After entering the 2020-21 NBA season as potential title contenders, the Brooklyn Nets have stumbled a bit out of the gates with just three wins in their first seven games of the campaign.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have been as advertised with a combined 55 points per game between them through Brooklyn’s 3-4 start, but after this week’s news of Durant’s week-long quarantine as well as the season-ending ACL injury to Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets are still looking to find their stride.
“It’s early. We can’t lose our minds over it, we can’t get overly frustrated, we can’t feel too much tension. There’s a lot of really good teams that are still trying to find themselves,” head coach Steve Nash said following Brooklyn’s 123-122 loss to the Wizards last Sunday night. “We’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, so here we are."
ADJUSTMENT No. 1 – LIMIT TURNOVERS
This past Sunday the Nets out-rebounded the Wizards 51-49 but allowed Washington 23 additional field goal attempts over the course of the game, including 23 points off 20 total Brooklyn turnovers.
“I’m turning the ball over too much,” Kevin Durant said following Sunday’s game after a 28-point, 11-rebound, 7-assist effort for the Nets. “Sometimes you’ve just got to find a balance between knowing when to shoot or when to pass, but it’s tough when you’re controlling the offense a lot. I could live with two or three [turnovers], but six of them is too much for me and I’ve got to just tone it down if our team wants to be successful.”
With 16.6 turnovers per game so far, the Nets are among the bottom seven teams in the NBA in that category with only the Cavs, Sixers, Thunder, Knicks, Bulls and Heat averaging more turnovers a night through the early going.
ADJUSTMENT No. 2 – CRASH THE OFFENSIVE GLASS
Another adjustment the Nets should look to make as they try to right the ship is an emphasis on rebounding on the offensive end.
As a team, the Nets are averaging 47.4 rebounds per game as of Jan. 3 -- good for the ninth-best in the NBA -- but only 9.6 of those are of the offensive variety, ranking 16th in the league. Sunday’s result highlighted how much this area can affect the outcome of games as the Nets nabbed just seven offensive rebounds to Washington’s 13, including a minus-13 differential in second-chance points (17-4).
Luckily for Brooklyn, the Nets roster features one of the most prolific offensive rebounders in the league this season in Jarrett Allen, who ranks second in the NBA with 3.7 offensive boards per game.
Sunday’s matchup ultimately came down to just a single point deciding the victory, so the Nets still had a chance to steal the game if either KD or Kyrie’s final-possession shot attempts had found the net, but better rebounding could have kept it from being such a close battle.
ADJUSTMENT No. 3 – GET CARIS LEVERT GOING
Steve Nash has made clear his hopes to solidify Caris LeVert, now in his fifth year with the Nets, as the team’s go-to floor general with the second unit.
In the wake of Durant’s short-term absence and the lengthier loss of guard Spencer Dinwiddie, LeVert’s role will be that much more important as the central force leading the second unit. Over his last three games, though, he’s been trending the wrong way for the Nets.
After a season-high 28 points against the Grizzlies on Dec. 28 (with no Durant or Irving on the floor), LeVert has averaged just eight points in roughly 25 minutes per night across his last three outings. Sunday’s game saw LeVert tally a season-low six points, although he did chip in five assists, five rebounds and three blocks.
If the Nets want to fulfill their championship expectations this season, LeVert will have to take a more aggressive role going forward while finding a way to impact the scoring column with as much playing time as Nash is giving him. With Durant’s minutes and scoring ability now shelved for the next four games, this could be LeVert’s chance to spread his wings.
There are still 65 regular-season games to go and the Nets have proven they can be one of the most formidable offenses in the league with 118.0 PPG so far (fourth in the NBA), so Brooklyn’s roster and coaching staff are right to avoid too much early panic.
“It’s just taking time,” said Kyrie Irving on Sunday night. “It’s not going to be put together overnight, nor am I expecting it to, nor am I going to get frustrated over six games or however many games we’ve played. The object of this regular season is to continue to get better and to prepare for the 16 wins in the playoffs, so I’m just going to enjoy this.”
The Nets return to action tonight as they get set for the Utah Jazz in a matchup at Barclays Center in Brooklyn (7 p.m. on YES).