Nov 14, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Yogi Ferrell (10) battles for the ball with Los Angeles Clippers forward Brandon Bass (30) in the second half of a NBA basketball game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
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The Brooklyn Nets are currently 4-7 on the season after losing back-to-back games to the Clippers and Lakers. They are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season and are in danger of losing their early season momentum.
The Brooklyn Nets will wrap up their West Coast trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder before traveling back to Brooklyn to face a hot Portland Trail Blazers team. A win in OKC will give the Nets a 2-2 record out west. This would be an accomplishment considering the strength of the Western Conference this season.
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The Nets have developed a very three-point heavy offense in the early going. They currently stand with the third-most attempted shots from behind the arc this season. This strategy has proved successful, as demonstrated by Brooklyn also having made the fifth-most threes out of any NBA team in the first month of the season.
After staying around .500 for a portion of this young season, the Nets are now beginning to lose stamina. As a result, in order to continue proving doubters wrong, what must the Nets change in the coming days?
Nov 4, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) reacts in the fourth quarter against Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center. Hornets win 99-95. Mandatory Credit: Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports
Letting Brook Lopez Have a Bigger Role
Brook Lopez is currently in his third full season since his last foot surgery. This makes it peculiar that Lopez, now in his eighth year in the NBA, has sat out a half of every back-to-back and is currently averaging his lowest minutes per game ever at 26.3 minutes per night. Using Lopez conservatively has been an idea that was implemented soon after Sean Marks took over, and he decided to bench Lopez for the last few games of the 2015-16 season.
In a season that should be part of the seven-footer’s prime, the organization has decided to use Lopez conservatively, as they have cut down his minutes per contest by nearly eight from last season. This decision makes little sense, as the Nets have no reason to tank with a pick swap with the Celtics looming.
In analyzing Lopez’s performance on the court this season, he clearly hasn’t taken a step back and has firmly established himself as the most gifted scorer on the Nets’ roster. His numbers have stayed on par with previous seasons, as he’s averaging 20.4 points and 1.8 blocks per game in nine games this year. Keeping him on the floor for longer stretches will allow the Nets to be even more competitive in games that would otherwise be blowouts.
Giving Lopez free reign of his playing time will allow Brooklyn to continue turning heads in the Eastern Conference. With him playing over 30 minutes per night, 28 wins and a lower pick for the Celtics all of a sudden doesn’t seem impossible. Sitting Lopez and cutting his minutes is essentially the Nets accepting their defeat for this season; something that will surely turn away potential free agent targets.
While some may say this move is to protect Lopez’s long-term trade value, it is more likely that his value will increase if he continues playing and dominating on both sides of the floor. He is currently putting up 20 points per game while only playing 26 minutes per night. Therefore, the sky is the limit if he plays over 30 minutes per contest. If Nets’ management is demanding multiple first-rounders for Lopez, then they will need to increase his trade value in some way before the deadline.
Nov 8, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) is fouled as he drives by Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Cutting Down on Turnovers
Amidst all the early season surprises that have come from the Nets’ offense, there has been one glaring error. They are currently 26th in the league in turnovers.
Turnovers are a stat that they must cut down on, especially with the Nets’ new three-point centric offense. Less turnovers will amount to more three-point opportunities. This will in turn lead to an increase in Brooklyn’s already impressive 106.4 points per game.
Unsurprisingly, players who are in new roles this season have been the ones largely contributing to turnovers. This includes Sean Kilpatrick (2.8 turnovers per game) and rookies, Isaiah Whitehead (2.7) and Yogi Ferrell (1.7). Cutting down on turnovers recently has been particularly difficult for Kilpatrick since he was filling in as the Nets’ starting point guard for a few contests.
While the offense should flow better when Jeremy Lin returns from injury, a solution won’t be found until all the Nets’ primary ball handlers play smarter. This should come with time and experience for the rookies, but the high turnover rate for veterans such as Brook Lopez (2.7) are inexcusable.
The Nets are currently playing at the second highest pace in the NBA, which is naturally going to cause turnovers. Turnovers become more likely when a team is constantly on the run offensively. Perhaps a slightly slower pace will even out their high turnover rate and will allow players more time to make wiser decisions with the ball.
Nov 12, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24) drives to the net against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Nets won 122-104. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Letting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Play Through His Slump
This season was previously being touted by many as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s coming out party in the NBA. He was expected to break out this year after being injured for more than half of his rookie season.
Last season, RHJ averaged 5.8 points and 5.3 rebounds a game along with a staggering 2.3 steals per game. It was natural to assume that the 6-foot-7 wing would become a reliable starter for the Nets this year.
However, this hasn’t quite been the case, as RHJ’s infamously bad shooting numbers have taken yet another dip. He’s currently shooting 35 percent overall and 25 percent from three-point land, compared to shooting 45 percent from the field his rookie season. However, it is important for Hollis-Jefferson to play through his shooting woes in order to make adjustments and improve. This should especially be true when considering that Kenny Atkinson’s new culture. He has encouraged every player to fire away from behind the arc.
RHJ currently has a 13.6 usage percentage while playing 25.4 minutes per night on average. His usage percentage is currently the lowest among all players on the Nets’ active roster. It may be wise for RHJ’s teammates and coaches to encourage an increase in this stat in order to promote confidence that Hollis-Jefferson will break this slump.
As demonstrated by his impressive rookie season, RHJ can anchor the defense on the perimeter. This helps him be one of the most influential players on the floor. A simple improvement in his offensive game will instantly make Hollis-Jefferson one of the most valuable players on the Nets. However, this improvement will never take place unless he is allowed the same amount of free range as his teammates offensively. An increase in usage will be imperative to RHJ having an ever-so-hyped, “breakout season.”