Well, they've finally started to figure it out. The Nets were on a five-game winning streak until Saturday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors, and they now they look to begin a new streak in London, as they venture overseas to play the Hawks. The Eastern Conference’s eighth seed has finally gotten past their horrific start and their previous bad spell of losing six out of seven.
Throughout this streak, the Nets beat the hottest team in basketball, the Warriors, as well as the Thunder and the Heat. What is it that has ignited the team out of nowhere?
Spark by Deron Williams
Although he has been hurt over the team's last three games, Deron Williams gave the Nets a good start as he put them on the right track with some efficient play in the games against the Thunder and the Cavs.
Against the Thunder, Williams arguably had his best game of the season, logging both his season high in points (29) and steals (5). Although he was not able to add his max amount of assists (4), he shot the lights out, going 10-17 from the floor and making six of nine threes. This was the seventh time he had made six or more three-pointers in a game, the first time since last March. After his explosive barrage of threes, Williams was only able to go 1-3 from behind the arc and 6-9 from inside the line, ending up with 21 points.
However, now Williams is out, so how have they adjusted without their superstar point guard?
Livingston, I Presume?
After Williams went down, his understudy, Shaun Livingston, took the reigns and stepped his game up. Although he is definitely one of the most efficient players in the league (-1.3 nERD and 13.85 PER), he has been able to take charge as of late. In the final three games of the wining streak, Livingston averaged 14.7 PPG on 54.5% shooting. His defense was great as well, as he tore down 6.7 RPG, averaged 2.7 SPG and swatted nearly two shots a game.
While he has previously shown that he has the ability to produce high scoring numbers, scoring 15-plus points twice, he does not usually do everything else as well. Prior to the win streak, the 2004 first-round draft pick was shooting 43.8% from the field and was only averaging 2.6 RPG.
The biggest difference for Livingston in this stretch was the amount of minutes he played per game, nearly double the amount he previously averaged per game. Maybe Livingston needs to realize that he shouldn’t force shots in his limited time and play smart like he showed he can.
During a season with so much disappointment for Brooklyn, one bright spot for this squad has been the consistency of Joe Johnson. He has played in the most games of any starter, missing only one, and averaging the second most PPG. He only trails Brook Lopez, who has played in half of the games Johnson has. Like Livingston however, Johnson has been inefficient with his play as a whole, logging a 14.80 PER when he is expected to be one of the Nets best scorers.
In the second half of the win streak, Johnson was able to step up his scoring. He shot 50% from the floor and scored 23, 27 and 32 points in the three games. He has been adding a small amount other statistics, which is why he is not one of the most efficient options in the league.
Although they haven’t played an immense amount, the Nets have been able to get a helpful hand from Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee off the bench.
Blatche was productive in three of the four games he helped in during the streak, averaging 10 PPG throughout the run. Blatche continues to display that, if he is given a large sum of minutes, his numbers will soar. When he plays 20-29 minutes he is scoring 12.9 PPG and averaging 5.8 boards per game, and when he plays 30 or more minutes per game he's scoring 21.0 PPG, getting 8.3 RPG. Blatche has the best PER on the team after Lopez at 18.46, just outside of cracking the top 50 in the league.
Plumlee is averaging just over 16 MPG, five less than Blatche, yet he has a better nERD ranking of 1.8, putting him 34 slots ahead of Blatche in our player power rankings. While his per game averages are very average for a role player, his averages per 36 minutes are much more impressive. Per 36 minutes, Plumlee is averaging 7 more points, .9 more blocks, .7 more steals and 3.9 more rebounds than his per game average. Although he didn’t bring much to the table during the winning streak, the middle Plumlee is starting to show he can be a productive role man in the NBA. Don’t be surprised when he starts to have a more meaningful role every night.
The team's star center’s right foot has most expecting him to be out for the season. In the few games he played this season, the team was 7-10. And since his last game on December 20th, they're 6-5.
While they have not prospered as much as the Raptors since Rudy Gay came back to the states, going 13-4 since he went to Sacramento, it's worth noting that yet another Atlantic Division team is doing better without the guy who was recognized as their “best player.” This doesn’t mean that the Nets are always going to be better off without the former Stanford Cardinal, but it shows how the boys from Brooklyn are finally starting to work together as a unit, much like their inter conference rivals up north.