The Brooklyn Nets appear to be at their breaking point as the weight of injuries to key offensive players has seriously bogged down the offense.
We all fell for it. When Shabazz Napier moved up to the third guard role for the Brooklyn Nets in the wake of the thumb injury sustained by Spencer Dinwiddie, we saw how Napier was producing and thought everything was fine.
Dinwiddie last played on Jan. 23, scoring 29 points in a win over the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center. His 17.2 points and 5.0 assists per game would be sidelined for three to six weeks.
But Napier has stepped in and averaged 18.4 points and 4.2 assists over the first five games that Dinwiddie has missed. At first glance, it looks like it’s all good.
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Narrator: It was not all good.
Yes, Napier has almost matched Dinwiddie’s production, with the one fewer assist per game basically offset by the one added point per contest.
But here’s the thing we missed. No one is consistently replacing Napier’s production as the fourth guard.
Before Dinwiddie succumbed to the thumb injury that had been bothering him for several weeks, Napier had been playing out of his mind in 21 minutes per game as the fourth guard in the Nets’ rotation.
Over the 12 games he played prior to Dinwiddie opting for surgery, Napier averaged 12.3 points and 3.3 assists per game.
That is the production that is missing right now and it’s starting to take a toll on the Nets, who are just 2-3 without Dinwiddie.
Theo Pinson, an undrafted rookie on a two-way contract, stepped up in a huge way in his first chance at filling that fourth guard spot, scoring 19 points with eight rebounds in 26 minutes in Brooklyn’s Jan. 25 victory over the New York Knicks.
But in a 112-104 loss at Boston on Monday, Pinson played 25 minutes and had just three points and one assist. He didn’t play at all in the Nets’ win on Tuesday over the Chicago Bulls or in their loss Thursday at San Antonio.
In Saturday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, Pinson had eight points in 11 minutes, but also turned the ball over twice, including once when he got a little too creative on a fast-break opportunity after a steal.
Behind-the-back dribble while being closely defended on the run? Pretty. Putting that dribble out of bounds off your own foot? Not so much with the pretty.
In the last five games, the fourth guard spot has produced 30 points and three assists, averages of 6.0 points and 0.6 assists. Compare that to the 12.3 and 3.3 Napier had been putting up in that spot over the last month and you see two issues.
One, the Nets aren’t scoring as well. Two, the ball isn’t moving as well, which leads to them scoring even less efficiently.
Brooklyn was an absolute mess offensively against the Magic on Saturday, scoring their third-lowest point total of the season on their second-worst shooting night of the campaign.
Without Dinwiddie and, by extension, Caris LeVert — who has now missed 39 games since dislocating his right foot on Nov. 12 — the Nets are lacking the big guard/wing on their second unit that forces defenses to switch up assignments.
With Dinwiddie, at 6-foot-6 with the ability to drive and score or drive and kick, opposing defenses have to commit one of their best defenders to check Dinwiddie, which can create mismatches elsewhere.
You can’t cover Dinwiddie with a point guard in most cases, because of his size and length. Instead, you have to commit a wing defender and try to hide the point guard somewhere else.
Napier, for all of his ability as a penetrator and a scorer, does not force a defense to adjust. At 6-foot-1, even the smallish D.J. Augustin of Orlando can handle the assignment.
Harris is shooting 38.5 percent overall and 29.6 percent from 3-point range since Dinwiddie was hurt, in part because he’s had bigger, better defenders hawking him around those stagger screens and curls above the break.
Unless you believe Harris’ drop off is a coincidence.
That’s not quite the same as shooting over a 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 guard. That’s a 6-foot-9 power forward disguising himself as a small forward in Orlando’s “let’s go big” front line.
The Nets have lost consecutive games for the first time since late December and have dropped three straight on the road.
They return home for their next three games, but the first two of those are doozies — the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks followed by the Western Conference co-leaders in the Denver Nuggets.
The Nets currently have the 15th-ranked offense in terms of efficiency, scoring 109.3 points per 100 possessions.
Over their last five games, since Dinwiddie has been out, their offensive rating is 102.1 — 28th in the NBA over that span. Their effective field goal percentage of 47.0 in the last five games ranks 29th, ahead of only the New York Knicks.
Unless Caris LeVert is going to walk through that tunnel Monday night in uniform (not a likely scenario), general manager Sean Marks has to be at least considering a move to bring a backcourt scoring presence to the team.
With all due respect for Pinson, who projects to be a very solid NBA player as he develops, asking him to fill a spot that had been yielding 12 points a game is just a little too much to expect.
Brooklyn has five games remaining before the All-Star break — the Nets host Chicago to close out next week before a road trip to Toronto and Cleveland.
That could very well turn into another 2-3 stretch and the Cavaliers have been feisty enough of late to surprise some teams at home.
With the clock ticking down to Thursday’s trade deadline, Marks may have to deviate from his plan of holding onto draft assets in order to get some scoring help in the backcourt, because Allen Crabbe — and his $18.5 million player option for next season — isn’t going to be enough of an incentive to get help in a trade.