Oct 28, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson reacts during first half against Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
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Recap of Week’s Games/News
The second week of action bore out almost identical results as we witnessed during the opening week. The Nets were blown out by a superior opponent to kick off the week (no late fourth quarter comeback this time), then bounced back by picking up a solid home win over a potential playoff team and finished off by losing a tightly contested game.
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However, there was one major difference for the Nets; Jeremy Lin suffered an injury during the Nets win over the Detroit Pistons.
Without Lin, the Nets have turned to rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead to lead the team. Though, he too was sidelined with an injury, the young man looked good in more than spot minutes for the team.
As of this post the nets are 3-4 and that alone is enough to bow down at the feet of new head coach Kenny Atkinson. However, in all the promise and progress this team has showed not everything is rainbows and sunshine in Brooklyn.
This week we take a look at the Nets defense and how it is actually hindering the Nets from being an even better team than they currently are.
Oct 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gerald Green (30) returns the ball against Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Pick & Roll prominence in NBA
The pick-and-roll has quickly become the play du jour across the NBA. Being able to attack defenses with a man advantage is something every team strives for and is usually the outcome when running the pick-and-roll. Also, with the game becoming more perimeter-oriented it’s a great way to get the ball in the hands of your best player. Every team, even the Triangle-or-bust New York Knicks, has the pick-and-roll incorporated into their offense. With that being the case, every team must have a game plan on how they want to defend this action. There are several to choose from. Here is a quick breakdown of the different options.
ICE – Made famous by the guttural shouts of Tom Thibodeau, this choice calls for the big man to drop back from the screener as the on-ball defender applies pressure to force the ball handler away from the screen and towards the big man.
HEDGE – The defender of the screener stays attached to the hip of the screener and then jumps out quickly to force the ball handler to dribble around him and allow his defender to recover before the ball handler can attack the paint.
SHOW – The defender of the screener steps along with the ball handler for a couple strides to keep him from attacking the paint and then retreats to his man once the on-ball defender has made it back to his man.
BLITZ – Both defenders (on-ball and screener) immediately attack and trap the ball handler as soon as he comes off the screen.
SWITCH – The two defenders swap men after the pick is set.
ZONE – The big man completely drops back from the action and plays a sort of one-man zone in the paint in hopes of corralling the ball handler or keeping the roll man from getting an easy shot.
Oct 6, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Trevor Booker (35) attempts to block a shot by Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) during the first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Nets struggle most guarding middle PNR
For the Nets, they don’t stick to using just one of the aforementioned choices. Kenny Atkinson likes to change tactics depending on the situation. However, one area where the Nets have really struggled with their pick-and-roll coverage is defending the set when it is initiated in the middle of the floor. On these plays Brooklyn either uses the show or blitz options to defend the action. Yet, opponents have been quick to pick up on this and make the proper adjustments. The ball handler is often left with two defenders on him and he makes the simple pass to the roll man who is around the free throw line most of the time.
With two players on one guy it forces the rest of the defense to have to help and recover despite facing a 4-on-3 disadvantage. Watch below as both the Knicks and Hornets split the trap on the ball by feeding the middle and get easy looks (Kristaps Porzingis dunk and Marvin Williams open corner three) out of it. Atkinson might need to change how he has his team defend these plays as they have yet to show the ability to properly close out or cut off the remaining players on the floor from getting open shots.
Oct 28, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) shoots the ball in front of Brooklyn Nets forward Justin Hamilton (41) during first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
PNR D overall is poor
It’s not just pick-and-roll plays in the middle of the floor that have been giving the Nets trouble on defense. The team has been unable to keep teams from getting the shot they want out of the pick-and-roll no matter where the play was initiated. This showed up huge in their loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. During a stretch that saw Porzingis score eight points in two minutes in the fourth quarter — a stretch that ultimately sealed the game for the Knicks.
With Brooklyn lacking an elite rim protector, any team that is able to get into the paint has an advantage on the Nets. The Nets defense has to help and scramble around the floor in order to try and keep the opposing team from getting dunks or layups. As you’ll see below, Brandon Jennings was able to pick apart the Nets’ rotations whenever he broke the free throw line with the ball in his hands. The Nets are going to need to scheme ways to make players like Brook Lopez and Luis Scola more effective at denying opponents at the rim. Neither players offers much in the way of athleticism, but they should be able to find a way to make it more difficult to finish in the interior than it’s been so far. Whether, that means adapting the ICE principals or asking for more pressure from on-ball defenders each possession, there must be an adjustment from the coaching staff.
Nov 2, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) drives against Brooklyn Nets guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 109-101. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
RHJ as defensive stopper not holding up
Since being acquired on draft night a year ago, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been billed as the defensive stopper for the Brooklyn Nets. As a rookie, he showed flashes of potentially being this type of player, but as we get into his second season those flashes have come few and far between. At six-foot-seven, with a seven-foot-two wingspan and a 38 inch maximum vertical leap, Hollis-Jefferson has all the measurables to be a nightmare for opposing wing players. However, that is not the case.
Hollis-Jefferson has faced off against the likes of Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Nic Batum, Andrew Wiggins, and Carmelo Anthony in Brooklyn’s first seven games and none of these players have seemed to be deterred in the slightest by Hollis-Jefferson’s play. At times it seems as if Hollis-Jefferson is too hyper and active when defending. Lunging at unnecessary times and trying to close off passing lanes that were already shut off. This often leads to teams beating him backdoor for easy finishes. One play that really stood out in the loss to New York came on an inbounds play. Anthony took the ball out and then received a screen from Porzingis. Hollis-Jefferson for some reason decided to go under the screen and left Anthony open to drill a three-pointer. Off the ball Hollis-Jefferson experiences lapses in energy. Often times it looks like he’s participating in his own personal mannequin challenge on the floor. Or he realizes too late that he missed a rotation and tries to spring back to life at an ill-advised moment.
Oct 17, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson directs his team on the court during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
A new week means a new chance to get a complete look at Kenny Atkinson’s coaching. While his offensive system has passed with flying colors in the early season, his defense has some flaws in it. However, there is one thing that has been very poor from Atkinson on the sidelines. Atkinson’s vertical leap could use some help. He’s going to really need to get off the ground if he wants to catch the eyes of the officials. A lot of players like to see their coaches emotive on the sidelines as it makes them feel like they have their coach’s support on the floor. Atkinson has become more and more colorful during games, and color this writer impressed. He hasn’t resulted to fake accidents like one former Brooklyn coach who shall remain nameless.
He also has done it in a way to not show up the officials and has kept himself from hurting the team by earning technicals. As the season goes on hopefully we’ll see more of this from the Nets’ sidelines on a nightly basis. Atkinson is a New Yorker, there isn’t much reason to believe his outbreaks of emotion will slow down (even if he tried to).