Brooklyn Nets: The building of an NBA legacy
The match was the much decorated and anticipated encounter to decide the battle of New York. It was Deron Williams vs. Carmelo Anthony, Avery Johnson vs. Mike Woodson, Jason Kidd as a Knicks player (although he didn’t play) against his legacy of being the greatest patriarch of the Nets franchise. The city was divided, the loyalties although not discrete had started to show the seams.
The borough of Brooklyn now housed what is truly the most spectacular basketball arena in the whole of the NBA, the Barclays Center. Jay Z got the branding and the designing done, and with their new-look mascot, a new logo and a very new legacy the Nets were on the threshold of history, on the bridge between immortality and anonymity.
The celebrities flanked the court-side; the arena was covered in a rather distributed canopy of orange and black. The chants of “Brooklynnn Brooklynnn” echoed in the rafters, but the announcement of the Knicks entry was met with a sizable applause and cheers. It was maybe a home game for the Nets, but not so much a hostile environment for the Knicks.
As the TV cameras cursorily floated the images of the crowd assembled, the image of two friends caught my attention. The two people were having a ball, cheering their teams or should I say cheering their respective teams. One of them was wearing a Knicks jersey, while the other sported a black hooded Brooklyn sweatshirt. They were obviously doing their best to cheer their teams, but were more than happy sharing their pop-corns and most probably also shared the ride back home.
It is too soon to judge the fealties and legacies, but one can safely assume that this inter-city encounter didn’t start with an atmosphere close to what one can expect from a Manchester derby or an El Classico. There is still not a black or an orange half of the city yet, as most fans are still trying to sort out their loyalties. The borough might have accepted the much depraved ball-club, but its allegiances were still to go through the capacious paradigm shift. The Nets looked to build a legacy of their own, but without the homogeneous undeviating support from their home crowd, it would never be a reality. Jay-Z might do his best to promote the club, but he surely can’t do enough to help the Nets identify with the borough and the city.
The Nets and the city of New York do go a long way back, a history far more vintage than the recent euphoria surrounding their migration. In fact, the name Nets is derived from combining the MLB’s New York Mets and the AFL’s New York Jets. The team was contrived to represent the city of New York, playing with the name of New York Americans in the ABA and were expected to be housed in the 69th regiment armory in Manhattan. The Knicks would however refuse to accept another team from New York, which forced the Nets to shift to New Jersey, while still continuing to play with the name of the New York Americans. With time, the dispute between the Knicks and the Nets only grew bigger and several times the Knicks management had a direct role in altering the franchise’s future. With so much history and disgruntlement’s behind them, the Nets would have to be overly optimistic to expect the people of the city to swear piety so early into their tenure.
However, the only thing working for them is that the city of New York is famed for its openness and adaptability, for its idealism’s and its dreams, as well as having the desire and the passion to bedizen its heroes. The city may not be ready to swear by the Nets yet, but with the Nets putting up the performances and results that they have, the mood in the borough has certainly seen a prominent change.
In their 17 matches so far, the Nets have reigned supreme on 11 occasions and their major victories include their wins against the Knicks and the Clippers. They may have faltered against the likes of the Heat and the Thunder, but the early signs are promising enough. Coach Avery Johnson has a pretty adept and complete roster at his disposal and his philosophy of defense and toughness has become the identity of this roster. The Nets may not have had the hype of the Lakers, but with the likes of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace suiting up for the ball-club, the Nets are a legitimate SUPER-TEAM.
If you look at their roster and see the insuperable scoring abilities of a Joe Johnson and the dexterous Brook Lopez to go with the infectious energy of a Kris Humphries and the basketball IQ and athleticism of a Gerald Wallace, complemented by the play-making wizardry of a Deron Williams, you can’t be faulted to expect a free-scoring team which likes to play a high-tempo game. Maybe a George Karl would call such plays, but Avery Johnson is not your quintessential offense-minded old-school coach. He isn’t trying to eulogize the concept of floor spacing and ball rotation, as he is aware that the strengths of the team lies in exploiting the indomitable isolation sets that the likes of Lopez, Johnson and Williams can deploy. As a player he was more than happy playing off David Robinson on the low-post and he gives his team players a free reign on the offensive end of the floor.
There are almost no patterns or sets being deployed, as players attempt to exploit mismatches and use off-ball screens to force switches. Deron Williams gets to use his repertoire of behind the back moves and cross-overs to get an open step-back jumper or to get to the paint. Joe Johnson gets to impose himself on the high-post and shoot his signature 20-feet fade-aways. Brook Lopez gets to use his post-moves on the low-post. The three players with their supreme abilities in an isolation set force the opposition to double-teams, and this allows the players like Humphries and Wallace to make the back-door cuts and roll to the ring. Lopez, Johnson and Williams have shown the awareness to recognize the weak-side help and have exploited the defensive rotations to find the cutting Wallace or Humphries for an easy finish at the rim. The offense may not be pretty, but is surely effective. They are averaging over 96 points per game and have managed to do so at over 44% shooting from the field.
However, the Nets have struggled on many fronts on the offensive end of the floor. They have shot abysmally from beyond the arc, and are among the worst in the league in that department. The worse fact is that most of the three’s that the Nets take is from kick-outs off a double-team and are mostly open looks. It may not be much of a factor now, but if the Nets envisage a deep run into the play-offs they will have to start making the open shots. Nobody needs to state the importance of these shots, as the latest exploits of a certain Battier and Mike Miller in the NBA Finals of 2012 is validation enough for the same.
On the defensive end of the floor, the story has been much brighter. With adept perimeter defensive players in Wallace, Johnson and Williams, the Nets have managed to create a defensive identity much similar to what Avery Johnson was famed for in his days with the Spurs. They are always putting pressure on the opposition wing-men, forcing turnovers and earning steals. With the trio patrolling the perimeter, there are no open looks beyond the arc, and the opposition team players are forced to put the ball on the floor and try to go against the length and size of Lopez and Humphries in the paint. They force tougher shots, and lead the league in terms of 3-point shots allowed. Not surprisingly, they force teams to play more of an isolation game, breaking their offensive flow and have turned almost all their encounters into a feisty grind-fest. They only allow a meager 92.6 points per game, and have the 3rd best defense in the league.
However, for a team that tries to funnel the opposition into the paint and force contested shots, the Nets big-men do not do a very admirable job in terms
of blocking and altering shots. Lopez may be averaging 2.5 block shots per game but the number is pretty flattering considering his defensive intensity and energy. Lopez and Humphries average a total of 14 rebounds per game and considering the length and ability of the two players, the numbers surely need to improve.
On a generic level the Nets have shown a lot of hope and there are many positives to be seen. The league and the media have certainly taken notice to the resurgent ball-club and with its celebrity backed management, cheaper tickets and a far more popular mascot; things are on a definite upside. And all this with Deron Williams still to get into his groove, and play his best basketball. They might have faltered against the Thunder, but the Nets would take much heart from their performance and offensive effusiveness. Williams had his best game against the Thunder and Humphries was a beast down low. The pieces seem to be coming around, and the team has been able to chart a distinctive identity this year. With the Knicks also playing great basketball and churning out one victory after another, the inter-city rivalry promises a lot for the future. Which team becomes the identity of the ambrosial and hypnagogic city, is still to be seen. The Knicks aren’t ready to give up the baton, while the Nets are no push-overs either. Expect this rivalry to witness many hyperbolic performances in the future.