Nets' 2011-12 midseason report card
On the bright side, at least the New Jersey nightmare is nearly over
Call it a "process." Call it a "Dwightmare." Call it "the end of an error." Call it whatever you want. The point is, the Nets' final season in New Jersey has been an utter disaster.
Decimated by injuries, a lack of continuity and a flawed roster, the Nets have struggled mightily in the first half of the season, and enter the All-Star break with a 10-25 record -- third-worst in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn is the Nets' destination next season, but the future remains uncertain. Will Deron Williams stay? Will Dwight Howard end up with the Nets via trade or free agency?
For now, coach Avery Johnson isn't concerned. Most nights he doesn't even know who he's going to start. Consider: The Nets have used 17 different starting lineups this season -- more than any other team in the NBA. Also consider: The Nets have been plagued by poor starts all season, and are 4-19 when trailing after the first quarter. Oh, and they've struggled to a 3-13 record at the Prudential Center.
Now on to the grades.
Note: Since the Nets have started 14 different players, I elected to use a starting lineup of Deron Williams, MarShon Brooks, DeShawn Stevenson, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez -- the likely starting five for the team heading into the second half.
Nets' position-by-position report card
PG Deron Williams
D-Will has called this season "the hardest of his career." But he hasn't let it show of late. Williams has scored 20 more points in his last seven games. In the Nets' 10 victories this season, he's averaging 27.9 points and 9.6 assists. Williams, who ranks ninth in the NBA in minutes played (37.4), is shooting just 41.3 percent, and is tied with Russell Westbrook for the lead in turnovers (4.2). These statistics, though, are a product of the fact that D-Will gets trapped and double-teamed a ton, always has the ball in his hands and oftentimes is playing with teammates that may be better suited to play in the D-League. Williams has expressed his distaste for the Prudential Center, whines a bit too much and isn't much of a defender, but given what he's had to work with, his season has been more impressive than most people give him credit for.
SG MarShon Brooks
Brooks has been compared to Kobe Bryant early in his career -- and it's easy to see why. The rookie plays with a confidence far beyond his 23 years, and ranks second to Kyrie Irving in scoring among first-year players (14.6 ppg). Brooks excels at creating his own shot in isolation sets, but struggled to guard and Johnson will be the first to tell you he needs to work on his defense. A broken toe kept Brooks sidelined for a bit, but he seems to have returned to form, and established a new career-high with 24 points in the Nets' loss to the Magic on Wednesday night. Brooks looks like the steal of the 2011 draft so far.
SF DeShawn Stevenson
Stevenson has championship experience, the respect of his younger teammates and is one of the best quotes around. But his play has been subpar. The 30-year-old veteran is shooting just 26.7 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from 3-point range, and is a liability on the offensive end because he can't create his own shot. Stevenson is known as a lockdown defender, but has been plagued by balky knees, which have slowed his quickness on that end of the floor. ESPN.com's John Hollinger recently created an advanced metric called "BAD" which found that the Nets' small forward position is the worst of any position in the NBA. The Nets have already lost three small forwards to season-ending injuries (Shawne Williams, Damion James and Keith Bogans, who was waived). Brutal.
PF Kris Humphries
Everybody Hates Kris -- except Jeremy Lin, Nets fans and people who actually understand basketball. Humphries, who didn't sign with the Nets until the team's final preseason game, has used the boos he's received at games as motivation, and put up 13.6 points, 10.5 rebounds (seventh in the NBA) and 1.2 blocks per contest on 50.5 percent shooting. Humphries isn't considered one of the top 4s in the league, but he's underrated. He isn't the greatest finisher and his jumpshot isn't pretty, but Humphries is Mr. Intangibles and does all the little things for the Nets. Plus, he always plays banged up. The only thing Humphries is missing is a new celebrity girlfriend.
C Brook Lopez
The Nets' season took a turn for the worst on Dec. 21, when X-rays taken after the Nets-Knicks preseason game at MSG revealed that Lopez broke his right foot. The injury caused the 23-year-old to miss the first 32 games of the season -- and 33 games overall. In the two games he has played, Lopez has shown flashes of being the 20.4-points-per-game scorer he was last season, but he still doesn't have the lift in his legs. Lopez's rebounding became a major issue in 2010-11, so it'll be interesting to see if he can turn it around in the second half of 2011-12. Shelden Williams, Mehmet Okur and Johan Petro have spelled Lopez at center -- and the results haven't been pretty. Williams has done yeoman's work inside, but struggles to catch post entry passes, Okur (37.4 percent field, 31.9 percent 3-point) has been a disappointment and Petro is one of the worst players in the NBA. Lopez's grade should be incomplete, but this one will be based more on Williams, Okur and Petro.
This one's tough. Basically everyone on the bench has started at some point, which has weakened the bench considerably. The Nets have become infamous for their four-minute scoring droughts. Those normally happen when you're throwing out a lineup featuring Sundiata Gaines, Anthony Morrow, Andre Emmett, Shelden Williams and Johan Petro.The Nets rank 19th in the NBA in bench scoring. So that's not too bad. Jordan Farmar (47.8 percent shooting, 47.8 percent 3-point, 93.2 percent free throw) is playing the best basketball of his career and Morrow has been lethal from beyond the arc (13 ppg, 40.2 percent 3-point). If Okur ever recovers from the back injury that has kept him out for a while, he'd certainly be more valuable coming off the pine. When healthy, this bench has potential. So far, though, it's been rough.
Coach Avery Johnson
Johnson has called his time with the Nets "a process." Sounds right. Several new players were brought in during the offseason, but they didn't have any time to mesh during the lockout. Ever since, injuries have taken a major toll. None of this is Johnson's fault. The Nets are the worst team in the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency, though, and some of that has to fall on the coach. They've also struggled to score, finishing with 100 or more points in just seven of their first 35 games (20 percent). Don't worry, those poor starts mentioned in the intro can't be forgotten. Johnson has maintained a positive attitude when it comes to his team -- at least publicly -- praising its fight and "winning spirit" on most nights. Fans want to blame him. Don't. Not until he gets a real team.
GM Billy King
In baseball terms, King has pitched eight strong innings, but the question remains: can he close out the ninth? The Nets have young assets like Lopez and Brooks -- who King moved up to get -- multiple first-round picks in the 2012 draft and a ton of cap space and flexibility coming up. But none of that will matter if King can't convince D-Will to stay. To do so, he's likely going to have to reel in D12. Can he? Will he? Or will he be stuck with essentially an expansion team headed to Brooklyn that isn't going to make money and fill seats? It's only a matter of time before we find out.
Nets' midseason awards
MVP: D-Will. The Nets' only superstar has performed like one of late.
Defensive MVP: This team can't defend. No one is worthy of being bestowed this honor.
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Biggest surprise: Brooks' unwavering confidence and Farmar's improvement from last season.
Biggest disappointment: Shawne Williams. He was brought in to hit the corner 3. He couldn't. And then he went down with a season-ending broken left foot injury. Okur comes in a close second.
Best coaching move: Johnson running just three offensive plays against the Knicks on Monday night: get the ball to Deron, get the ball to Deron and get the ball to Deron.
Worst coaching move: Not spending every second coaching defense. The Nets are allowing their opponents to shoot 48.1 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from 3-point range.
Best offseason acquisition: Brooks.
Worst offseason acquisition: Shawne Williams, who has a player option for next season.
Biggest concern: Injuries and D-Will's future.
Key to the second half: Staying healthy. And if they're lucky, landing Howard, even if it comes at the unfortunate expense of losing some -- if not all -- of their assets. Waiting would be the better option, but if King has a chance, he has to pull the trigger.