The Brooklyn Nets And Their Strong Start

The Brooklyn Nets have gotten off to a rousing start in their new home, sitting on 11-5 as they get set for Tuesday night’s visit by Oklahoma City. The Barclays Center isn’t the biggest acquisition though—the Nets strengthened themselves in the offseason with Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez—at least up to now—has been active and healthy. TheSportsNotebook takes a closer look at Brooklyn to see if this new success can sustain past the holidays when the regular season grind sets in.

While Brooklyn has made sharp improvements on both sides of the floor, it’s rebounding that’s the biggest difference between these first sixteen games and last year’s disaster in New Jersey. The Nets have moved from 27th to 11th in the league in rebounding. We can trace this directly to a healthy Lopez, and then add in the fact Lopez is hitting the glass better when he’s on the floor. The 24-year-old center’s rebounds are up three per game.

Then you mix in Kris Humphries at the power forward spot for his seven rebounds a night and bring in Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche off the bench, and you have solid depth when it comes to hitting the glass. Evans has more than doubled his rebounding numbers, ensuring no drop off when Humphries or Lopez comes to the bench.

But over the long haul, the backcourt is going to be where it’s at in Brooklyn with Johnson joining Deron Williams. Each average 16 ppg and with each shooting a little bit below last year’s numbers, they’re both capable of at least being more efficient on the offensive end. The same goes for Wallace who’s averaging in single digits, with his shooting percentages down.

I believe Brooklyn has to see the shooting issues as good news—not per se, but because there’s every reason to think Williams, Johnson and Wallace will all return to a normal level of hitting their shots and given the team is already 8th in offensive efficiency, any more improvement moves them to the league’s elite. It won’t necessarily show up in point volume or in highlights, because the Nets play at the slowest pace in the league. But if they’re hitting shots and hitting the boards, what more do you want from a team at the offensive end.

Defensively, Brooklyn is playing pretty well, although the efficiency numbers aren’t at the level of where the offense is. It’s this side of the floor where this team’s hidden problem may surface, and it’s that the Nets make very little use of their bench. No one averages 20 minutes per game, although three players are close. Williams and Johnson play over 35 minutes a night. Are we going to see defensive drop-offs and perhaps rebounding declines as the season wears on?

To prevent that, Brooklyn can give more minutes to Blatche and Evans up front, and the guards that will eventually have to give Williams and Johnson a breather are C.J. Watson and Marshon Brook. The former started in Chicago last year after Derrick Rose got hurt, while Brooks played nearly 30 minutes a game as a Nets rookie before being displaced by Johnson. Brooklyn also has 38-year-old veteran Jerry Stackhouse on hand and in his limited minutes Stackhouse is shooting the ball extremely well right now.

There’s no denying what Brooklyn has achieved so far and it’s good for the league that they’re getting some excitement going in their new home, especially in conjunction with the Knicks being off to a good start. Until a loss to Miami on Saturday, the Nets had won five straight. The streak included wins over the Clippers, Knicks and the second win of the season over the Celtics.

But having said that, I don’t believe this team can keep this going for the long haul—and by “keep this going”, let’s define that as being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. I can buy them as a playoff team, but much closer to the borderline. I don’t like the depth, and while the offense is going to be good, I see the defense and rebounding getting worse rather than better. Lopez’s foot has already started to act up and he’s listed as doubtful for the Oklahoma City game.

That’s down the road though. For now though, Brooklyn is playing well and after Tuesday have three more home games in succession, building to next Tuesday night against the Knicks on ESPN. It’s everything the franchise could have hoped for with the move and opening of the Barclays Center.