Your daily dose of “hey, the Nets are awful in spite of that nearly $200 million luxury tax-enhanced payroll” goes like this: Deron Williams sprained his left ankle, again, in Brooklyn’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday. I don’t know what’s worse: “Sprained his left ankle,” or, “Brooklyn’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.”
Actually, we do know which is worse. It’s the loss, because reserve point guard Shaun Livingston has been outplaying Williams all season, and Williams’ absence could help the team in the short term. Livingston didn’t lead the Bobcats to the brink of victory after Williams went down in the second quarter last night, that was never going to happen with Brook Lopez out of action, but at the very least the guard offers the Nets a wee bit of hope while they figure this mess out.
It is a mess, mind you. The team is 3-8 and Williams re-injured the same ankle that kept him out of exhibition season action (and two games prior to the Charlotte loss), which presumably led to him working as an out of shape and out of rhythm non-contributor so far in 2013-14. Through nine games, Williams has averaged just 13.9 points on 40 percent shooting and nine assists to four turnovers per 36 minutes. We give him that per-minute designation because he’s expected to work as a (nearly) $100 million man as the Nets pay him through his prime, and yet he’s merely been “eh, pretty good” (save for a few hot months late last season, after he got into shape) since being traded to the team nearly three years ago.
The Nets have never seen a consistent full year of Williams working at an All-Star level, as his efficiency rankings have dropped off significantly in the years since he suffered a right wrist injury while in Utah. It is fair to wonder if Williams’ woes might be here to stay, because excepting four and a half fine seasons in Utah, he really has been an inconsistent drain on things. His rookie year was a waste because he was out of shape, his 2011-12 run was inconsistent for the same reason (he also missed 11 games), and last year saw him working below par until that late season splurge.
That splurge didn’t carry over into the postseason, sadly, because as you’ll recall Williams did little to stand in the way of the Chicago Bulls taking a seven-game series that the Nets entered with home court advantage. One that ended with Chicago working without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and defensive-minded Kirk Hinrich. The Nets solution to that was to add even more big names with huge contracts, and the results have been embarrassing so far.
Shaun Livingston is not a big name, and he doesn’t have a big contract – the journeyman guard is set to make just under $900,000 this year on a minimum deal. He’ll have to hold things down until Williams (who didn’t practice on Thursday) returns to action, and while this may seem upsetting in the long term, Shaun is probably the best point guard the Nets have right now.
His assists numbers per 36 (just over five) are less than Williams’, but he’s had to work with the reserves for most of his minutes (thus fewer chances at dimes), and his scoring and efficiency ranks far outpace Deron. He turns the ball over half as much per minute in comparison to Deron, and because Livingston doesn’t need to dominate the ball to be effective, veterans like Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Kevin Garnett can get their touches as they figure out just what the hell sort of team these 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets can be.
Livingston is best known for the horrific knee injury suffered midway through his third NBA season, but he’s actually 15 months younger than Williams, and looks no worse for wear nearly seven years after that incident. We’re not attempting to anoint Shaun as a replacement for D-Will – again, Williams was playing at an All-NBA First Team level for the last few months of the 2012-13 season – but he should be able to at least hold serve while Williams recovers. Time off would allow Williams to get in shape, to gain perspective as he watches from the sidelines, and it would give the other needy Nets players a chance to work their way into a comfort zone.
Most knew there would be a struggle and possible mess in Brooklyn to start the season, especially with rookie coach Jason Kidd attempting to find his way. Nobody knew that three weeks in we’d be talking about a 3-8 record, a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, Deron Williams limping off the court, and his minimum salaried replacement possibly being a better point guard solution for this $200 million team.
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