Sunday, January 19, 2014

First Nets Take Over Mailbag: Expectations, Offense and Lopez

Thank you everyone who contributed to our very first mailbag by submitting answers. All five of us, the Starting Five, did our best to answer your questions to help tip-off this week.

1) Do you think the Nets are in contention to win 45+ games? - Twitter user @steve_hc10

Sam: While the Nets have arguably the easiest schedule in the NBA for the rest of the season, winning 45+ games seems to be an unrealistic goal. For the Nets to win at least 45 games by the time the season ends, they will have to go at least 29-15 for the rest of the season. The Nets have been playing great basketball and that is undeniable, but to think that they will win 29 of their next 44 seems to be wishful thinking given their injury-prone squad. But hey, with an easy schedule and a healthy Kirilenko, coupled with the return of Deron Williams and an all star Joe-Johnson, anything is possible.

Malcolm: The Nets are 16-22 right now. There are 44 games left, so to win 45, Brooklyn would need to go 29-15. That's pretty tough. I looked at the remainder of the schedule and saw 30 very winnable games left on the schedule, but you have to count on the team slipping up here or there for a few trap games. Things get a lot easier, though, in February and early March, where the Nets have Philly, Detroit, the banged-up Pelicans, Bobcats, Chicago sans Deng, Utah and the Lakers in February. March starts out with Milwaukee, Chicago, the Grizzlies, Boston and Sacramento. Look for the Nets to possibly go on a nice little streak and get hot for the playoffs.

Ed: I think 45 wins is still entirely possible. Two things have to happen if the Nets are going to do it: One, Deron Williams has to come back and be the Deron Williams we saw in the second half of last season. Two, the other players have to continue playing the way they have since the loss in San Antonio. That goes mostly for Kevin Garnett. With Brook Lopez out for the year, KG is the only defensive presence left in the paint. His impact needs to continue being what it has been lately. It helps that KG is hitting his shots now, too. 

Kyle: 45 wins is certainly possible, but it may be a bit of a reach. To win 45, the Nets would have to go 29-15 for the remainder of the season. While 29-15 is possible, especially with an easy schedule the rest of the way, I just don’t see them doing it.

Ali: To get to 45 wins, the Nets have to end the season with a record of at least 29-15. Is it doable? Possibly, but frankly this team does not seem to have it together yet to end the year on a run like that. If they had played at the rate all season, they would end up at 54 wins for the season. That could be possible if the team played their best all season long, but we know that would not be the case. There are too many outside variables for this team to overcome, and the Nets have already dug themselves into a big hole.

2) What record do you guys think we'll finish with, after looking at the remaining schedule and "wishing" PRP D-Willz show up? - Dwillz Hairstylist

Sam:  I see the Nets winning around 40 games. If the Nets were to finish the season at 40-42 that means that from this point on they would need to go 24-20. While ending the season below 500 would be disappointing given their preseason expectations, I think this is what we should expect from this team. This team is clearly gelling at a nice time in the year and they just need to continue to get used to playing with one another. However, with the injuries and "black cloud" that seems to be hanging over the Nets this season, it seems like a 40-42 record to end the season would be perfectly fine. One reason to be optimistic though is that Deron did play his best basketball after the All-Star break last season.

Malcolm: I've gone through every game left this year and I predict 27 more wins for the Nets, giving them a record of 43-39. Pretty good, especially considering their awful start. This probably earns them the third playoff seed, too.

Ed: As a personal opinion, I think the Nets finish 44-38. They're still a good team, they just took their time realizing that. The chemistry on the court looks to be formed, and that's the key for this team. If PRP Deron shows up again this year, they could finish with over 45 wins. I don't see 50 wins happening, though.

Kyle: The rest of the season really hinges on Deron, his health and his play. If he comes back after PRP like he did last year, playing like an elite point guard, the Nets could finish above .500, which, after the disastrous beginning to this season, can be considered a positive. If he comes back and plays poorly like he has, well, we’re in for an even longer season. I feel, with a dominant/healthy Deron Williams and an easy schedule (see above link), the Nets finish 42-40. With either first half Deron or injured Deron, they finish 37-45.

Ali: If we want to assume that PRP Deron Williams shows up again, then I'd have to say this team will go on a nice little run to end the season, and actually possibly finish close to 45 wins. PRP Williams was the one we wanted to see, and with others starting catch on, I could see a PRP Williams-led team go to 45 wins considering the relative easiness of the Nets schedule. 

3) When Deron Williams comes back, should we start with two point guards or have Livingston come off the bench? - Twitter User @the_jersey_fitz

Sam: The Nets have had an incredible 17 different starting lineups this year. When Jason Kidd has decided to start both Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston the Nets are 2-0. While one of those wins was against the horrid Milwaukee Bucks, the other win was against the Oklahoma City Thunder. So yes, the Nets should continue with a two point guard lineup. The NBA is turning into a penetration and dish-out league. While Deron might be slower than he used to, the combination of him and a revived Livingston still provide the Nets with some explosiveness in getting to the whole as well as the ability to draw multiple defenders so that they can kick out for threes. The Nets should look to start Livingston, Williams, Johnson, Pierce and Garnett. This lineup is also a no-brainer against some of the undersized teams in the league.

