Brooklyn Nets: 3 things to watch against surging Nuggets

Brooklyn Nets Allen Crabbe. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Allen Crabbe. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets Joe Harris. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

2. Struggling Nets get their deep threat back

For as efficient as D’Angelo Russell has been for the Brooklyn Nets from behind the arc this season, it is Joe Harris who has been the grease that has kept the Nets’ offense running smoothly this season.

Russell leads the Nets with 7.2 3-point attempts per game and is knocking them down at a career-high 37.4 percent rate.

Harris, who missed Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks with a sore right hip, is Brooklyn’s best 3-point shooter, hitting 45.3 percent of his 5.1 attempts a game.

He’s also no longer a secret. Harris was named Tuesday as one of the 10 participants in the Three-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte.

His return — along with the potential return of Allen Crabbe, another important long-range shooter for the Nets — should make life more difficult for the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

Without Harris, the Nets shot a season-worst 11.9 percent from deep against the Bucks — 5-for-42. Even with Harris, offense has been a struggle of late since Spencer Dinwiddie went down.

Harris has been in a mini-slump, making only 29.6 percent of his long-range attempts since Dinwiddie has been out of the mix.

But having Harris in the lineup opens up things for the offense that just weren’t there against Milwaukee. No disrespect intended to Shabazz Napier or Theo Pinson, but Brooklyn didn’t look to run either of them off stagger screens and curl cuts from the corner.

Harris is deadly on this action. On the play below, Harris switches places with Rodions Kurucs before running over the top of a Jarrett Allen screen, finding open space for a clean look.

Crabbe, who may be back off the bench Wednesday night after missing 26 games with a knee injury, was one of the hottest shooters in the league when he went down in mid-December.

He’s hit 38.7 percent from 3-point range this season on six attempts per game, but in 15 games as a starter after Caris LeVert went down with an injury in mid-November, Crabbe shot 45.2 percent from deep.

Having both players available should allow Brooklyn to have a legitimate deep threat at the wing for much of the game.

They did not have that with Napier, who is now at 34.7 percent on the season after an 0-for-10 performance from deep on Monday, and Kurucs has been in a long slump, shooting just 17.1 percent from 3 over his last 13 games since hitting a career-high five in a loss at Boston on Jan. 9.

Having shooters that must be accounted for by the defense is the very essence of the pace-and-space offense, as the Nets have learned the hard way of late.

If the defense doesn’t have to respect the shooters on the floor, the driving lanes to initiate paint touches leading to either drives or kick-outs to those shooters are much tighter or just don’t open up at all.

That, in turn, stymies the high pick-and-roll actions with Allen and Russell or Napier.

With help defenders behind him, Allen’s man can simply allow the pick to happen, let the guard climb over the screen and be available to help, as Allen’s roll action is negated by the available help in the paint.

You can see that in this play from Monday night — Brook Lopez doesn’t even leave the paint when Allen stays high to set the screen, leaving Allen nowhere to roll once Napier comes off the pick.

Getting Harris and Crabbe (likely) back on the court Wednesday night may not fix all that has been ailing Brooklyn’s offense the last two weeks, but Denver having to at least honor shooters and account for them in off-ball actions can’t hurt.