Are the Brooklyn Nets one step away from being unstoppable?

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 20: Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 20: Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Q: What is the main thing the Brooklyn Nets should focus on to continue winning consistently?

A: Unequivocally, if the first thing that comes to your mind while cerebrating the question is “defense,” I cannot fault you. That doesn’t take long to conclude upon watching Brooklyn or listening to any analyst or pundit confabulate.

With that said, I believe defense is the peduncle, but the nucleus of Brooklyn’s focus should lie in the roots.

The real answer? Effort.

Brooklyn should build off of their recent success and continue to work towards engaging in forty-eight minutes of effort.

Since defense is the most obvious blemish on the Nets resume, let’s discuss defensive effort. For the purpose of taking into consideration that defense entails learning schemes and rotations, “defense” and “effort” in this context are separated. Although, in many ways the two could be synonymous and interconnected.

It would be irresponsible and naïve to denote the fact that this is a new team still sorting out roles, not to mention it’s led by a first-year head coach in Steve Nash. Additionally, with a shortened 72-game season, one would assume there’s probably less practice, preparation, and game planning than an average 82-game campaign, especially with the short turnaround from last year.

Where you have to give them room to develop and build chemistry is their defensive strategy and rotations. The bone of contention that could be categorized as a lack of effort more times than not is simple fundamental entities that I’m sure will continue to improve with time.

In light of their recent seven-game winning streak, one could also assume these kinks are already being ironed out. With that being said, there are still underlying issues that could recrudesce if not fully addressed. One of which is their performance late in games, when they let teams rally back.

With Brooklyn being a squad that engages in the modern-day play of “small ball,” boxing out your man and putting a body on someone to secure and ensure the rebound is imperative. Overall, the Nets rank 21st in rebounding, 29th in points allowed in the paint (51.6 per game), and last in second chance points (15.7 per game) surrendered.

In layman’s terms, blocking-out leads to more rebounds, and more rebounds results in less scoring opportunities for their opponents. When you surrender 117 points per game (28th league rank) to your opponents, any extra effort will be immensely beneficial.

Being that Brooklyn engages in a significant amount of small ball, it will take a camaraderie effort of at least three (more than likely four) players consistently crashing the board on the defensive end. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Jeff Green may see themselves knocking on career averages in the rebound department.

And that’s bittersweet because Brooklyn, who respectfully averages 14.1 fast-break points per game (9th in FBPS), has the athletic ability, talent, and facilitators to capitalize and lead the NBA in run-outs and fast-break points. But you have to play the hand you’re dealt, a few extra fast-break points are not worth giving up more second chance points.

Obviously, when Brooklyn goes to a lineup that incorporates DeAndre Jordan, high expectations fall on him to anchor the middle and control the glass. Jordan, being the only true big man in the rotation, makes his paint presence and rebounding services that much more critical for the Nets.

Jordan averages 7.4 points and 7.2 rebounds on the season and has proven to be a key component in the Nets recent winning streak. In the six games he played, he nearly averaged a double-double with 10.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest. The Nets are 6-1 when Jordan records 10-plus rebounds and 3-0 when he secures a double-double.

So, if Brooklyn makes a conservative effort to box out and haul in rebounds, would their defensive problems disappear? Drastically improve? Yes. Vanish into thin air? Not quite.

If you comb thru Brooklyn’s defensive affairs, there are minor concerns that have the wherewithal to create somewhat of a snow ball effect. It starts before the ball is ever inbounded into play.

Brooklyn hasn’t shown interest in man-to-man full-court pressure like a considerable portion of the better defensive teams. Picking up 94 feet allows you to prevent the opponent’s main facilitator from initiating the offense, while also speeding up your offense.

It’s not uncommon to see many of Brooklyn’s adversaries deny Harden the entry pass for the aforementioned reasons. His ability to infiltrate, pick apart the defense, and get other teammates involved creates too much of a threat for them to let him run the offense at his desired pace.

That is not a critical, must-have adjustment but something to consider and institute against teams with elite facilitators.

Once in the front-court and teams start running their offensive set on occasion, Brooklyn’s energy can be rather lax and lethargic. Ball pressure, active arms, and denying cutters seem sometimes like an afterthought. Brooklyn is 24th in deflections and last in recovering loose balls.

Ball pressure and active hands create an uncomfortable possession, which could lead to a broken play, bad shot, turnover, or shot-clock violation. More times than not, turnovers don’t fall into your lap; they are created with activity and pressure. Brooklyn averages 6.4 steals per game, good for 28th in the league.

The Nets have shown a propensity to switch on everything in a front-court setting, which comes with its benefits and challenges. Although there are many times it seems like fighting over the screen would yield better results, (with a smaller lineup), if done properly it can frustrate and agitate the flow of the opponent’s offense.

This was on full display when the Nets matched up for their final west coast road trip game against the Los Angeles Clippers. In a post-game interview, when asked about the Clippers struggle to move the ball and limit turnovers Paul George replied, “We fell into the trap.” George was alluding to Brooklyn’s “switch everything” defense being the catalyst to their offensive troubles and lack of continuity.

Highlights of Brooklyn’s recent defensive surge underlines their attention to detail, elevated communication, and arousal of energy — fundamental principles that have set in motion a defensive culture change in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn doesn’t have to escalate to the top of the defensive ratings or conquer all of the “hustle stats,” They just need to gradually improve and pin-point/troubleshoot their weaknesses.

Their recent road trip shows they are capable of being more than just one of the NBA’s all-time greatest scoring threats.

Though they boast a league-best 12-4 record against teams with winning records, it’s doubtful they’re satisfied with dropping games to below-.500 teams at this juncture in the season.

If their defensive effort gets to even a fraction of the level their offense is at, “scary hours” will hit an all-time high.