The Nets’ long and winding road trip ended this morning as they arrived from China while most of us were sleeping.
When asked tomorrow, they will talk about how great the trip was, how they saw so many great things in Russia and China, met the owner, had great experiences, bonded, all that good stuff. But none of the good things really will be about basketball.
It was a bad trip from that standpoint. But the two 10-point losses to the much-better Rockets should also act as an eye opener in terms of how much work the Nets have to do to get ready for the Oct. 27 opener against the Pistons.
What the Nets showed in China is that they can be a two-to-three man team, and none of those men is named LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
The Nets are a new team, with plenty of new faces, basically a whole new coaching staff and they all need to learn how to play together, to learn what works and what doesn’t. So far, the two things that work for the Nets are Brook Lopez inside and Devin Harris getting inside. Everyone knew the Nets’ strengths, as constituted, would be their center and point guard, so this is no surprise. But coach Avery Johnson and Harris have to find out how to get more from the other positions.
The problem is that, aside from Terrence Williams, most of the other players are shooters. Also a problem is that Williams, who isn’t a shooter, tried to be one in China. He took eight more shots than Lopez and 18 more than Harris. That’s far too many for Williams, a spectacular athlete who is at his best setting up his teammates or getting to the basket. Williams didn’t do that enough in China, but scored 36 points, second most on the trip behind Lopez’s 42. Teams are going to let Williams shoot jumpers all he wants. It’s not a good thing for the Nets if he’s a volume shooter, as it's not his strength.
With Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw, the Nets brought in guys who can shoot. But if your shots aren’t falling, it’s going to be a long night and a long trip, if not a long season. That trio was 16-for-44 in China, boosted by Morrow’s 6-for-9 effort yesterday.
The Nets also got absolutely nothing from the starting power forward spot –- literally -– and little at all from that position. Rookie Derrick Favors had a scoreless trip and Joe Smith was scoreless as a starter yesterday. Favors, Smith and Kris Humphries combined to go 3-for-13 with six points. Anyone miss Yi Jianlian yet?
This is a tough spot because the Nets banked on 12-15 points from the starting power forward position, but Troy Murphy is injured and hasn’t been able to play. The Nets would be much better if he were on the floor because of his shooting and rebounding.
In the meantime, Johnson has really one or two decisions to make about the starting power forward spot: He can start Humphries and play pick-and-pop with him or tell him to stay inside and do the dirty work, or he starts Outlaw at power forward and Williams at small forward. The Nets are smaller but more athletic and would lose some punch off the bench with that lineup.
As we said last week, Favors should come off the bench to start the season as a backup power forward or center. He’s not ready to start, and who knows where his head is with all the trade rumors, praise from the organization, and then going from playing 26 minutes to 23 minutes to 8 minutes and never getting off the bench in the second half. That’s life as a rookie, but the Nets need him to be productive. Favors has to be part of their rotation if he’s here all season.
Johnson spoke the other day about the Nets needing an identity because all they have are Lopez's post-ups and Harris’ penetration. That’s not a bad starting point.
Feed Lopez early and often, let him score, draw fouls and then force double teams so he can kick to the shooters. But the Nets can’t settle for jumpers. They have to open lanes so guys like Harris and Williams can get inside. The other Nets can’t be spot-up shooters all the time either. The ball has to move and guys have to get to the basket.
Two of the more alarming stats from the two China games: the Nets had 27 assists on 67 field goals, and the Nets attempted 43 free throws and only nine were shot by someone other than Harris and Lopez.
From that standpoint, maybe it was a good trip. Winning both or even a split may have made expectations a little unrealistic going into the regular season. The Nets know they have plenty of work to do all the way around.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)