Last season was one to forget for the New Jersey Nets (12-70) as they set a new league record by losing their first dozen-and-a-half games. Their defense was bad and their offense was worse. The good news, and there is some, is that the team has made some changes, which means this season should be better than last. You have to wonder if it could possibly get any worse?
The frontcourt was weak last year, especially when it came to defense. This is still a problem this season, but if third-year center Brook Lopez (.499 FG%, .000 3PT%, .817 FT%, 8.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 18.8 PPG) can step up that can change. Lopez showed signs as he averaged 1.70 blocks per game. The good news is he still hasn’t tapped into his full potential and in his first two seasons, he’s played in every game.
Troy Murphy (.472 FG%, .384 3PT%, .798 FT%, 10.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 14.6 PPG), who last season had the best defensive rebounding rate of any power forward in the NBA, comes to New Jersey from Indiana. He grabbed one out of every three missed shots, which, if he can do the same for the Nets, will be a massive help. Murphy has good hands, a solid shot from inside and outside and fine basketball smarts.
Last season, Travis Outlaw (.391 FG%, .381 3PT%, .831 FT%, 3.6 RPG, 9.1 PPG) played small forward for Portland and the LA Clippers. This year he’s got the starting spot for New Jersey. His shot is accurate and he has fine speed. There’s also some depth at the small forward spot.
Point guard Devin Harris (.402 FG%, .276 3PT%, .798 FT%, 3.2 RPG, 6.6 APG, 16.9 PPG) has played in 70 or less games each of the past three NBA seasons. An effective setup man and sound shooter, except from the three-point arc, the Nets need him to return to good health. Backing him up is former LA Laker Jordan Farmer (.435 FG%, .376 3PT%, .671 FT%, 1.5 APG, 7.2 PPG). Farmer is adequate at that spot and throws better threes. He’ll see some time on the floor.
At shooting guard, Terrence Williams (.401 FG%, .310 3PT%, .715 FT%, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 8.4 PPG) will get the start. With Vince Carter now in Orlando, the floor is wide open for the quirky Williams. Williams has a tough time connecting from the outside and from the charity stripe. Third-year shooting guard Anthony Morrow (.478 FG%, .467 3PT%, .870 FT%, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 10.1 PPG), from the Golden State Warriors, is a much better player and may command the spot.
Of all teams in the NBA, the Nets had the worst Offensive Efficiency (98.1). The team’s best offensive players, Harris and Lopez, are back and the new players who have been brought in should improve that side of the ball. Lopez had the team’s highest PER (20.11). The team has a very quick perimeter, which means they look to run effective pick-and-rolls.
The club Defensive Efficiency stood at 108.0 (25th). Although Jersey had the third-worst Defensive Rebound rate (71.8), the addition of Murphy should help. Still, the weakest part of this team is frontcourt defense, and the Nets’ thin bench won’t help much.
Avery Johnson (194-70), late of the Mavs, is in as the new Nets’ coach and Kiki Vandeweghe is out. Vandeweghe, who was in the front office last year when head coach Lawrence Frank was fired, proved to simply not be a good at the job. Johnson, like his mentor Gregg Popovich, will have the power to make personnel decisions. The club also has a new GM as Rod Thorn decided to leave and Billy King, formerly with the 76ers, was brought in. The jury is out on King as he proved to be inadequate in Philly.
The Nets will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and fourteenth in the Eastern Conference. No, this team is not even close to being back but with some fine new shooters onboard, a new coach and improved rebounding, this team may be starting out on the right path. The decision to hire King as the new GM is puzzling. Here’s to a rebuilding and wait-and-see season.
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