Dan Kelly, Guest Columnist
One statistic stood out from the rest in the Nets’ Dec. 4 contest with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It wasn’t the 60 percent clip that the Thunder converted from the field, and it wasn’t the Nets’ 15 offensive rebounds.
It wasn’t even the 30-for-34 shooting that the Thunder did from the free-throw line.
The most interesting statistic was the 29:38 that Jerry Stackhouse’s played.
Initially, Stackhouse was brought in by general manager Billy King and coach Avery Johnson to be a player-coach and a mentor for the Nets younger players. Stackhouse previously played under Johnson in Dallas, knows Johnson’s system and understands the NBA grind.
The plan was for Stackhouse to mostly sit at the end of the bench in a lot of handsome, wide shouldered suits.
There was only one problem with that plan: The Nets, it came to be discovered, needed a shooter.
On a roster full of unique offensive talents, most preseason concerns were directed at the defense.
Could Brook Lopez rebound and defend his position?
Could Gerald Wallace be the team’s defensive stopper?
Could Kris Humphries stay in front of athletic power forwards?
After 17 games, the Nets are 15th in the league in defensive efficiency and appear to have made some strides over the past two weeks.
But after 17 games, Joe Johnson has shot only 34 percent from three-point territory, but, to his credit, has been creating plenty of open three-point looks for his teammates.
And therein lies the irony. Against the Thunder, Deron Williams shot 5-for-9 from three-point range, but he’s still shooting below 30 percent from distance for the season. Gerald Wallace, on the other hand, is making 37 percent of his attempts, but that’s well above his 32 percent career average and figures to somewhat of an aberration.
Entering the season the drift-to-the-corner-and-knock-down-open-three’s position (think Steve Novak, Shane Battier, Matt Bonner…) seemed likely to fall on the shoulders of Mirza Teletovic or MarShon Brooks (following Joe Johnson of course). But neither Teletovic nor Brooks has been able to defend well enough to stay on the court.
It’s also worth noting that neither has proven that they are actually capable of consistently converting from NBA three-point range.
And so it has been Jerry Stackhouse who has assumed the role as the corner three assassin. The career 30 percent three-point shooter is 17-for-38 on the season, which is good for 45 percent. At 38 years of age—and in the 18th year of his NBA career—Stackhouse appears to have finally harnessed his “Old Man Jumper.” But he cannot be expected to continue to shoot such a high percentage.
We’ve already seen a preview of his regression. Against the Thunder, Stackhouse was just 2-for-6 from distance, and that was after he shot 0-for-4 in the Nets Dec. 1 loss at Miami.
The truth is that Stackhouse may not be able to continue playing at such a high-level over the course of the season. If not, the Nets may have to go out and get another shooter via trade. Obviously, Joe Johnson—a career 37 percent three-point shooter—is going to improve as the season progresses, but the Nets will need a shooter to play off of him, because it has been Johnson’s post game and penetrating ability that has opened up the looks for Stackhouse.
MarShon Brooks is probably the asset that the Nets would have to use in any such deal. Brooks is a savvy young scorer who gets to the rim, draws fouls, can handle the ball and even play some point guard. He is in only his second season and the Nets thought highly enough of Brooks to keep him out of any offseason trade talks that did not involve Dwight Howard.
Around the league, he’d probably garner the most interest.
After starting the season as the team’s sixth man, Brooks hasn’t found consistent minutes since missing three straight games with an ankle injury earlier this season. Coach Johnson may be bringing Brooks back slowly, but the Nets have been somewhat successful without him playing heavy minutes.
And even with two starters out against the Thunder, Brooks played only three minutes.
Brooks is a promising prospect, but the Nets need another shooter who can defend. Right now, Brooks is not that guy.
As it stands, the Nets are 11-6 and the situation is not yet urgent. But as we approach Dec. 15, the NBA trade season will officially begin. Traditionally, things open up in the NBA’s trade market in mid-December because that’s when players who signed free agent contracts over the summer can be traded.
No, the situation is not urgent. Not yet. But over the long haul, Stackhouse can’t continue to play 30 minutes per night.
Can Brooks pull himself out of the dog house and give Joe Johnson a chance to be the corner shooter?
Can Teletovic figure out how to defend at the NBA level?
Can Keith Bogans provide more for the Nets?
How long can Stackhouse continue to contribute at a high-level?
We’ll all have to stay tuned to find out…
Dan Kelly covers the Knicks, Nets and college basketball for BrooklynFans.com. He has coached select teams, high school teams and individual players on the West Coast and in South America. Follow him on Twitter @BrooklynFanDan