With Kyrie Irving likely sidelined for an extended period, several role players will need to elevate their level of play for the Brooklyn Nets to be successful.
The Brooklyn Nets are feeling the full effect of an injury-plagued roster.
The Nets have lost six straight games, dropping them to 16-19 on the season.
Kyrie Irving spoke to the press for the first time in months Saturday. The All-Star point guard confirmed a shoulder injury that has kept him sidelined since November 14th and now appears more serious than initially believed.
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Caris LeVert returned from injury Saturday in his first game action since November 10th.
Brooklyn’s struggles earlier in the season could be attributed to lazy, uninspired defense. This has not been a major issue as of late, the Nets rank 5th in defensive rating since Irving’s injury.
Extended scoring droughts have become common without the star point guard. Brooklyn has struggled to produce without Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor as well as down the stretch of games.
In Irving’s absence, Dinwiddie has elevated his play to an All-Star level. The 26-year-old is averaging 25.6 points and 7.1 assists per game since Irving went down.
Joe Harris has provided another stable source of offense. The sharpshooter is averaging a career-high 14.6 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting from deep.
Dinwiddie’s superb play has remained consistent in wins and losses. The point guard has been efficient regardless of the outcome, shooting 45.0 percent from the field in wins and 40.9 percent from the field in losses.
Temple and Prince have been the third and fourth scoring options for this Brooklyn team. The duo has been inconsistent and struggled to produce in an elevated role.
Prince and Temple are shooting a combined 54-206 (26.2 percent) from the field over Brooklyn’s last nine games.
Both have been relied on heavily as outside shooters. Head Coach Kenny Atkinson has been adamant that he wants Brooklyn to shoot threes at a high volume, and it has shown. The Nets attempt the sixth-most threes per game in the league but rank 28th in three-point percentage (33.4 percent).
With opponents updating the scouting report on Dinwiddie, Temple and Prince are being given frequent open looks. Defenders have been closing down hard on Dinwiddie’s drives, taking away lobs and forcing him to kick the ball out.
Prince and Temple have struggled to capitalize on these opportunities during the losing streak, shooting a combined 31/126 (24.6 percent) from three over the last nine games.
Atkinson has tinkered with lineups as a result, often keeping Temple and/or Prince on the floor when Dinwiddie goes to the bench. Both are usually on the floor to close out games.
While Prince and Temple are struggling as of late, both showed they can knock down shots earlier in the season. Prince shot 41.6 percent from three on 7.0 attempts per game in November while Temple shot 37.4 percent on 6.6 attempts per game.
The difference in 3-point shooting in wins and losses is staggering. Since Irving’s injury, Prince and Temple have shot 41.5 percent from three in wins and 27.6 percent in losses.
Fatigue may be a factor in recent struggles, particularly for Temple. The 34-year-old played 33.9 minutes per game in December and sat out Thursday’s loss in Dallas with a sore knee. Temple is also attempting 6.5 threes per game, the highest rate of his career by a wide margin.
If the Nets are going to be successful, Prince and Temple need to get comfortable with their enhanced roles and produce at a higher level.
Irving told the press Saturday that he opted to take cortisone shots in order to avoid arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder, which would most likely end his season.
LeVert will provide a huge lift but will need time to shake the rust off and get reacclimated. Even with LeVert’s return, Prince and Temple will continue to be counted on to provide consistent shooting on both the first and second units.
Both have flashed their scoring abilities, but their level of consistency will ultimately determine how far this Nets team will go in Irving’s absence.