The Brooklyn Nets could be a historically recognized team with the way they are playing this season. They have three of the best scorers in the NBA with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. However, the assets they lost for these players have proven to be tumultuous to their defense. Will the Nets’ defense drag them down come playoff time?
The Nets since the Harden trade:
122.6 offensive rating
– Best in league
– Would be the best of all time
119.9 defensive rating
– Worst in league
– Would be the worst of all time pic.twitter.com/B5EbhfuEzH
— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 1, 2021
There’s no question about it, the Nets have the best offense in the NBA. This season, they are averaging the most points per game (122.3 points), have the third-best offensive efficiency (1.144), the best field goal percentage (50.1%), and the second-best three-point percentage (40.1%).
The big three is averaging 83.2 points, 20.5 rebounds, and 22.9 assists per game. Together, they shoot a combined 51.6% from the field and 42.6% from distance. Their offense is extremely efficient and impressive with three superstar players, giving them the ability to pick apart their opponents’ defenses with plenty of outlets to do so.
Their defense is a much different story. Here are some statistics of their defense from last season to this season.
|Statistic (NBA Rank)||2019||2020|
|Opponent points per game||113.1 (18th)||117.8 (28th)|
|Defensive Efficiency||1.066 (13th)||1.102 (27th)|
|Opponent points in the paint||46.3 (10th)||50.6 (28th)|
|Opponent field goals attempted per game||92.8 (29th)||95.0 (30th)|
|Opponent field goals made per game||41.6 (18th)||43.4 (29th)|
|Opponent three-point percentage||35.5% (12th)||35.8% (7th)|
|Opponent turnovers||12.7 (28th)||12.5 (28th)|
The Nets’ defense has worsened significantly since last season. The Nets’ opponent points per game allowed (117.8), opponent points in the paint (51.6), and field goals attempted (95) are alarming statistics to see.
A specific example of their defensive exposure came from their two-game series with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, when they lost twice and gave up 147 points (with overtime) and 125 points in each of the games. The Cavaliers are the 29th ranked team in points per game this season.
The Nets lost great defenders like Jarrett Allen, one of the league’s better interior defenders. Garrett Temple, who had a positive defensive box plus/minus with the Nets and 1.7 defensive win shares last season. And Rodinos Kurucs, who kept his defensive assignments to 42.3% from the field.
The Nets’ defense has put them in an awkward position for a team with deep playoff hopes.
“Only three teams in NBA history have won the title with a defense outside the Top 10, per TNT: the 2018 Warriors, 1995 Rockets, and 2001 Lakers… They (Brooklyn Nets) have allowed four different teams to score a season-high in points,” said Adam Zagoria of Forbes.
It may seem like the NBA’s defensive importance has shifted, considering the lowest team offensive point per game total in today’s NBA would be in the top-10, 10 years ago. But, having a defense still has major importance. Take last season, for example, the Los Angeles Lakers allowed the third-fewest amount of points per game and the seventh-lowest field goal percentage and won the NBA Championship.
The Nets’ coaching staff has little defensive experience too. Steve Nash played on the Phoenix Suns in his prime from 2004-2012, and none of those teams had an above-average defense. In fact, the highest-ranking they received for the least amount of points per game was 21st in the NBA. Nash is also in his first year as a head coach.
Mike D’Antoni coached two defenses in Houston that ranked in the top-10, but the last one he coached ranked 21st in points per game. Ime Oduka is the only coach that has worked and built a solid defense when he was with the 76ers last season, ranking fifth in opponent points per game and eighth in defensive efficiency.
Until the Brooklyn Nets can improve their defense, they will keep getting caught in close games with teams like the Washington Wizards (5-14) and the Miami Heat (8-14). Plus, their odds of making a deep playoff run will be put on a halt when they meet a well-balanced team in the Eastern Conference, like the Milwaukee Bucks.
An even more concerning aspect for the Nets is their future. Hypothetically, the Nets are striving to win a championship this season with the addition of James Harden. The Brooklyn Nets’ draft picks for the next seven drafts were fleeced by the Houston Rockets in the James Harden deal (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027 pick swaps and 2022, 2024, 2026 first-round picks).
The Nets’ organization expect the big three to be around for a long time and produce championships. However, it is unlikely they will exceed that expectation if their defense continues to play at a bottom-tier level.