Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors Notes and Observations: 12-15-17
After crossing international borders to play the second game of a back-to-back against a Toronto Raptors team that has won nine of 10 home games this season, the Brooklyn Nets were highly susceptible to a blowout loss on the road. The susceptibility rose even higher when the Brooklyn PR department announced the absences of DeMarre Carroll, Jarrett Allen and Allen Crabbe for rest. Well, that susceptibility held true as the Nets lost to the Raptors, 120-87, in a game that used almost the entire second half as garbage time. These things happen.
Homecoming for Stauskas
Recent acquisition Nik Stauskas had the pleasure of compounding his debut as a Net with a return to his native province of Ontario to be able to play in front of his parents Paul and Ruta. It is difficult to believe the homecoming for the Mississauga-born wing did not hype him. He scored 12 of the 14 points in a 14-0 run to begin the second quarter and actually gave the Nets a brief lead.
Stauskas hinted at potential value as a bench perimeter gunner in a similar vein to the player who got waived for him, Sean Kilpatrick. However, Stauskas perhaps could hit shots more frequently and provide more off the dribble than most fans would expect from his, ahem, stereotype. He ended the game with 22 points on nine field goal attempts in 28 minutes.
Less Welcoming for Okafor
The Nets did not solely insert Stauskas into the rotation, but they naturally also debuted former elite prospect Jahlil Okafor in place of Jarrett Allen. However, Okafor did not quite have the same success in his first impression to Brooklyn fans as Stauskas had.
Okafor frequently looked lost in both the offensive and defensive systems of the team. The lack of defensive awareness surely did not shock many due to Okafor’s reputation. But, especially in the second quarter, Okafor truly seemed confused on whether to try to establish deep post position against the sizable Jonas Valanciunas or try to fit into the frequent Atkinson task for centers of spacing the court from beyond the arc. That confusion generally led to Okafor opting for neither post position nor spacing. Instead, he would just wait for the ball 17 feet away from the basket.
The lack of ideal off-ball work was compounded with the Nets’ coaching staff’s decision to force-feed the ball to Okafor despite him being miles from easy scoring opportunities. Okafor frequently found himself with the ball far away from the basket while the shot clock neared zero, resulting in a poor shot.
Okafor earned the most minutes of all of the Nets’ active centers, and it seems clear the Nets will try to emphasize Okafor whenever he is on the court. However, he is currently at a crossroads as to whether to fit in with Brooklyn’s core philosophies of spacing, ball movement and off-ball movement; or to try to do what he usually does best in the low post. It is a very early crossroads, of course, and tinkering will still be there. But, the Nets’ coaches and Okafor will likely soon have to make a decision as to whether to go fully in one direction or the other. Instinctually, Okafor’s best (and perhaps only) chance at success in Brooklyn is to develop his perimeter shot and emphasize assimilation into the Nets’ style. Otherwise, even on offense, Okafor may only prove useful against extreme size mismatches in the low post.