By Ian Parfrey @Ianparfrey
The Nets’ offense has disappeared entirely over long stretches of the second halves of their last 10 games. This pattern began in Miami on December 1, when the Nets led 73-65 midway through the third quarter, and then scored only 14 points over the next 16:32 en route to a 102-89 loss. Yes, the Heat are a terrific team who can flip the switch on just about anybody, but this pattern of late-game offensive collapses repeated itself six times in the last nine games:
With the exception of the second Knick game, none of these teams are exactly shooting the lights out. The average NBA team scores somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 points per minute (the Nets average 1.96). In the 93 minutes described above, the Nets have scored 100 points, and have almost as many turnovers (31) as baskets (33).
Looking at the various lineups that Avery Johnson has used, a few things stand out. Gerald Wallace shot 2-13 in these collapses, and missed all 9 of his three-point attempts. Crash isn’t a great three-point shooter (32% career), and the Nets would be better served by getting him some looks in motion near the basket.
The Nets are better with C.J. Watson in the game, either as the point guard, or next to Deron at the 2. The Deron Williams-Joe Johnson backcourt was used for 45 of the 93 minutes I looked at, and got outscored 97-42, which is significantly worse than any other possible backcourt combination. It’s clear, both from this and a simple eyeball test, that Deron and Joe haven’t figured out how to play with each other effectively yet.
Joe Johnson, aside from his late heroics in the Pistons game, has failed spectacularly in the clutch of late. In my sample, Johnson shot 7-28, and had one assist in 83 minutes. This is more minutes, and more attempts, than any other player over the same period. Also, Johnson’s ISO-heavy offensive repetoire seems to be encouraging Deron to call his own number more frequently than he should.
You want more good news? Andray Blatche. Blatche has been the main beneficiary of what little passing the Net guards are doing, making 11-of-20 shots, mostly at the rim. His interior play has kept things from getting even worse. Lineups using Brook Lopez at center have been about equally effective, but Avery Johnson may want to avoid ever using a lineup where Kris Humphries or Reggie Evans plays center. The Nets were outscored 32-0 in the nine minutes that Avery went super-small.
Based on this, the Nets ideal lineup to close out games should be Lopez or Blatche at center, Wallace and Johnson at the forward spots, and Watson and Williams in the backcourt. Watson’s shooting and secondary ballhandling isn’t something that any other player on the roster can provide. Lineups using Keith Bogans also performed surprisingly well. I have to wonder how hot Avery’s seat has to become before he thinks of trying to use Lopez and Blatche together.
While I don’t think the Nets should take a page from the Lakers and panic-fire Avery because of this losing streak, he’s not utilizing his players (most obviously Wallace) in the optimal way. The Knicks’ offense this year under Mike Woodson is a great example of how a team can use ISO plays constructively, and hopefully the Johnsons, Avery and Joe, are taking notes from last night’s beating. Carmelo doesn’t always get the ball predictably, because he moves without the ball and gets himself free for open threes, and because the Felton-Chandler pick and roll is often the first thing the Knicks look for. Once he does get the ball in an ISO, Melo makes quick reads, either making his move, or kicking it back out to one of the two point guards on the perimeter. You can put some of the Nets’ struggles down to failing to make shots, or run the plays correctly, but the team is going through repeated offensive slumps longer than a performance of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” 25 games into the season. Maybe they need new plays. And more Blatche and Watson.