Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
The highest-paid point guard in the NBA is having trouble with the offense. Can he and his coach work together to shake off the problems and reach the Nets' potential ... or is this what the Nets were meant to be?
BROOKLYN -- As controversies go, D-Will Questions Avery's System didn't exactly compete for space on the backpages of the tabloids on Tuesday, what with Jeremy Lin's revenge fantasy and Mark Sanchez's night of unending interceptions. Hey, it's a tough town and for all their rough-hewn charm and snazzy exterior, the Nets are still something of an unknown commodity even in their new home.
To review: Deron Williams told reporters on Monday that Utah's flex was "great for his style of play," and being a system player -- from high school to Illinois to Jerry Sloan's school of tough love and flex cuts -- has brought out the best in him. On Tuesday morning, Williams attempted to walk it back and Avery Johnson downplayed it as well, saying he didn't take it personally. All of which is the kind of thing that happens periodically in this league.
"Whatever the hubbub is, it's part of the cycle of the season," Johnson said. "[Gregg] Popovich and [Tony] Parker went through it. I went through it with Popovich."
Now, there are several ways one can look at this, and on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, various folks fell into one of two camps. On the one side was the notion that $100 million point guards ought to be better than mere system players, and on the other was the cold, hard reality that franchise players ought to be put into the best possible position to live up to the billing, especially by a coach who is in the last year of his contract.
Neither is totally fair, mind you, but that's life in the big city.
"We're in this microwave Twitter age so everybody wants everything instantly," Johnson said. "Nobody really wants to wait. Sometimes things just take time. When you say that, then you come off as making an excuse. That's just the way it is. For us, we've got to start making our open shots. Whoever it is."
All true and all reasonable, but it's still a fairly dramatic detour for a team where everything has been so downright nice this season. Really, that's the thing that stands out about the Brooklyn Nets. Everyone is nice. Ushers are nice. The person who wands you down is nice. Even the beat writers are far more pleasant to be around than your typical collection of schlubby scribes. This has all been a really nice experience so far, but not so much for Deron Williams, who is in the midst of a prolonged shooting slump. What this ultimately has become is the first true basketball test for the Nets since moving to Brooklyn.
Since joining the franchise in a 2011 mid-season trade, Williams has rarely performed like the Second-Best Point Guard In The NBA, an honorific title he held for the better part of his tenure in Utah. His shooting percentages have plummeted in his 91 games as a Net, all the way below the 40 percent mark and around 30 percent from beyond the arc. His advanced numbers have also suffered a bit across the board, which can be easily chalked up to a lack of talent around him as well as a myriad of injuries. But it's that shooting percentage that stands out and not in a good way.
The reality of Johnson's offense is this: Despite Williams' slump, the Nets rank ninth in points per 100 possessions, which can get lost if you're the kind of person who doesn't pay attention to pace, where they average the fewest possessions in the league. (Hint: Don't be that person). Turnovers have become an issue lately, especially in the third quarter where they have developed a debilitating habit of blowing halftime leads, like they did against the Jazz in an excruciating 92-90 loss on Tuesday.
Yet it's working just fine for Joe Johnson -- the other franchise player on a max contract in the most expensive backcourt ever created. Coach Johnson made a point of noting that when player Johnson was having an issue earlier in the season he took the coach aside and made a suggestion about implementing some Atlanta stuff, which coach Johnson dutifully did.
"Deron and I talked after shootaround," Avery Johnson said. "At the end of the day everybody handles stress and pressure and situations defensively. I've got basically 15 students in my class and everybody's not going to have the same reaction to situations."
Deeper still, their recent problems where they lost seven of nine have largely been a function of missing Brook Lopez for a brace of games, which forced Johnson to mix and match his starting big men to varied effect and has nothing to do with Williams or his love of the flex, which Johnson has also incorporated to some degree into his offense. Of course, Lopez was available for 16 points in 30 minutes on Tuesday and they still lost.
Plunging all the way to the depths, it may be that the Nets were playing over their collective heads earlier in the season when they were 11-4 and are likely no better than a mid-tier contender in the East and, given their roster situation and cap inflexibility, that may ultimately be all they will ever be for the foreseeable future. But that's getting ahead of things.
The Nets are not good right now and in the moratorium of a disappointed locker room the give and take developed into a studied exercise in the art of the cliché.
"We've got to a better job of taking care of the ball."
"We've got to play with more focus."
"We've got to bounce back."
And so on.
The deeper truths were hard to come by, as they usually are in that kind of environment. The Brooklyn Nets may still be in their embryonic phase, but this feels like a significant moment in their development. They will make their Garden debut on Wednesday and they will have the city's undivided attention.