Mason Plumlee is starting to shake off the dreaded sophomore slump.
After totaling just two starts in the Nets’ first 19 games (zero starts since November 3), Plumlee has started the last five contests for the Nets and has averaged 16.2 points and 9.6 rebounds.
Over that five game stretch, Plumlee is shooting 58.6 percent from the field.
The Nets have been brutal to watch lately, except for Plumlee, who is finally being given a chance to shine in the offense. With Brook Lopez out, Plumlee has given the Nets an alternative by being exactly what Lopez is not: a big man down low that will not post up and will touch the ball only to emphatically slam in home. It’s been refreshing, because Plumlee shouldn’t try to be any more than that. He’s big, athletic, and extremely capable in the paint. He draws attention down low, creating space for the Nets’ wing shooters, and it allows Brooklyn better ball movement. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his foul shooting is awful (he’s 41.1 percent from the line this year, compared to 62.6 percent last season), but that’s really been the only flaw in his game lately.
Back when I wrote this report card on November 27, Plumlee was shooting just 39.7 percent overall from the field,and averaging 18.7 points per 100 possessions. His overall numbers are now at 48.6 shooting and 21.7 points per 100 possessions. Lopez’s injury has finally given Lionel Hollins a reason to let Plumlee be Plumlee, all the while making the Nets more comfortable envisioning a world where Lopez calls another city home.
Bojan Bogdanovic is not your typical rookie. At 25, he’s had gobs of success at the international level, including several solid showings against NBA opponents in exhibition games. However, the first 24 games of Bojan’s career have not been what many have expected, as he has struggled mightily to find his place in the Nets’ rotation.
Bogdanovic is an interesting case, because of his size and skill set. He’s quick enough to sneak to the basket and get opportunities, and his shot from long range can be lethal. Bojan has been seen spotting up in the corner to success, but inside the arc anywhere from 10-18 feet is where things get ugly. Overall, Bogdanovic has averaged 8.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 24 games. On the defensive side of the ball, he checks in with a 109 defensive rating, which isn’t great, and has seemed overmatched at times by lighter, faster shooting guards who can beat him off the dribble.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature of his game culminated last week in Bogdanovic losing his starting role to Sergey Karasev, who seems poised to keep it once he returns from a minor injury. But moving to the bench hasn’t done anything to prevent Bojan’s game from running hot and cold. In Brooklyn’s back-t0-back wins against Philadelphia and Charlotte, he was a combined 8-for-12 from the field, including 5-for-8 from long range. His next two games, though, he combined to shoot 2-for-9 in 33 minutes of work. Yikes.
In fact, when you omit those two sparkling performances in the Nets’ only two wins in their last seven, Bogdanovic shot 5-for-20 dating back to December 5. That includes three games scorers of 0.4 or lower (bottoming out at -2.0 against the Cavs on December 10), and five games of a negative +/- differential.
As long as his performance fluctuates so much, there are going to be questions about Bogdanovic’s ability to play at the NBA level. That means the jury is still out on Bogdanovic, which has to concern the Nets given the financial investment they have in their Bosnian rookie. Only time will tell if he can pull himself out of these recent doldrums.
Seventy six to seventy three. The Nets trailed by three. The Raptors, clad in their purple throwback uniforms in front of a raucous crowd on hand to see “Drake Night,” started the fourth with the ball. Greivis Vasquez drove to the basket and missed, giving the Nets a golden opportunity to get within one and settle in for a fight to the finish. Instead, they melted down, eventually leaving the court to a refrain that some that root for the Nets may even agree with: “Brooklyn sucks!”
Cory Jefferson missed a 10-footer on the Nets’ first possession of the fourth quarter, and from that point, is was all downhill. Toronto outscored the Nets 29-16 in the final stanza, as the Atlantic-leading Raptors made Brooklyn look like they were standing still. The defense broke down, the offense got lazy. In short, it was a mess. Deron Williams’ giveaway with 5:46 felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it led to a Kyle Lowry bucket that extended the Toronto lead to 90-79 and seemingly put the game out of reach.
“We gave them a battle for three quarters and then we kind of fell apart,” Lionel Hollins told reporters after the game.
Um, you think?
In the fourth, the Nets were a horrifically-bad 5-for-13 from the field and an identical, and even more pathetic, 5-of-13 from the line. Joe Johnson missed three consecutive foul shots after he was hacked on a long-range attempt. Mason Plumlee couldn’t hit a foul shot if his lie depended on it (though I’ll give Plumlee a break, considering he was the Nets’ best player on Wednesday). They may not be saying it (because why would they?), but this sure looks like a team that has packed it in.
“A lot of mistakes, turnovers, and defensive breakdowns,” Plumlee said when asked to descibe what went wrong. “I don’t think it was being tired or anything.”
I’d rather blame it on fatigue. The idea that this team — with their huge payroll and two players (Johnson and Williams) who should be able to take the team on their back on any given night — would just fold as a result of sloppy basketball is infinitely more frustrating than chalking it up to 96 minutes in a matter of 24 hours. But Plumlee is right. This didn’t look like a tired club. It looked like an indifferent one. How are Nets fans supposed to get behind that?
