Brooklyn Nets: Offensive problems magnified by injuries, but start at 4

Brooklyn Nets Nikola Mirotic Dario Saric. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Nikola Mirotic Dario Saric. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets are struggling offensively right now and while injuries are magnifying some of the issues, those problems start at power forward.

With a little more than 48 hours remaining before the 4 p.m. Eastern trade deadline on Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets are in danger of giving back a lot of their hard-earned gains in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

On Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets’ futility on offense was akin to watching someone try to get a tractor-trailer up a hill with a lawnmower engine. It might eventually get to the peak, but it’s not going to be pretty to watch.

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The Nets on Monday were without Caris LeVert, who started the regular season at the shooting guard spot and was Brooklyn’s leading scorer until he was hurt on Nov. 12.

They were also without Allen Crabbe, who moved into the starting lineup at small forward after LeVert was injured and had just started to shake off an early-season shooting slump when he went down on Dec. 12.

Also absent was Jared Dudley, the on-again, off-again starter at power forward, who hasn’t played since his hamstring seized up while he was driving to the basket in a Jan. 9 game.

Spencer Dinwiddie, the erstwhile Sixth Man of the Year candidate, hasn’t played since Jan. 25 and had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb on Jan. 28.

Added to that list Monday was Joe Harris, the starting small forward to open the season who shifted to the shooting guard spot after LeVert was hurt.

That much firepower occupying chairs on the sideline is going to slow down any offense, but there has been one constant at the offensive end for the Brooklyn Nets this season, regardless of personnel.

The power forward spot, regardless of who has been manning it, has contributed little.

In the first 14 games of the season, when LeVert was in the lineup, Dudley made every start at the 4.

In that span, he averaged 24.4 minutes per game and averaged 5.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists and shot 35.7 percent overall and 30.6 percent from 3.

Over the next 15 games, leading to when Crabbe went down, Dudley started the first six games at power forward, before Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was moved into that spot.

During that span, the pair as starters combined to average 7.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game on 41.1 percent shooting overall and 39.1 percent from 3.

The breakdown between the two:

  • Dudley: 4.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 21.3 MPG, 42.3% FG, 30.8% 3FG (4-for-13)
  • Hollis-Jefferson: 10.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 28.7 MPG, 40.7% FG, 50.0% 3FG (5-for-10)

Now with Crabbe out of the lineup and Rodions Kurucs inserted as the starting 3, the Nets played to the point of Dinwiddie’s last game on Jan. 23 with Hollis-Jefferson starting the first nine games until he injured his right adductor. Dudley started the next five games before the hamstring injury.

Treveon Graham entered the mix at this point, starting the next six games before Dinwiddie went out of the lineup.

Over that 20-game span, without LeVert and Crabbe available on the wing, the average production from the starting power forwards was 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 24.8 minutes a night on 40.3 percent shooting overall and 28.9 percent from long range.

The breakdown of the three:

  • Hollis-Jefferson: 10.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 24.5 MPG, 41.0% FG, 22.2% 3FG (2-for-9)
  • Dudley: 3.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 20.5 MPG, 36.8% FG (7-for-19), 33.3% 3FG (4-for-12)
  • Graham: 7.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 28.3 MPG, 40.5% FG, 29.2% 3FG

That brings us to the last six games, five of which were started by Graham, with Hollis-Jefferson filling in on Jan. 28 at Boston when Graham was sidelined with a sore lower back.

The production from the starting 4s over those six games was 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 24.5 minutes on 31.1 percent shooting overall, with a 3-for-16 mark from 3-point range, broken down this way in games started:

  • Graham: 4.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 23.9 MPG, 26.9% FG, 3-for-15 3FG
  • Hollis-Jefferson: 14 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST, 2 BLK, 27 MIN, 7-for-19 FG, 0-for-1 3FG

The shooting from the 4 spot has been particularly dismal. The starting 4s have combined to shoot just 38.5 percent overall and 30.1 percent from 3-point range.

Even in an offense that doesn’t necessarily feature the 4 at the offensive end, that’s just not good enough, particularly at this point when so much offensive firepower is sidelined.

Are there other options?

Mitch Creek, currently on his second 10-day contract, is a 6-foot-5 player who works hard, but is not a 3-point threat.

Alan Williams is bigger at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, but defensively, he’s not quick enough to cover smaller 4s and lacks the length to handle 5s effectively.

He’s also very new at looking for 3s, having attempted just one in his previous three seasons at any level (Chinese Basketball Association, NBA G League and NBA) before opening up a bit with the Long Island Nets in the G League, where he is 10-for-31 (32.3 percent). He’s missed his only 3 in three appearances with Brooklyn.

So what’s out there? Nikola Mirotic of the New Orleans Pelicans has suitors, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, who appeared on the Dunc’d On Basketball NBA Podcast on Monday and said:

"“I know Mirotic, for sure, has had no shortage of teams interested. We might not see an Anthony Davis trade, but the Pelicans are gonna make a trade this week, I think that’s a safe bet.”"

Stein also mentioned Julius Randle as a potential trade piece from New Orleans.

Mirotic got off to a blazing start, but has been slowed by injuries. He missed a month recovering from a right ankle sprain and has been out the last six games with a strained right calf.

In 32 games, 22 of them starts, this season, Mirotic is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game while shooting 44.7 percent overall and hitting 46.8 percent on 7.2 3-point attempts per game.

He’d be a terrific fit in the Nets’ 5-out, even with his defensive deficiencies, but to get him it might cost both a player and a first-round pick, something general manager Sean Marks might not want to part with.

Another name that has hit the rumor mill of late is Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dario Saric. Sean Deveney of The Sporting News reported Tuesday that Minnesota may look to move Saric — considered the centerpiece of the deal that sent Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers in November.

Deveney cited an unnamed league executive saying:

"“(Saric) could be had for a decent offer, a first-rounder and a player.”"

Saric hasn’t been able to dislodge Taj Gibson in the starting unit, even after Gibson’s longtime coach with the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau, was fired.

In 38 games since the trade, Saric is averaging 9.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game, shooting 43.6 percent overall and making 35.7 percent from deep on 3.4 attempts per game.

Saric, at age 24, might fit the time line of the Nets better than the 27-year-old Mirotic. Saric is also cheaper and under team control for another year, as Philadelphia exercised its fourth-year option on Saric’s rookie deal in October.

Saric is making $2.53 million this season and is on the books for $3.48 million next season, a number the Nets could fit under the cap at roughly double the price of Graham’s non-guaranteed $1.65 million for next season. Graham’s deal becomes guaranteed on July 10.

Mirotic is on an expiring deal, finishing out the final year of the two-year contract he signed with the Bulls in September 2017 at $12.5 million per season.

Either of these players would be a significant upgrade over the cast of castoffs — save for Hollis-Jefferson, whose rookie deal expires at the end of this season.

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Given the state of the spacing in Brooklyn’s offense right now, it could be worth one of the Nets’ two first-round picks in June’s NBA Draft to land either Saric or Mirotic.