The Brooklyn Nets’ have had an impressive off-season. Not really going out on a limb there, I know. But the roster isn’t without it’s flaws.
Age and durability are the main things that may threaten to slow down the Net’s quest for a championship, with an opening night starting lineup that includes 37-year old Kevin Garnett and 36-year old Paul Pierce, and a host of role players that are well into their thirties. But there is another clear Achilles’ heel for owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s club: perimeter defense.
Top guards Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Jason Terry, and Shaun Livingston are not exactly known as stoppers. Far from it, in fact. Williams has been one of the worst defensive point guards in the league in his Nets career. Sure, he’s been banged up a fair amount, but effort and positioning have both certainly played roles in his defensive shortcomings.
Take, for example, the following still shots from this year’s playoff match-up with the Chicago Bulls. (Yes, this is just one example. Everyone has a bad possession every now and again. But this was a recurring theme, I promise.)
Derrick Rose didn’t play, so Nate Robinson was really the only potential threat to penetrate into the lane and cause havoc from within the heart of the Nets’ defense. For whatever reason, Williams all too often spaced on the fact that Robinson was the Bulls main offensive threat, both off the dribble and on the catch.
In the below shot, Robinson had dribbled the ball up the court and passed off to the right wing. He didn’t so much as fake, or even jab-step towards the paint, and instead slowly jogged to the corner. Williams entirely turned his head, ignoring the wide-open, shot-happy guard standing alone in the corner, and instead chose to “clog” the lane by lingering near the elbow.
There’s Deron, with both feet in the paint and his head turned. The player with the ball? Marco Belinelli. Not Derrick Rose. Not Luol Deng. Not even the likes of Kirk Hinrich. Marco Belinelli, spot-up shooter extraordinaire. He’s not looking to get deep into the pain. Help defense is vital, obviously, but not the extent of the overplay that Williams commits here.
After Belinelli uses the screen by Joakim Noah, he takes a couple dribbles to his left and sees Robinson standing all by himself, the only player on the entire left side of the court. Williams’ help should come lower on the floor, so the distance back to his man would be much shorter. By helping at the top of the lane, there is no hope to recover back to Robinson in the corner.
Sure enough, when Williams realizes that Belinelli (now with three Nets standing between him and the paint, and two more under the hoop) has spotted an open Nate Robinson, he whips his head around to where he thought Nate would be standing. But of course, Robinson continued to slide to the corner, where he would have a wide open shot at three points.
Look at how far away Williams is when Robinson is loading up for the shot. The Nets paid the price for Williams’ excessive help on a player that doesn’t often take the ball to the basket in Belinelli, and a dangerous shooter in Robinson was left alone in the corner.
By the way, Robinson shot 50.5% over seven games against the Nets, scoring 17 points per contest and giving Williams and his teammates fits. Robinson shot 40.5% for the season, and just 36.5% the year before. If only he could play against Deron Williams every game….