The Brooklyn Nets: A Model of Inefficiency

The Nets were always going to be an arduous watch this season.

With its mishmash of crafty, vertically-challenged scorers, a nineties-era point guard, and a slew of flawed prospects trying to merely prove they belong in the NBA, Brooklyn was never going to be capable of churning out an entertaining brand of basketball. Not even the franchise’s top-notch broadcast duo of Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello was enough to entice Zach Lowe to watch the Nets on the regular: he slotted them 28th on his annual League Pass Rankings last month (pour one out for Grantland, by the way).

Man, have they ever lived up to expectations. Over the course of an ugly 0-4 start, Lionel Hollins’ team has cemented itself as the model of inefficiency in the NBA.

All of the usual first week caveats apply here. We’re one twentieth of the way through the season, and the Nets’ four opponents to this point were all playoff teams last season. That doesn’t mean we can’t pick some low hanging fruit and marvel at the ugliness of this team. Brooklyn, on the back of a bottom ten rank on both ends of the floor, has been outscored by a hideous 17.1 points per 100 possessions, good for second worst in the NBA next to the banged up Pelicans — a team that’s had the misfortune of facing Steph Curry two times already.

The offense is of particular concern right now. Give the Nets credit; they’re a unique team in 2015. After the Warriors paced and spaced their way to an NBA title, and last year’s conference finalists were all three-point shooting juggernauts, the Nets have resisted the urge to go the way of the copycat. Through four games, the Nets have hoisted 14.3 three pointers per game, hitting just 24.6 percent of them — good for 29th in the league on both accounts. Curry has tried 10.8 threes a night on his own.

To make matters worse, the Nets don’t seem adverse to the dreaded long two. Through 192 minutes, Brooklyn has fired away on 105 mid-range jumpers. Interestingly, the Nets have connected on better than 46 percent of those tries, but with a turtle-slow pace, a dearth of made threes and the NBA’s 20th-ranked free throw rate, it hasn’t added up to nearly enough offensive output.  While it’s early, and the Nets’ uncommonly low three-point percentage will rise, that will surely be offset somewhat by a regression of the team’s mid-range success. Brooklyn drained just 40 percent of its shots from that range last season.  If there’s a team other than the Warriors that Daryl Morey sees in his nightmares, it’s the Nets.

Chief among the culprits has been Jarrett Jack, who in a starting role has reached new levels of mind-numbing performance. In three games this season, Jack’s shot chart has been monotonous. Of his 41 shot attempts this year, 33 have come in the form of a jump shot, two dozen of those being of the 8-to-24-foot variety, with just 9 of them falling. Jack is immune to the efficiency of the corner three as well. All six of his long-distance heaves have come above the break, and while he’s sunk 50 percent so far, there is no way that will persist. Over the past his three full seasons, the 32-year-old has put up just a 32.4 percent clip on non-corner threes.

It’s not as though Jack is an unplayable guard. By league standards, his mid-range shooting is probably slightly above average. Leading a second unit offense in limited minutes, Jack’s lack of efficiency wouldn’t be so glaring. The problem is, the talent-bereft Nets have no choice but to start him. Shane Larkin is the next best point guard on the depth chart. When you combine his ball-dominance with 30-plus minutes a night, you end up with one of the league leaders in time of possession, per NBA.com.

Player MPG Time of Possession
1. Reggie Jackson, DET 33.5 9.1
2. Ricky Rubio, MIN 31.6 8.4
3. Russell Westbrook, OKC 35.5 8.4
4. Damian Lillard, POR 36.7 8.3
5. Kemba Walker, CHA 33.5 7.2
6. Mike Conley, MEM 29.6 6.9
7. John Wall, WAS 36.3 6.8
8. Chris Paul, LAC 32.5 6.8
9. Jarrett Jack 32.3 6.3
10. Kyle Lowry 34.2 6.3

Jack’s a misfit on this list. Everyone here, except the Nets’ starter, has enough playmaking or scoring ability that you can live with the ball being in their charge for such large chunks of the game.  Jack’s assist numbers are fine, but again that’s mainly by default. He lacks the creativity of the top guards in the league. All too often his assists are simple swings for open jumpers or easy drop-offs to Brook Lopez in the pick-and-pop. That’s all you really want from a reserve floor manager, but in his miscast role, Jack is entirely underwhelming.

Jack shares that trait with most of his teammates. Joe Johnson has been perfecting his boringly effective old-man game for a few years, and Brook Lopez is the king of plodding post-ups that, compared to other bigs, are very efficient. However, that type of offense itself isn’t exactly lucrative on a per-possession basis. The fun on this team is supposed to come from its youth — a collection of imperfect hyper-athletes who should liven up Twitter feeds with a Vine-able moment or two per night.

Markel Brown and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will surely add poster dunks to their résumés this season (and at least one of them will probably be involved in the Dunk Contest), but it hasn’t happened yet. Neither guy has thrashed a rim thus far.

Hollis-Jefferson remains one of the most tantalizing prospects in this year’s rookie class. He has that classic blend of raw athleticism and poor jump shooting that leaves you salivating for the day he refines his stroke and touch. We’re just not there yet:

RHJTouch

Former second-rounder Brown is unquestionably the less heralded of the two. It’s unclear if he possesses an NBA-level skill other than his hellacious rim-rocking. He’s not doing himself any favors by passing up open transition threes in exchange for Jack-esque free-throw line jumpers:

BrownShotSelection

It’s not as though Brown has ever shown he can stroke the three; he’s sinks only one of every four he takes. Yet, his career shot chart from all over the court is ugly, so why pass up the opportunity for an uncontested triple there?

That’s the reality we’re living in with this Brooklyn Nets team. Efficient and sexy have become synonymous terms in today’s NBA, and the Nets are neither. Previously out-of-date teams such as the Wizards and Hornets have embraced a more open, three-heavy style of play and have become exponentially more entertaining as a result. Brooklyn however, appears to be in for a prolonged rut.

It’s not the fault of the players or coach Hollins. The present and future of this team were sold in exchange for a half-hearted title chase led by past-prime versions of Paul Piece and Kevin Garnett. Consequently, the cupboard is bare, and the draft picks that should have provided reinforcements are in Boston’s possession a few hours up the road.

Until the choke-hold the Celtics have on the Nets is released, we’d better get used to the lumbering, inefficient Nets offense occupying the bottom rung of the NBA’s rankings. That is, of course, unless Brooklyn’s mega-rich owner can throw some money at a solution in the next two offseasons.

About Sean Woodley

Sean graduated from Ottawa's Carleton University with a Journalism Degree in 2014. Since then, he's regularly contributed at SB Nation's Toronto Raptors site, Raptors HQ, while writing and hosting podcasts for Crossover Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter (@WoodleySean), and email him at sean.woodley1@gmail.com if you're interested in exchanging food for written or spoken words.

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