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By Ian Parfrey @Ianparfrey

Why can’t anyone hit a three? (AP Photo)

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:

  • The Warriors go on a 23-13 run over the final 9:35 and win 109-102.
  • The Knicks go on a 19-10 run over the final 8:03 and win 100-97.
  • In an 18 and a half minute stretch of the second half, the Pistons outscore the Nets 32-18, but the Nets recover to force overtime, and win 107-105 in double OT.
  • The Bulls outscore the Nets 12-2 over a 5 and a half minute stretch before Deron Williams hits a meaningless three at the buzzer.  Bulls win 83-82.
  • The Jazz go on a 34-24 run over the final 17:44 and win 92-90.  The Nets shoot 6-22 and commit 6 turnovers, but keep themselves in it with free throws.
  • Over 16:50 of the second half, the Knicks outscore the Nets 41-19.

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).

Free Gerald Wallace! (photo by LolitaLens)

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.

More MarShon: Probably not the answer to the Nets’ problems. Sorry.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Why Does This Keep Happening?

  1. @Calling All Toasters– Thanks! I think the Nets don’t really have a choice here. The Knicks’ experiences with Melo are the closest parallel to what’s happening here. Melo didn’t fit very well into the Mike D’Antoni offense, even when he wasn’t being misused as a point forward. You’re not going to make Joe Johnson into a guy who can move without the ball effectively overnight– he hasn’t had to do it in years.

    While Joe isn’t a scoring machine like the guys you mentioned, he does have one advantage over all of them– his passing skills (though you wouldn’t know it by this year’s results). Suppose the Nets ran ISO’s for Joe where the desired result was an easy basket for someone else. If Joe gets the ball, and doesn’t eat half the shot clock deciding what to do, this could work. Quick reads are the key. Melo’s improved on that a lot this year. He shoots, he drives, or he kicks it back out to the perimeter, within a couple of seconds. Is that even a true iso play? It’s a hurry-up iso, I guess. That’s what I’d recommend for the Nets, not the kind where you give Joe the whole shot clock, and he bricks a 15-foot fadeaway.

    You see the Nets do things like the first 18 minutes of the 2nd Knicks-Nets game, and you wonder why they can’t play like that more often, when it really counts.

    • Let’s remember what ended Avery’s time in Dallas, too:

      Yes, a strained relationship with Dirk meant a strained relationship with Cuban, and that was that … but he lost the locker room because he forced the players out of their accustomed roles.

      * Dirk was pushed to be a rim-attacking power forward. It won him an MVP while the games meant little, then got the Mavs embarrassed by an 8 seed when the games meant something.

      * Devin Harris was gripped too tightly and eventually he was traded.

      * Josh Howard got bored and frustrated and high.

      In the end, everyone gave up and just parked outside the 3-point line. SOUND FAMILIAR?? Defense isn’t as big a problem as is the misuse on offense…it’s severely depressing this team already.

  2. I always thought their loss to Golden State was largely due to Don Nelson, who had just coached most of those players for years. It was the ultimate trap matchup– Golden State was better than a #8 seed, but Baron missed time with an injury, and they traded for Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington in midseason. They finished the year 16-5, and blew out the Mavs twice in that stretch. I don’t feel like you can pin that entirely on Avery. Their Finals loss in ’06 is more of a black mark on his record to me.

    I uncovered a puzzling anomaly in the fourth quarter rotations, by the way. Joe and Crash usually play the entire 4th quarter, and Deron sometimes sits quite awhile for CJ. And it’s not because he staggers their rest– Joe and Deron play about the same amount of minutes in the other three quarters.

    • Fair point–George Karl and Pat Riley also lost to 8 seeds, and they seemed to find work after that…

      One difference: Avery goes away from his team’s strengths. After winning 67 games in ’06-’07, come playoff time he changed his lineup for game 1 against Nellie–to RUN with the Warriors. Playing Golden State’s game? When Avery possessed the MVP and defending conference champs? Don Nelson knew he had Avery licked before the ball went up.

      Now we’re seeing Avery take Deron out of his groove, stick Wallace out where he’s less effective, and play Bogans and Stackhouse when this team desperately needs a young rack-attacker who might find surging confidence. Not saying MarShon is a complete player, but he’s been a rare Nets bright spot over the last two seasons, and Avery’s gone away from that bright spot, too…gotta harness your strengths in this league.

      • Nellie was a mad scientist. Al Harrington at center and Stephen Jackson at power forward for the first two games. I don’t know how you match up with that, but Avery went with lots of DeSagana Diop. Wrong answer.

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