The Brooklyn Nets were 9-6 in December, their first winning record in a full calendar month since March 2015, and the numbers confirm their solid play.
It’s been awhile since the Brooklyn Nets could make this claim, but in December the Nets were a top-10 team overall.
Even with opening the month with three straight losses and closing it with back-to-back defeats, the Nets tied for the ninth-best record in the NBA in December at 9-6 and crawled back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference as a result.
With the Charlotte Hornets beating the Orlando Magic on New Year’s Eve, the Nets jumped back into ninth place in the East, percentage points ahead of Orlando and one game behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth spot.
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Brooklyn trails the seventh-place Miami Heat by 1½ games and are two back of the sixth-place Hornets.
With the top five teams in the East all at least three games clear of Charlotte, it appears that — barring anything catastrophic happening to the group of the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics — the race is for the last three spots.
It was Indiana that had the NBA’s best record in December, a 12-3 mark that included a victory at Barclays Center on Dec. 21 that ended the Nets’ seven-game winning streak, a run that matched the longest of the franchise’s Brooklyn era.
Individually, Joe Harris was the second-best 3-point shooter in the NBA for the month, knocking down 56.5 percent of his attempts to finish just behind the 57.1 percent shooting from Davis Bertans of the San Antonio Spurs.
But Brooklyn’s success in December came about more as a result of the total being greater than the sum of its parts, a necessity for a club that lacks a traditional superstar.
The Nets shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, seventh-best in the league for the month, and in a complete reversal of form posted the second-best defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA at 75.7 percent, trailing only the Utah Jazz at 76.8 percent.
Given that the defensive window has been a problem area for the Nets for almost the entirety of coach Kenny Atkinson’s tenure with the club, that is a major development. Brooklyn’s overall rebounding percentage of 51.5 ranked seventh for December.
They were also seventh in True Shooting Percentage at 57.3 percent.
The work on the defensive glass correlated well with Brooklyn surrendering the fewest fast-break points per game at 8.2, more than a point less than second-place Milwaukee’s 9.4 mark. The Nets were eighth, surrendering 11.8 second-chance points per game.
Brooklyn also excelled at getting to the foul line in December, with a 31.1 percent free throw rate ranking fourth in the NBA and best in the East.
Back to the individuals, Russell was a surprising 11th in the NBA with a 28.9 usage rate in December, with 45 percent of his possessions ending with an assist. Dinwiddie was 14th with a usage rate of 26.9 percent, with 36 percent of those possessions ending with Dinwiddie at the line.
Russell had one frustrating combination, ranking eighth in the NBA with a 38.9 percent assist rate but with just a 2.02 assist-to-turnover ratio. Among point guards, Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies had an NBA-best 4.78 ratio, for some perspective.
Dinwiddie led the Nets in scoring for the month at 20 points per game, followed by Russell at 17.9 and Harris at 14.4. Allen Crabbe averaged 14.8 per game, but played in just six games. Crabbe also shot 52.3 percent from 3-point range, going 23-for-44.
Reserve center Ed Davis led the club with 8.6 rebounds per game, with Jarrett Allen at 7.5. Dinwiddie’s 6.0 assists per game trailed Russell’s 6.8. Only Indiana and the Golden State Warriors joined Brooklyn with two players averaging at least six dimes a game in December.
The Nets did the work necessary to get back into the playoff hunt with a strong December. Now the challenge ahead is to continue to find ways to use ball movement and an egalitarian approach to manufacturing offense in lieu of having a superstar go-to guy.