Nets 'First Quarter': A 21-game analysis
With 25 percent of the schedule down, the Nets stand at 12-9, and are tied for second in the Atlantic Division behind the Knicks. The “good” news in that number is that they are certainly much improved, getting more than halfway to their win total of 22 from 2011-12; the “bad” news, however, is that the Nets were 11-4 just two weeks ago, and limped into the quarter pole having lost five games in a row (four of them at home) before Wednesday’s win at Toronto.
The team has both a five-game winning streak and five game-losing streak to their credit in the first 21 games, and as the Nets get ready to face Detroit on Friday and begin the second “quarter” of their schedule, here’s a look at (and some analysis of) a selection of the highs, the lows, the award winners, and the question marks from the opening salvo of the season.
Scoring: Brook Lopez (18.5 ppg)
Rebounds: Reggie Evans (8.8 rpg)
Assists: Deron Williams (8.5 apg)
Steals: Gerald Wallace (1.64 spg)
Blocks: Brook Lopez (2.5 bpg)
Field Goal Percentage: Brook Lopez (53.4 percent)*
Three-point Percentage: Jerry Stackhouse (42.9 percent)*
*NOTE: To qualify for the NBA field goal percentage lead, a player must be on pace to make 300 field goals, or roughly 3.8 per team game played. Only four Nets are on that pace, and while numerically fourth on the team, Lopez is the top qualifier. As for three-point percentage, the benchmark is a pace of 55 made threes, and Stackhouse is the top qualifier.
Best win: Nov. 26 vs. New York
The Nets have a pair of wins over 2012 Eastern Conference Finalist Boston, and did beat the 16-6 Clippers on Nov. 23…but Boston isn’t the same team and the Clippers have won eight in a row to turn an 8-6 mark into their current one. The Knicks, meanwhile, have been consistent winners all season, currently have the best record in the East at 16-5, and own road wins over Miami and San Antonio. In fact, they only have two losses against Eastern teams – and one of them is to Brooklyn. Say what you want about the atmosphere, buildup, or any other buzzword surrounding the rescheduled season opener, but the fact is that the Nets made a big comeback and won in overtime against a team that’s currently the cream of their conference crop – and were within 30 seconds of beating them again two weeks later.
Worst Loss: Nov. 5 vs. Minnesota
It’s hard to call the second game of the season a good or bad anything, realistically – but among the Nets’ nine losses, only the Lakers have a worse record than the Wolves, and Brooklyn blew a 22-point lead at home. It’s entirely possible that this loss will sting all season and perhaps even prove costly in a playoff race.
MVP: Brook Lopez
How could it not be? On a team filled with guys who can fill up a stat sheet, Lopez is the leading scorer despite missing a third of the season so far, after all…and as well as Andray Blatche has played since inheriting Lopez’s starting role, the second unit has suffered because of the loss of depth on the front line. The Nets on YES broadcast team all singled out Lopez as the team’s biggest X-factor in a series of pre-season previews, and right now, his absence is showing that the analysts may have been right.
Rookie of the Quarter: Mirza Teletovic
None of the three Nets rookies have made much of an impact as of yet, but of the trio, Teletovic has played and done the most, so he gets the nod here.
Newcomer of the Year: Reggie Evans
Tough to give this to Evans over Blatche, especially the way the “Zero Hero” has played in place of Lopez, but Evans has vaulted into the Top 25 in rebounding – reaching double figures in nine of his 20 games – and is No. 1 or No.2 in the league (depending on the hour) in rebounds per 48 minutes, all while starting a grand total of three games. Blatche has been a force since taking Lopez’s spot in the starting lineup, but Evans knows his role and not only embraces it, he flourishes within it.
Biggest Surprise: Jerry Stackhouse
Stackhouse entered the year as the seventh-oldest player in the NBA, and after being an afterthought in Atlanta last year, almost everyone thought he’d be an end-of-the-bench, non-rotation veteran mentor for the Nets. Instead, he’s become a spark plug, averaging 18 minutes a game and leading the team in three-point shooting, and it was his touch from beyond the arc that helped spur the Nets to that aforementioned “best win” over the Knicks. Avery Johnson has sat him out of a few games on purpose to try to rest Stackhouse a bit, but he’s not likely to see his role diminish anytime soon.
Most Bizarre Moment: “Sky Kirkland”
It came in the final minutes of the 21st game…but if you haven’t yet seen referee Courtney Kirkland’s bizarre interruption of a Kris Humphries free throw, you’re probably one of the last.
Second Quarter Game(s) to Watch: New Year’s in the Southwest
The Nets play the Knicks twice at MSG in the next six weeks, with their first trip coming next Wednesday and their second, a Martin Luther King Day matinee, marking the season’s official halfway point. Any Nets-Knicks game this year is a big one, but those notwithstanding, Brooklyn has a pair of tough road tilts around New Year’s Day, with an New Year’s Eve trip to San Antonio preceding a Jan. 2 visit to Oklahoma City. Last year’s Western Conference finalists are once again the class of the conference, so it will be a tough close to 2012 and open to 2013 – and a huge litmus test for the emerging Nets.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES