Nobody expected this year’s Brooklyn Nets to break any records this year, or to chase down 60-some wins as a surefire top seed in the East. What most did expect is for the Nets to challenge both the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls for the Conference’s second seed, while bounding past their city mates in Madison Square Garden along the way in the Atlantic standings.
It’s been rough going so far, because while the Nets gutted out an impressive win over the Miami Heat on Friday, the team has also fallen to two teams that showed up in the 2013 lottery in Cleveland and Orlando. Jason Kidd’s first game as an NBA coach was a stinker in Florida on Sunday night, as the Nets lost in a blowout haze.
The team’s top offseason addition, future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, has gotten off to a particularly slow start offensively. Though KG is second on the team in field goal attempts, he’s seventh on the squad in points per game, shooting 33 percent and averaging just 7.3 points per contest. Three games in, and with chill finally settling in over the Northeast, Garnett knows it’s time to warm up. From the New York Daily News:
“I’ve got to get better with what I’m doing, making my minutes more productive,” Garnett said. “I’m just being a little more passive, trying to be the glue, if you will.
“I need to be a little more aggressive at times. I don’t really think about the offense. Defense is where I’m trying to make sure that we’re cohesive and we will.”
The problem with this is that Brooklyn is off to a particularly poor defensive start. The acquisition of Garnett was supposed to vault the team’s rather mediocre defense into a second or third round-styled unit. His on/off the court numbers with Boston from last year were so profound that most felt that KG, even at age 37, would take the team’s 17th-ranked offense from last season onward and upward. Instead, the Nets rank 24th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency.
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Small sample size on both ends, to be sure. It’s also important to point out that Garnett, for the first time in his storied career, is playing with a center that can walk and chew gum at the same time offensively. Nets big man Brook Lopez is currently leading the team in scoring, contributing 18.3 points on 52 percent shooting, working mostly from the left low block and left pinch post where Garnett has set up shop for years.
Though KG has routinely lined up alongside sizable wings that enjoy posting up against smaller players – Wally Szczerbiak, Tom Gugliotta, and Paul Pierce come to mind – he hasn’t really had a teammate that occupies space defensively in the low block. The only thing that comes closest is former teammate Christian Laettner, and their fit was so poor on and off the court that the Wolves were quick to trade their hoped-for franchise player in Christian midway through Garnett’s first season with the team – acquiring pennies on the dollar (Andrew Lang and Spud Webb; because Garnett is that old) in exchange for a player that would make the All-Star team the follow season.
Brooklyn won’t be trading the league’s best offensive center any time soon, and it is Garnett that has to adapt. And though a healthier Deron Williams (with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson behind him) will eventually assume Garnett’s role as the team’s second-highest shot taker, KG still has to up his efficiency and find a way to contribute. It’s true that teams aren’t going to slack off Garnett any time soon, as they did with Net forward Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace last year, but these numbers will have to change if Brooklyn fancies itself a second or third round playoff hopeful.
One thing Garnett won’t change is his celebrated, and somewhat off-putting (for opposing forwards, at least) pregame routine. Andrew Keh described as much for the New York Times last week:
Eyes down, he leans his forehead into the padding and begins adjusting his uniform, tucking his shirt into his shorts, stretching the elastic waistband, tugging on the drawstring. All the time, he is mumbling under his breath.
“It’s just total focus,” said Paul Pierce, who played six seasons with Garnett on the Boston Celtics before the two were traded to the Nets this summer. “He’s there getting his mind right to play.”
Things are simmering at this point, but Garnett is only beginning. Shorts tied, Garnett bangs his forehead against the pad twice, hard, and slaps it. Then he stalks toward the bench — pausing for a moment, always, to bounce on his toes — where he acknowledges his teammates, his coaches and other team staff members. He bumps fists and performs a few personalized handshakes.
Once he reaches the scorer’s table, he pours talcum powder into his hands and claps them, puffing the stuff into a small, dense cloud.
That’s been in place since Garnett started his first pro game, nearly 18 years ago. Laettner, Isaiah Rider, Googs and Terry Porter were the starters for that game, the first of three in a row that the Timberwolves would lose with KG as a starter. Garnett, at just 19 years of age, soon adjusted as his team then took three of four with him in the lineup.
At age 37, he’s going to have to start all over again in Brooklyn within a strange new lineup. If anything, this distinction just helps detail just how remarkable career this legend has had.
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