Five Questions The Brooklyn Nets Must Answer
On Nov. 1, the Brooklyn era will officially begin as the Nets host the New York Knicks at the Barclays Center.
“We want to be a team this year that puts on its hard hat,” said Avery Johnson on Media Day. “We want to be a team that takes on the personality of Brooklyn, which is a hardworking community."
General manager Billy King overhauled the roster with nine new additions hoping to put a winning product on the floor for Brooklyn.
With that in mind, here are five questions the Nets must answer to become a contender in the franchise’s inaugural season in Brooklyn:
1. With nine new players, how long will it take to build team chemistry?
If you took chemistry in high school, you know that combining the wrong elements can blow up in your face. Even the greatest players assembled on the 1992 Dream Team had to practice together in order build camaraderie and dominate the Olympics.
The Miami Heat’s start to the “Big Three” era during 2010-11 season showed us chemistry takes time to build. The Heat went 9-8 over the first 17 games before winning 21 of 22 games and eventually losing in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.
On Media Day, Joe Johnson seemed confident the Nets would be able to gel quickly.
“I think in November we should get off to a great start,” said Johnson. “There's no reason and no excuse. We've got a bunch of guys that are hungry and want to do the right thing.”
On the other hand, Deron Williams gave no timetable for the team’s chemistry to develop.
“It's one of those things where you never know how fast a team can come together and how fast things are going to come together,” said Williams. “I think our veteran leadership is going to help. We have guys that are proven at this level.”
Last season, Williams had little opportunity to develop pick-and-roll chemistry with Brook Lopez who played in only five games. Additionally, Gerald Wallace was acquired at the trade deadline and only played in the team’s final 16 games while Williams was sidelined for 11 of those games. Lastly, despite being called “the best backcourt in the NBA” by King, Williams and Johnson have yet to play in a regular season game together. Over the past year, the Knicks dominated the back of the major New York papers because of chemistry issues between Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. The Nets hope to grab the headlines because of an improved record, not chemistry issues.
2. Can Joe Johnson adjust his game?
For seven seasons with Atlanta, Joe Johnson was the alpha dog of a Hawks' team that made five trips to the playoffs. Now Johnson comes to Brooklyn as the Robin to Williams’ Batman. Johnson is confident he can make the adjustment.
“I get a chance to really play off Deron and Brook a lot,” said Johnson. “Maybe do a lot more catch-and-shoot. Not a whole lot of one-on-one and creating trying to break down defenses. My role will change, but it'll be a great change.”
Gone are the days of “Iso-Joe” in Atlanta where the team would clear the floor and allow Johnson to operate one-on-one beyond the arc or on the wing. The offense will run through Williams with the ball in his hands as the primary playmaker. However, there will be times where Johnson is the primary ball handler and scoring option when Williams is on the bench. Thanks to Johnson’s ball handling and passing ability, he could also be used in pick-and-rolls with Lopez occasionally.
3. Can Brook Lopez stay healthy?
Before missing all but five games last season, Lopez played all 82 games in each of the previous three seasons for a consecutive streak of 246 consecutive games played.
Joe Johnson explained the importance of having Lopez as the man in the middle for a full season on Media Day.
“Brook is big,” said Johnson. “We're definitely going to need Brook to clog up the paint and make it tough for opposing teams, especially if they get down there or past us. We have to have confidence in him that he can make a play.”
When healthy, Lopez has shown the ability to be an efficient scorer based on his field goal percentage (.504), true shooting percentage (.560), and free throw percentage (.796). Lopez can hit the 18-footer on a pick-and-pop, use his right-handed hook shot anywhere around the paint, and finish around the rim by dunking or shooting over defenders.
If Lopez can stay healthy, improve his woeful rebounding totals, and patrol the paint for the Nets, he can become the Top-5 center King and coach Johnson have labeled him and big a key contributor to many Brooklyn victories.
“I don't think I've been this excited for the season to come in my entire time being in the league,” said Lopez.
4. Will Avery Johnson’s contract status become a distraction?
When Johnson was hired to coach the Nets, he held the highest winning percentage of all-time (.735) with a 194-70 record during his time with the Dallas Mavericks. Since then, Johnson has led the Nets to a 46-102 record (.311 winning percentage) over two seasons with the team in rebuilding mode. However, after Mikhail Prokhorov spent roughly $332 million this offseason, there’s immense pressure on Johnson to win immediately.
Johnson spoke about dealing with the added pressure at Media Day.
“I've been waiting for this pressure for two years where there’s pressure on us to win,” said Johnson. “Expectations are a lot higher. This is what we want. This is what we sign up for.”
Despite being in the final year of his contract after two losing seasons, many of the players support Johnson.
Kris Humphries, who has posted back-to-back career years under Johnson, praised his work ethic.
“Coach Johnson has an unbelievable attention to detail,” said Humphries.
Lopez, who has received criticism from Johnson for his low rebounding production, also praised his coach.
“He's a very tenacious and tough-minded coach, defensive minded,” said Lopez. “He's very excited for this unit.”
Deron Williams explained why his bond with Johnson goes back many years and how both see the game from a similar perspective.
“I think one of the reasons me and coach (Johnson) have a great relationship is because we're both point guards, having a great understanding of the game,” said Williams. “I just have a lot of respect for him as a player. I grew up watching him when he was with San Antonio. I watched him play a lot. I saw him win a championship and he has a lot offer as far as knowing the game from the point guard position.”
Even foreign import Mirza Teletovic, who has never played for Johnson, has heard good things about his newest coach.
“He's a great coach,” said Teletovic. “He has a lot of experience. He played in the NBA and then he coached. He's a really dedicated guy and likes his job. I'm sure that he has time for everybody to try to make this a winning team."
Johnson said contract talks have been discussed, but they will remain private between Nets management and ownership.
5. After being decimated by injuries last season, are the Nets deep enough to withstand any injuries?
King signed free agents with valuable playoff experience (C.J. Watson and Reggie Evans), signed arguably the best player in Europe (Teletovic), and took a chance on an amnestied player that still has potential (Andray Blatche).
MarShon Brooks, last year’s starting shooting guard, moves to the bench with the acquisition of Joe Johnson. Brooklyn hopes Brooks will become the team’s leading scorer off the bench and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.