Three Nets reserves who must step up
Despite injuries to seemingly everyone in the starting five, the dismissal of head coach Avery Johnson, and a roller-coaster season that has seen them have both 10 wins and 10 losses in a single month, the Brooklyn Nets enter the nominal second half of the season with a 31-22 record that has them on track for their first playoff berth since 2006-07.
As of the break, the Nets are still led by All-Star Brook Lopez, who paces the team in scoring, field goal percentage, and blocks while ranking second in rebounds behind Reggie Evans. Beyond him, however, the rest of the starting five has had seasons ranging from strong to strange, with a little sluggish in between.
Deron Williams (16.7 points, 7.6 assists per game) and Joe Johnson (17 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists) have come on strong of late but have both had long periods of inconsistency. Gerald Wallace (8.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists) has had a solid if not numerically eye-popping season.
The fifth starting spot has been somewhat of a rotation between Kris Humphries, Evans, and Keith Bogans depending on injuries and matchups.
Necessary substitutions aside, it seems as if P.J. Carlesimo is sticking with a Williams-Johnson-Wallace-Evans-Lopez starting five going forward, and he'll need that quintet to continue leading the way if Brooklyn hopes to go deep in the postseason. However, they can't all play 35-40 minutes a game, and if the Nets are to succeed in the second half, three key reserves need to step up and be more of a force to round out the rotation.
After a 2011-12 season in which he started 29 games and averaged 9.7 points and 4.1 assists per game for Chicago, the "Quiet Storm" was heralded as a strong offseason signing. Watson could give the Nets a very capable backup point guard -- and/or a man who could run the point in a small lineup with Williams, Johnson, and Wallace at the 2-3-4 spots -- and knock down shots from the perimeter.
However, in the first half, Watson has often been one of the more disappointing reserves, at least given that hype. His overall field goal percentage is up slightly over his 36.8 percent number from last year, but his 3-point shooting is way down (just 35.9 percent compared to 39.1 percent a season ago, even after a 5-for-7 night right before the break). And, while his averages of 6.2 points and 1.7 assists are respectable for a reserve, the numbers seem to come in spurts way too much.
To wit: In the final game before the break, Watson started in the absence of Deron Williams and exploded for a season-high 25 points. He nailed five 3-pointers and added six assists in 36 minutes. But, in the previous eight games, which also included one start, Watson scored 24 total, shot just 9-for-40 (22.5 percent) overall and 3-for-18 beyond the arc, including a four-game stretch where he was 2-for-20 and 0-for-6 in those categories with 11 total assists.
In the end, Watson's numbers over the last nine average out to 5.4 points per game, 32.7 percent shooting and 32 percent from three, but those game logs are an example of how he tends to get there via extremes rather than the average.
So, with Keith Bogans now coming off the bench as a defensive and 3-point shooting specialist, and Tyshawn Taylor's solid play before the break, Watson could even find himself further down the rotation if he continues to swing to the lesser extreme more often than not.
Humphries started 20 games for the Nets in the first half, but was bumped to the bench in December and hasn't seemed to find his stride since being relegated to a reserve role. Part of that is the inconsistency of his minutes -- in the final eight games before the break, he saw less than nine minutes in five of them and 20-plus in the other two. But on the scope of the roster, he doesn't seem to be the same player that put up double-double averages in back-to-back seasons from 2010-12.
Humphries had a strong final game before the break, tying his season-high with 14 points and adding four rebounds in 20 minutes. He can further help his stock (and the team's) even more in the second half by embracing whichever part of his game fits best with the lineup he's playing with. Should he be in with the starters, a more defensive and rebounding-minded approach, a la Reggie Evans, could be his niche. And with Andray Blatche slumping over the last month, Humphries could look to be a little bit more of a scoring force around the rim on the second unit, much like Lopez is with the starting five.
Much like Humphries, Brooks has made appearances in 45 games but been a victim of inconsistent minutes. However, unlike Humphries, Brooks' swoon has been more a reaction of him not seeming to improve his skill set as opposed to just having a clash.
Numerically, Brooks has made the most of his time, averaging 5.1 points in 11.2 minutes, and it's known that he is a decent shooter and driver. But the second-year man can improve his rotational standing simply by improving the areas of his game that don't involve that one skill set.
Given P.J. Carlesimo's penchant for smaller lineups, Brooks could find a bigger role if he can improve his perimeter defense and curb his bad decisions, both in taking ill-advised shots and in limiting the careless turnovers that have his assist-to-turnover ratio at an even 1.0. You can't teach range and necessarily expect a rise in 3-point shooting from Brooks, as that isn't his game. But given that he's making 46.4 percent of his overall shots, he can be a lot more dangerous if he works on the nuances that will make him more of an all-around player.
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