Buy in goes a long way. When you lock in and focus on the details, you will succeed. If everyone is working as one, it makes a tough job a little bit easier. It took a while, but the Brooklyn Nets have bought in and are finally meeting expectations.
The low point of the season came on October 30 when the Indiana Pacers embarrassed the Nets at Barclays Center. The loss dropped Brooklyn to 1-5 on the season and a players-only meeting after the game. It was so bad then head coach, Steve Nash, didn’t sugarcoat his reaction and called the team’s defensive effort a disaster, among other things. It was about everything but basketball for the franchise as they dealt with one embarrassment after another.
With all of the mess from early November in the rearview, the Nets are back amongst the league’s elite. How did they do it? Let’s get into it.
Reach for the stars
Franchise players set the tone. They’re on the marquee, get the most attention, and are players the media go to first. It was a chaotic summer for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Nets management, but everything is back on the
Nets Republic’s and the host of the Nets Man Up podcast, Shane Castille, wrote:
“As long as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (7/11) are healthy, the Nets will be an elite and versatile offense due to the gravity they command and their comfortability scoring from everywhere. They’ve proven that regardless of the spacing/personnel around them they’re an elite offensive tandem, and I don’t expect that to change this season.”
And sure enough, 7/11 has proven Shane correct. Durant is eighth in scoring, averaging 29.7 points per game on .559/.376/.934 shooting splits. When you take into account the amount of attention he sees on defense, the pressure that’s on his shoulders, and the types of shots he takes, it makes his play even more breathtaking. Durant has been sensational on both sides of the ball and is a leading MVP candidate once again.
Not to be outdone, Irving has played at an All-Star level. The off-the-court drama threatened to derail his season again, but it’s been smooth sailing since his return. In his 29 games since his return, Irving is averaging around 27 points, five rebounds, and five assists on .498/.405/.892 shooting splits. The only other player close to 50/40/90 during that stretch? Kevin Durant! Groovy.
One of the great things about 7/11 is they can fit into any type of offensive system. They can score from anywhere, get to their spots all the time, and play with a special rhythm. The Nets like to get out in transition and will keep opponents off balance
Durant draws so much attention and if you’re quick with the ball, you can punish the mismatches he creates. There are spacing concerns with the starting five, but the team has worked around it.
Even when facing intense defense, you can trust Irving to make the right play. He has a (tough) layup, but shows great court vision and trust in his team. As a result, Yuta Watanabe made a clutch basket.
7/11 has shown a level of fight and leadership that was desperately missed last year. Everything is going right for Brooklyn, and the stars are to thank for that.
On the grind
Early on, the Nets were horrendous on the glass. Teams outworked and outmuscled the Nets as they played a passive type of ball. It was a problem Steve Nash acknowledged in that fateful interview following the Pacers loss.
The Nets are still in the bottom tier of teams in rebounding. However, that doesn’t tell the entire story. Jacque Vaughn has made rebounding a point of emphasis, and the team has responded. They’ve also turned the defense around in a major way. Since November 1st, the team has held opponents to only 45 percent shooting from the field, second-best in the NBA. They’re tops in blocks and sixth in defensive rating during that timeframe as well. That becomes even more impressive when you remember this team got obliterated by the Sacramento Kings on national TV. Along with that, they’ve been without Durant for most of January. It’s like night and day.
It’s great to have stars. However, if you want to make it far, you need depth up and down the roster. The Nets outside of 7/11 have blossomed into valuable players. Nic Claxton has helped turn Brooklyn’s defense into one of the league’s best and is an All-Star candidate. More on him shortly. TJ Warren has come back from his foot injury and has given the team a new dimension off the bench. Yuta Watanabe has been the signing of the summer and has grown into a key player and fan favorite. Royce O’Neale’s first day in Brooklyn was overshadowed by… other things! He had the responsibility of replacing Bruce Brown on the team and has done well so far. As our own Joe Makar wrote:
Many have already labeled Royce as the “glue guy” or the role player that will keep the team together on both offense and defense. While their skill sets are different, he has been deemed the Bruce Brown replacement. With his ability to keep a defense honest with his jump shot, Royce seemingly plays the role better than Bruce Brown had simply because of his long-range shooting.
O’Neale is one of the league leaders in minutes and a player everyone trusts.
More and more
Nic Claxton’s ascension has been the best Nets story this year. He had a rough 2021-2022 season as injury and a crowded center room kept him on the bench. With no one in front of him this time, Clax has played the best basketball of his young career. What you love about his game is you can see his confidence go through the roof every time he’s on the court.
Each game, you see him adding more to his repertoire and expanding his role on offense. He’s continued to be a menace on defense and is perfectly suited to handle any matchup he faces. Claxton has been the team’s third-best player and someone who will be a key part of the franchise going forward. At just 23 years old, Clax is a legitimate contender for the All-Star Game, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
As the Nets push through the rest of the season, they’re trying to stay in the top four of the Eastern Conference. Despite the temporary absence of Durant, the team still has a chance to go on a run and turn a nightmare beginning into a dream ending.