Dissecting the Nets, on Brink of Historic Losing Streak

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Dissecting the Nets, on Brink of Historic Losing Streak I wrote a column back in August predicting the Nets as a dark horse to make the playoffs.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more wrong.

The young club is on the verge of tying the NBA record for most losses to start a season. They’re currently 0-16 and are set to face two of the league’s premier teams (Los Angeles and Dallas) Sunday and Wednesday. Barring an unthinkable upset, in other words, New Jersey’s about to make history.

And the record’s no anomaly. The Nets rank dead last — or just about — in nearly every major statistical category.

So what went wrong?

To be fair to both New Jersey and my prediction, there have been few teams in sports history more wracked by injuries than this club:

Devin Harris, the Nets’ All-Star point guard, has missed 10 games with a groin injury and been limited in two others.

Yi Jianlian, the franchise power forward, has sat 12 and remains out with a knee sprain.

Starting shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts has missed three games; Trenton Hassell four; Courtney Lee seven; and Bobby Simmons three.

Recently-fired head coach Lawrence Frank, in turn, was forced to start 11 different guys for at least a game, and the season is just 16 contests deep. Even scarier for those Nets fans out there, Hassell is second on the team in minutes. Trenton Hassell, the same guy who played his college ball at Austin Peay and had started 36 games in the past two seasons.

No doubt about it: This team has been playing short-handed just about the entire season. But that’s not ample excuse enough for an 0-16 start, with an average point differential worse than minus-10.

Harris, for one, has seemingly shifted from break-out All-Star a year ago to nothing more than a middle-tier ball hog Some of the drop-off can be explained by his sore groin, but check out the 26-year-old’s line: 15.3 points on a miserable 33 percent shooting (including 0-for-13 from 3-point range), 2.5 turnovers and 5.7 assists.

Last season, it was: 21.3 points on 44 percent shooting and 7.0 assists per game.

Part of the reason for that drop off is that Harris is being asked to do more. Without Vince Carter in the back-court, the point guard’s attempting almost the same number of shots per game this season as last, despite seeing six fewer minutes of court time because of injury. Many of those shots are forced, Harris misses, and the club suffers.

Problem is — Brook Lopez aside — Harris’ teammates can’t score, either. The Nets rank last in the NBA in points, at a mere 85.6 per, and are just better than 40 percent from the field as a team, also dead last in the league.

That deficit is at least partly explained by New Jersey’s inability to spread the floor with the 3-ball. Name a deep threat on the Nets? You can’t, right? They’re a collective 26 percent from beyond the arc on the season (the NBA’s worst mark), allowing defenses to cram the paint and bottle up Lopez.

Which leads us to New Jersey’s next problem: It’s soft in the low block. Lopez, to be sure, is a silver lining. The second-year center leads the team in points (17.9), rebounds (nine), blocks (2.5) and field-goal percentage (47).

But that’s where New Jersey’s post game ends. With Yi out, Eduardo Najera and Josh Boone take turns starting at power forward, averaging just 237 pounds between them. No wonder, then, that the Nets rank 22nd in the league in free-throw attempts and average a minus-2.4 in rebounding. They’re soft, bottom line, and teams are eating up them up in the paint.

The last bastion of New Jersey’s ineptitude is, of course, its youth. The average starter is in his mid-20s, with youngsters like Lee and Terrence Williams coming off the bench. That lack of experience, no doubt, contributes to the Nets’ 27th-worst mark on turnovers (16.4) and poor shot selection.

Lopez, after all, is the team’s most efficient shooter, at 47 percent. Los Angeles, New Jersey’s next opponent, has four guys with higher field-goal percentages than that. Two of them are guards. And speaking of the Lakers, a quick Sasha Vujacic note: For those as interested in his demise as I am, he’s shooting under 30 percent from the field and now sees just eight minutes a game.

The Nets, in other words, are en route to make history of the most unfortunate kind. But lament not, New Jersey fan: Just 66 more games of misery.

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