The Brooklyn Nets followed a Christmas Day beatdown at the hands of the Boston Celtics with a 15-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, their seventh loss in 10 games, their 10th loss in 13 games and a defeat that dropped them to .500 on the season. With starting point guard Deron Williams sidelined with a wrist injury, the Nets struggled to get anything going offensively, hitting less than 39 percent of their shots and posting nearly as many turnovers (15) as assists (17) while letting the Bucks roast them from behind the arc to the tune of 10 of 17 shooting and 108 points.
The lackluster effort — which has become an increasingly common sight these days — irked not only Brooklyn fans, but also small forward Gerald Wallace. Always known as an unselfish, maximum-effort player who'll give you everything he has even in dismal circumstances, Crash — who struggled with his shot on Wednesday (eight points on 2 of 8 shooting) but hustled his way to 12 rebounds, eight assists and two steals in the loss — offered a succinct, sobering and expletive-inclusive assessment of the Nets' play that suggests he thinks his 14-14 squad could stand to remember that there's no "i" in team. From Rod Boone of Newsday:
Gerald: “Guys are content with the situation we are in & I'm f------ pissed off about us losing, especially losing the way we are losing.”
— Rod Boone (@rodboone) December 27, 2012
(The quote was later softened a little bit in the editing process: "It seems like guys are content with the situation that we are in and I'm [ticked] off about us losing, especially losing the way we are losing." Thank goodness Newsday didn't offend the famously tender sensibilities of Brooklynites and Long Islanders.)
Wallace declined to name any names, but elaborated a bit on his frustrations in further postgame comments shared by NetsDaily:
Wallace attributed the Nets losses to selfishness, saying, "We play a good half or a great quarter and then we go back to playing selfish ball ... that’s not getting us anywhere."
"It’s mind-boggling that we’re in the situation we’re in," Wallace continued. "As good of a team as we are, as good as started off ... you saw the potential we had as a team, and the talent we have as a team. And yet, still, instead of team, it’s more of ‘I.’ "
"Confidence is our problem now," he said. "I think that’s our main problem. Guys have got too much confidence in themselves and are not trusting in the team.
"Our main thing is we’ve got to get back to a team concept, all for one. Offensively and defensively, when we move the ball, we execute, we take care of the ball, we make the extra pass. ... We’ve got to do everything as a team instead of relying on one guy to do this and one guy to do that."
The past few weeks have seen a lot of discussion of and debate over whether the Nets' offensive attack is too dependent on isolations, with Williams calling for more movement in the offense, Joe Johnson claiming all the one-on-one play isn't going to work and Avery Johnson adjusting the Nets' playbook to include more motion and flex principles to spark ball movement. But more expansive multi-option sets can only get activated when you're actually sharing the ball, and seen through one lens, the Nets aren't doing that so much these days, backing up Crash's claim.
In Brooklyn's 11-4 start, they ranked 10th in the NBA in assist ratio, the number of assists a team dishes per 100 offensive possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool. Over the last 13 games, they've plummeted to 27th among the 30 NBA teams in assists per 100 possessions, a freefall that's paralleled the Nets' drop from an elite team in terms of ball protection (sixth in the league in team turnover percentage through the first 15) to the lower reaches of the league (26th of 30 in December) and from a top-10 offense (seventh in the league in points scored per 100 possessions) to a below-average unit (18th in the NBA over the past 13 games).
There's a lot more to diagnosing an offense's health than just looking at assist numbers, of course; as SB Nation's Tom Ziller discussed earlier this month, a team's assist percentage by itself doesn't necessarily determine whether or not that team's offense is efficient or inefficient, high-powered or flagging. But it can shed some light on whether a team's taking the most valuable shots it can — namely, attempts at the rim and corner 3-pointers — and how well they're converting.
Interestingly enough, the Nets have been taking a higher percentage of their shots at the rim and in the corners during their 3-10 stretch (42.3 percent of their field-goal attempts) than they were during their 11-4 start (39.9 percent), and more of their made at-rim and corner attempts have come off assists in December than they did at the start of the season. They're just making fewer of their attempts — from 62 percent at the rim and 40.9 percent from the corners through 15 games down to 57.9 percent and 37.5 percent, respectively, in their recent slide. This might lend some credence to the "We have to do a better job of making our wide open shots" theory that Avery forwarded last week.
Whatever the Nets' offensive problem has been — Johnson's design, the players' decision-making, bad shot-making — we only know two things for sure: Gerald Wallace ain't happy about what's happening, and getting him back on the smiling side of the street is going to be somebody else's problem.
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