“I’m down every time we lose,” Williams told reporters. “Especially when I’m not making the plays I need to. I didn’t make them [Tuesday] night and then [Wednesday], the same thing: missing shots in the second half. I’ve just got to play better.”
This ship is going down in a hurry, and every player on the Nets needs to make it their mission to get it on the right track. It was just over a year ago that the Nets mortgaged their next decade of drafts in exchange for veteran leadership. How about we get treated to some before it’s too late.
Recap: Brooklyn fell to Toronto, 105-89, as they suffered their second consecutive loss.
Need to Know: Mason Plumlee picked up his second straight 20-plus point game netting a career-high 23 points and 8 rebounds. But Plumlee’s offensive burst was unable to halt the Raptors as they bulldozed over the Nets 105-89.
The Nets set the pace in the first quarter but trailed by one heading into the half. From then on, Brooklyn steadily lost momentum as the Raptors ultimately outshot the Nets 29-16 in the fourth.
Deron Williams struggled all game, despite netting a 3-pointer to get the Nets on the board first. He finished the night with 11 points and seven assists on 5-of-15 shooting and five turnovers.
Joe Johnson missed three straight free throws while picking up 17 points on the night. Though he wasn’t alone in missed free throw attempts as the Nets made only five of 13 free throws in the final quarter.
Links: AP recap | Box Score
What’s next: The Nets head to the Quicken Loans Arena in Ohio to face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday at 7:30.
The Nets head north to take on the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.
The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. on YES, ESPN and WFAN.
Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee, another guard and Deron Williams are expected to start.
Last season, Joe Johnson averaged 15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 4.0 apg in 33.8 mpg in four meetings against the Raptors, while Deron Williams averaged 13.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg and 8.0 apg in 32.5 mpg in two of the Nets’ four games against Toronto.
The Nets posted a 2-2 regular season record against Toronto last season and a 4-3 playoff record. In 11 games played between the two teams last season, the aggregate score was 1,070-1,070.
The Nets shot 41.0 percent (34-84) from long range in their four games against the Raptors last season.
It continues to look as if Brook Lopez is the most likely to be moved if the Nets decide to take a chisel to their foundation.
ESPN’s Chad Ford conducted an online chat on Wednesday and said that, while the market will be limited for the Nets’ Big Three, Lopez is the most likely chip to be moved.
“The market is very, very limited [for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez]. Lopez is probably the easiest of the three to trade. But so many teams have become experts on the cap and the CBA that they are unwilling to take the mistakes that Billy King has made over and over again. Very few teams are willing to blatantly mortgage their future the way the Nets have been.”
Most of the trade chatter has seemed to center around Lopez, and I think that makes sense. Despite his injury history, he certainly has the most upside. He’s only 26, and is under contract for 2015-16 at a large, but not unreasonable amount. Additionally, I don’t think it’s gone overlooked by Brooklyn’s front office that their huge second half run last year coincided with Lopez’s season ending injury. And their best showing of this season — a route against Charlotte — happened to feature a lot of ball movement and tons of space for their shooters; factors that just aren’t there when the offense is going through Lopez. Add in Lionel Hollins’ controversial tough love approach to making Lopez better and I could easily see where Lopez is in a different uniform by the end of this season.
No Chris Bosh? No Josh McRoberts? No Danny Granger? No problem! The Heat were woefully short-staffed on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, but it didn’t matter. The Nets, once again, had a chance to prove they had turned a corner and, like clockwork, fell flat on their face.
It was an emotional night inside Brooklyn’s arena. Players donned neon-lettered shirts with the name and number Jeffery “Gamblero” Vanchiro wore on his custom Nets jersey when attending games. Deron Williams wore neon sneakers. There was a short, yet touching pre-game video tribute. This was a night where winning seemed like the only option. But the Nets folded once again. Why does this keep happening? Why can’t this team get over the hump?
“Because we’re not good enough,” Lionel Hollins matter-of-factly told reporters. “You have to be good enough to win multiple games […] You’ve got to be a good team. We’re struggling to be that right now. We’re trying to be. We’re working at it. We’ve made progress, but we’re not there yet.”
The Nets were sloppy, particularly in the early going of this one. They committed 17 turnovers (Mason Plumlee and Jarrett Jack accounted for eight of them), Joe Johnson was the only Net who could get it together from long range (Johnson was 50 percent from deep, the rest of the team was a combined 4-for-20), and the end result was a sub-40 percent night from the field and a loss to a team that just flat out didn’t have a ton of talent on the floor, but beat the Nets anyway.
“I would agree,” Johnson said when asked about Hollins’ assessment of his club. “I just think we’re only helping each other sometimes on defense, night-in and night-out, and it hurts us. Our pick-and-roll defense was pretty good, but we gave up a few easy baskets tonight, and we have to do better.”
The Nets are now 5-7 on their home floor and their whole “take one step forward, and two steps back” act is wearing thin. With the Nets due to make their first visit to Air Canada Centre since their Game 7 win in the first round of last year’s playoffs, they need to find a proverbial ace up their sleeve. Because a loss to the 19-6 Raptors, which — let’s face it — is the most likely outcome, would just reaffirm what we’re all starting to realize: this team just isn’t very good.