HOUSTON — It’s been a wild ride for the first part of the Nets’ inaugural season in Brooklyn.
They got off to a hot start, putting together an 11-4 record in November that earned Avery Johnson the Eastern Conference’s coach of the month honors. But then they hit that big swoon, dropping 10 of 13 games, resulting in owner Mikhail Prokhorov pulling the plug on Johnson and appointing P.J. Carlesimo as the interim coach.
They picked it up under Carlesimo, emerging victorious in 12 of 15 games heading into last night’s matchup against the Rockets. Talk about a rollercoaster. So, as they hit the halfway mark, it’s time to dole out some midseason grades:
STARTING BACKCOURT: B-
After getting off to a sluggish start, the Deron Williams-Joe Johnson tandem has picked it up of late. Williams was putrid for the better part of the season’s first two months, playing without much confidence and openly questioning the effectiveness of the offense system compared to the one he ran in Utah under Jerry Sloan. But he’s playing his best ball in January, posting the kind of numbers that led to the Nets giving him a max contract. As for Johnson, where would they be with without him? He’s hit three-game-winning shots and serves as the anchor of the second unit, at times handling the ball and showing off his versatility. He’s made the transition nicely to playing in a much bigger market than he was used to during his stints in Phoenix and Atlanta.
STARTING FRONTCOURT: C+
Despite not being selected by the coaches as a reserve last week, Brook Lopez is putting together an All-Star season. He’s become much more of a true center, although his rebounding still needs work, and is turning into an intimidating presence in the paint, something that wasn’t the case in his previous four seasons. Reggie Evans may be an offensive liability since he has no repertoire at all on that side of the ball, but the guy is a rebounding machine. His knack for wiping the glass clean is unparalleled on the team and he has no problem doing the dirty work. Gerald Wallace, as much as he’s the heart and soul of this team, has to be more of an all-around contributor. His defensive capabilities are unquestioned since he can guard multiple positions, but offensively, he often passes up wide open shots and doesn’t always finish chippies around the rim. The Nets will probably need him to improve on his 9.1 points per game average if they want to go deep into the playoffs.
During the first few weeks of the season, the signing of C.J. Watson to a veteran’s minimum deal looked as if it was a steal as he was hitting three-pointers from every angle to give them a scoring boost off the bench. But he cooled off considerably and hasn’t come close to resembling the same player until recently. Keith Bogans and Jerry Stackhouse have each done a nice job of finding ways to contribute, though Stackhouse has cooled off of late after a torrid start. Kris Humphries has accepted his role and provides a boost every now and then offensively. Mirza Teletovic has shown he can be a flamethrower when given the chance, but his defense remains a work in progress, leading to his sporadic minutes. Same goes for MarShon Brooks.
After two losing seasons in New Jersey with a flawed roster, Avery Johnson probably, unfairly, wasn’t given enough time to put his stamp on the team. But there’s no denying some of the players were growing weary of his style, and more than a few felt as if he wouldn’t allow them to play through mistakes. P.J. Carlesimo has done an admirable job since taking the reins, posting an .800 winning percentage through his initial 15 games. The players have taken to him and he’s pushing the right buttons, a credit to him after unsuccessful stints with Portland, Golden State and Seattle/Oklahoma City.
Keith Bogans: Who knew he’d bounce back so well from his gruesome season-ending ankle injury that caused him to miss most of last season? Not only is he one of the team’s top defenders, he’s also hit timely three-pointers to stretch the opposing defense and provides a lot of intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.
The schedule certainly isn’t going to get any easier for the Nets. A whopping 16 of their final 23 games will be away from the Barclays Center, and that includes a seven-game, 13-day road swing in March. So we’ll really see what they’re made of over these next two-plus months. ___