Give And Go: Which teams can turn it around and who’s for real?
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Examining the teams that appear to have turned it around, and teams that need turning around, after two weeks of the 2013-14 season. (All stats and records are through Nov. 14.)
1. The Nets are 2-5 with a payroll that exceeds $100 million. How can they turn this around?
Rob Mahoney: Through better offensive flow. Brooklyn plays like a team thinking entirely too hard about its offense. Every move is so deliberate as to sap a possession of its continuity, with a group of new, well-meaning teammates looking to do right by one another to a fault. There’s no momentum from one action to the next — no defender slightly out of position, no offensive player set up to field an easy pass before taking the play in a different direction. It’s all so doggedly straightforward that this incredibly deep, talented roster ranks only 27th in points scored per possession. The Nets will get better. The only question is how much the Nets will be able to bridge the divide between their current, depressing scoring marks and the expectation inspired by a team with so many shooters and shot creators.
I tend to think they’ll ultimately fall closer to the latter than the former, particularly once the newness of the Nets’ roster situation sinks in and the players have a better feel for how they can best contribute in first-year coach Jason Kidd’s offense. There’s bound to be better timing on kick-out passes from the block and more hope of the ball swinging to the right spot on the floor. The pick-and-roll execution stands to be far cleaner, particularly as Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett (who’s had a hell of a time converting wide-open shots as a floor spacer) establish a better rhythm. All of those elements will feed into one another, provided the Nets can find ways to make their offense operation a bit more dynamic. The talent is there. The balance is there. Everything is just stagnant right now with the foundation so stilted. Give it time.
Ben Golliver: This team has snatched the “Whole is significantly smaller than the sum of its parts” mantle from last year’s Lakers in record time. I agree that the underlying issue is uncertainty over the offensive pecking order, for which I blame Williams more than anyone else.
If Dwight Howard didn’t exist, I suspect that Williams would be the target of triple the national media animosity that he currently receives. Last year was “put up or shut up” time for Williams after his big extension and drawn-out free agency process; the 2012-13 Nets season, as we all know, was decidedly lacking in the “put up” department. Instead, Williams dealt with questions about his conditioning and health, he suffered through stretches of uneven play, he was blamed (at least partially) for a midseason coaching change and the Nets lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Brooklyn entered this season with a stacked roster on paper. But Williams sat out most of the exhibition season, and his only real preseason work came when he was doing push-ups on the sideline to celebrate three-pointers. Now, seven games into the season, his numbers are unsightly, his Player Efficiency Rating ranks among the worst for starting point guards and Brooklyn’s offense is a mess. What else can go wrong? Elite point guards should make their teammates better, their coach better and their organization better; such expectations once seemed reasonable for Williams, but it’s been so long since he’s been a consistently dominant force that the doubt cloud is really mushrooming here.
A Nets turnaround– one that puts them in a position to make noise in the postseason — starts with Williams tapping into the Dr. Jekyll game he showed down the stretch of last season. Mr. Hyde won’t cut it, not even when he’s surrounded by perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. In the short term, I think that means calling his own number more often and redistributing some of Brooklyn’s possessions so that Brook Lopez — who is taking his fewest shots since 2009-10 — is featured more prominently.
2. Cleveland (3-6), Washington (2-6) and Detroit (2-5) all made moves to position themselves for the playoffs, and all three are stuck below .500. Which of the three teams has the best chance to pull itself out of the muck?
Golliver: What a “least of three evils” proposition this is. Who or what do I trust most: Pistons coach Mo Cheeks trying to sort out ill-fitting roster parts; a brick-heavy Cavaliers offense that’s on its fourth straight year of miserable efficiency; or a Wizards team that’s already produced a Randy Wittman post-game meltdown and harsh words from Nene?
As much as it pains me to say this, I’ll go with the Pistons. A tough stretch that has included four consecutive losses to teams enjoying nice starts — Indiana, Oklahoma City, Portland and Golden State — has submarined Detroit’s record and efficiency numbers. That November’s murderer’s row has given Detroit a top-five strength of schedule.
I expected more from the Pistons’ defense, given the acquisition of Josh Smith and the size problems they can present, and their No. 30 ranking in efficiency surely won’t last. Right? Their below-average rebounding rate won’t last. Right? As frustrating as their offense can be — the Pistons are 28th in three-point percentage and Smith is letting it rip from deep more than five times per game, an unconscionable rate — that side of the ball has actually been cause for optimism. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are off to productive starts, even if Cheeks needs to stagger the Drummond/Monroe/Smith trio, as that group possesses a terrible -15.7 net rating when used together. Combine the rough schedule and the unexpectedly skewed early numbers, and I’m inclined to believe Detroit is the biggest underachiever from this bunch. I’m not totally sold on the Pistons’ ceiling, but they are better than this.
Mahoney: I’ll take the Wizards, who are the best of the three teams in pace-adjusted scoring margin. Going deeper, though, I just don’t believe that Washington’s defense, which is ranked 20th, is as poor as is broadly represented. The starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat has defended remarkably well, allowing a level of scoring per possession that would rank in the top five on a team level. The damage is being done deeper in the rotation, and though there might be little way around playing problematic defenders such as Kevin Seraphin and Al Harrington, I think there’s still enough lineup wiggle room for Washington to shore up things.
Plus, the Wizards have lost some winnable games while trudging through one the 10 toughest schedules. A little more time could help Wall find his shot (enough to top the 40 percent mark, anyway), Nene get a touch healthier (he’s averaging just 29.7 minutes) and some younger players to settle into their roles. There’s a playoff team in here somewhere, if also one that predictably blows leads late in games and lets opponents hang around far longer than it should.