Malcolm: Livingston needs to stay in this starting lineup – for a lot of reasons. The first reason is defense. Shaun Livingston has emerged as a defensive stopper in this league. At 6'7", he's a nightmare for smaller guards and can hold his own against the NBA's best forwards. His long arms and keen defensive mind are just too valuable to keep on the pine. Offensively, Livingston helps out the team a lot even when not scoring. His size alone allows him to stretch the floor, creating mismatches and leaving guys who can actually shoot (3Will) wide open. Having two point guards in the starting lineup is a great strategy – sort of like having two runningbacks in the NFL – because it gives your offense a two-headed attack. Defenses will have to keep an eye out for not just one ballhandler/playmaker, but two. Having two starting point guards without sacrificing size is an absolute boon to the Nets. Get Alan Anderson out of the starting five. The lineup, from here out, should be Williams - Livingston - Johnson - Pierce - Garnett.

Ed: I'm kind of torn, actually. On one hand, the ball moves much better with the two point guard lineup. But on the other hand, Andrei Kirilenko and his defensive mind-set could be the starting power forward with the other guys going back to their natural positions. I'm leaning towards Livingston being a starter. With the small lineup, the Nets actually have the advantage. Paul Pierce starting at the power forward is one of the most notable mismatches. His ability to spread the floor makes it so the opposing 4 is coming out on him, and that clears the paint out for Deron or Livingston to find their way to the basket.

Kyle: Great question. Personally, I think coach Jason Kidd should continue to start the hot hand in Livingston next to Williams in the backcourt. The “small ball” lineup, with Paul Pierce at the power forward position, has looked great, with success so far in the new year. Since the beginning of 2014, the Nets have started both Williams and Livingston twice. Both games resulted in wins, one over the Thunder and one over the Cavaliers.

Ali: This is a pretty interesting question. When the Nets started the two-point guard lineup, they ended up winning two out of two games. But that was before the full return of Andrei Kirilenko, who has impacted the team in more ways that a stat sheet can keep count. Honestly, considering how well its worked, I would stick with the two-point guard lineup until Livingston starts to falter. Why fix what isn't broke?

4) Do you think the Nets are better offensively without Brook? I
recall an interview earlier in the year when I believe Joe Johnson said we just kinda sit and wait then pass it to Brook. Since he went down with the injury it's like a whole new team. - Jesse Jobin

Sam: It would be unfair to say that the Nets are better offensively without Brook. What I will say is that the Nets are more creative without Brook Lopez. Brook is an all-star center and arguably the most offensively talented center in the league. Lopez was in and out of the lineup this entire year so the team never got to fully mesh with him. Additionally, the Nets had to go to Brook constantly in the beginning of the year because Johnson, Pierce and Garnett were playing so poorly. Still, it is great to see the free flowing basketball that the Nets have been displaying in recent games. It is a shame that the entire team never got to gel together.

Malcolm: As strange as it is to say...yes. Brook Lopez is the best offensive player the Nets have had in a long time, but his game is simply not the kind of game you build an offense around. I'm glad you mentioned that Joe interview, because his statement is really accurate. Dumping the ball down to Brook, having him post up and put up a hook shot is a good option to have, but it can't be THE option. Without Lopez, the Nets become a team that can run the floor, space out, and run more than one or two plays. None of this is to say that we shouldn't want Lopez, but with the way the Nets were using him, it became more of a liability than an asset.

Ed: Sadly, I do think they are better offensively. Brook is the best offensive center in the NBA when he's healthy, but the problem is that he gets the ball down low and the ball movement stops. There was no finding the open man with Brook on the floor, and now that he's hurt we're seeing exactly what can happen when the ball isn't being thrown down to the low post. It's a dead end with Brook on the floor. Ball movement leads to successful offensive possessions.

Kyle: I don’t think the Nets are better offensively without Brook Lopez, I just think they’re playing as more of a team. Instead of “throwing it down to Brook” and watching, as Johnson put it, there’s more ball movement, more screens in this offense. Unlike earlier in the season, the guys who are supposed to be hitting their jumpers are hitting them, and the Nets offense now has an identity.

Ali: As much as I hate to admit, and I'm a big Brook Lopez fan, his absence has helped the team developed an identity on offense. Is it better? That depends, but it is fair to say that the Nets offense is much more fluid and has better ball movement. As Joe Johnson said, the team tended to just dump it off, and while it did work, it was not the best method for this team to gel. This is not to say that ball movement cannot exist without Lopez, but having him out has forced the team to create it.

Want to state your opinion? Feel free to comment YOUR answers in the comment section below!

If you want to see your question on our next mailbag, be sure to either come back here or be watching out Twitter and Facebook page for updates!

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