, culminating in him leaving the team for several weeks only a few games into the season.
The low point thus was being filmed at a Toronto nightclub partying with Canadian rapper Drake. Is there a team out there willing to give up valuable assets in return for a guy capable of giving you 40 points on 68% shooting one night and going AWOL the next, not even bothering to contact his front office or his coach to let them know where he's at?
It’s well-known that Kyrie is KD’s guy, and it’s not far-fetched to suggest KD would kick up a real fuss if the Nets even floated the idea of moving on from Kyrie.
But that’s all speculation, what we know right now is this: The Nets are fun, they’re sexy, they’re exciting. They’re going to put up points in a hurry, but they’re going to leak points just as much on the other end.
Until the Nets do something about their defensive woes, they're going to find themselves firmly planted in the “all sizzle, no sausage” department.
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