Brook-Lin Nets: Defense First

When looking back at the Brooklyn Nets’ 2015-16 season, a lot of bad adjectives come to mind. Terrible would be one way to describe the play on the court. The Nets won just 21 games, which placed them third-to-last in the entire NBA. A lot went wrong both offensively and defensively under a lame duck head coach, Lionel Hollins. He was eventually fired midseason. Hollins was widely regarded as a defensive-minded head coach while with the Memphis Grizzlies but with the Nets, the defense often struggled, making it difficult to win games.

The team barely snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the East two years ago with 38 wins. However, last season was an utter disaster. The stats for team defense were poor, as the Nets ranked 24th in the league in points per game given up (106), last in field goal percentage against (47.9), and 24th in 3 point field goal percentage against (.369). Frankly, there are a lot of question marks on both sides of the floor going into this season, but improving defensively is the best way to stay competitive and have a chance to win.

With all the talented offensive players around the league, the goal is to play good team defense. However, the Nets simply lacked an identity such as toughness and intensity last season. If anything, the team was soft and there was no semblance of a defensive system, which continued when Tony Brown took over as the interim head coach. One of the biggest issues was that both guards and the small forward for the Nets were constantly beaten off the dribble. This often led to easy baskets and three-pointers. Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin, and Bojan Bogdanovic are all below average defensive players that were in the rotation and this put added pressure on Brook Lopez to help too much and leave his own man. Lopez himself is a poor defender especially on the Pick and Roll which allowed offensive players to become open and he often did not recover. He is a decent rim protector and shot blocker (1.7 blocks per game for his career), but he is slow with his help defense, and he sometimes doesn’t defend the basket like a 7-foot center should. It is sad to say, but the only above average defender on the Nets roster last season in my opinion was Rondae Hollis Jefferson, who showed enough athletic ability and instincts of a top-level defensive player. Unfortunately, he missed 50 games with a leg injury in his rookie season. His absence really hurt the team defensively.

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Along with his elite potential as a defender, Hollis-Jefferson showed versatility with the ability to defend multiple positions (PG, SG, and SF) on the floor. Such wing players are very valuable around the league because it gives the head coach more options to match up. He is 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wing span and he was used mainly as SG and SF in the 29 games he played last season. In only 21 minutes per game, Hollis-Jefferson definitely made an impact. He frequently deflected balls in the passing lane and he probably would’ve been among the league leaders in steals had he played more games and received more playing time. He is also capable of blocking shots and is a good rebounder for his size. With just his defense alone, Hollis-Jefferson is no doubt one of the key players on the Nets this upcoming season. The good news is that he will be surrounded by better defensive players and one of those players is Jeremy Lin. Most of the focus on Lin has been what he could do offensively as the starter, but overlooked is his improving defense.

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  • GPanda

    Another good article FC. Lin will have his hands full unless we see good team ball especially on defense. I think this team should show better than the experts predict. The best PG for a starless team has to be Lin. He has made many line-ups look good. Can’t wait to start seeing some games.

  • K. P. Chan

    It’s a great assessment, FC! You’ve put your finger right on the heart of the issue. It’s gratifying to see that a good writer who is knowledgeable finally focuses on the importance of defense. This is a group of young, hard-working players who will hustle on defense, even if collectively they are not an offense juggernaut. . D always makes up for that, and wins games. Lin’s defense prowess has not only been overlooked, underrated, but sadly, often maligned due to some people’s ignorance. Statistics abound to show this point. Having Lin there this year ushers in a new era of defense focus for the team,

  • Lemonbar808

    Excellent article FC!

    Hollins has that rep as a defensive minded coach, however the players that were on the roster last season IMHO did not buy in to what he was selling.

    This where culture is really important, high character guys with team goals and not me, myself and I goals.

    RHJ is a high energy guy, JLin is a high energy guy — having these two will hopefully be infectious on the entire team to come together and step up their D game.

    I’m super high on RHJ, he just has to work on his shot but hey Rome wasn’t built in a day!

    Rock on FC! m/

  • Bob NYC

    Fact: “The point guard is not just the quarterback of the offense, but also defense as well.”

    JLin’s excellent defensive skills as a PG have been overlooked by the sports media even since Linsanity days. Then, his 2-way effort and play was way above average. Today, he has significantly improved his skills and productivity on both ends of the court.

  • John Buoye

    I like this assessment of the Nets going into the season. When I reviewed the performance of last season’s edition of the Nets it appeared that the team needed to improve their Offensive Rating by about 5% and their Defensive Rating by about 10% in order to compete for an eight-seed in the playoffs. A lot (maybe 45-50%) of the “improvement” on the defensive end has been accomplished just through “roster churn”, with many of the poorest rated defenders having moved on to other places of employment, and they have been replaced, in some cases, by experienced NBA players with better defensive ratings. Some have been replaced by much younger players with little to no prior NBA experience, but with some potential to be better, more versatile players, especially within a highly-developmental environment. The remainder of the “improvement” will have to come from individual player skill development and the coaching staff devising team helping defense schemes and drilling the team hard on effectively implementing them. That really boils down to a lot of defensive awareness by players supported by intensity and hard work.

    On the offensive side, there are two areas that are ripe for immediate improvement: (1) PGs who can effectively run the PnR and get the ball to the big men in the paint, and (2) increasing the frequency of 3-point shooting by everyone, but mostly by the most proficient 3-point shooters. I’m very interested in seeing the pre-season game performance of everyone in this particular area so that the team can identify the players who should be set up most frequently for taking these long-range shots. The mantra should be “if you’ve got a good, open shot take it, otherwise pass the ball to someone who has got one”..

    I’d still prefer to see Luis Scola starting at the PF position, but playing him for short (approx. 5 minutes) spurts to conserve his legs. He seems to be more proficient (right now) with the 3-point shot than Booker making him more of a stretch-4 threat, and his DRtg of 105 is pretty close to that of Trevor Booker (104) so I don’t view him as a defensive liability (especially in short doses). I’d prefer to see Trevor Booker playing heavy minutes, especially with the second unit which will undoubtedly need his defensive prowess more than the starting unit. We’ll just have to see how the coaches assess these players once the pre-season action ensues. Let the games begin!