The Nets are a quarter done with their season and already have five more wins than they did at this point last season, but they are a perplexing team.
Some games, like against Atlanta and Portland, the Nets look like they can not only compete with but also beat some of the better teams in the league.
Then some others -– think Charlotte twice and Sacramento –- the Nets look like the team from last season that struggled to score, couldn’t execute on either ends in crunch time and produced many head-scratching, eye-rolling moments.
Brook Lopez is the poster boy for this dichotomy.
There are games in which Lopez looks like he can be an All-Star-type player, like the first two games of the season when he scored 25 and 29 points, respectively, or the Atlanta win in which he scored 32, or the game against the Knicks when he scored a season-high 36.
Then there are games where Lopez looks like the farthest thing from a franchise center and All-Star player. Think at Sacramento when he had seven points and didn’t grab a missed free-throw rebound, or at Charlotte on Friday night when he had 13 points and only two rebounds on a night when there were 117 missed field goals and also couldn’t control a missed free-throw rebound. That led to Avery Johnson calling out Lopez once again this season.
Some look at the Nets’ 6-14 record as the most disappointing thing thus far this season. But it’s not. People got too high after their 2-0 start. The reality is they’re not a good team, don’t know how to close out games and don’t have a superstar to carry them during tough stretches every night.
The biggest disappointment at this point is Lopez.
Touted by many of us as the second-best center in the Eastern Conference and perhaps in the NBA, Lopez hasn’t lived up to that. He has just one double-double in 20 games, that coming in Wednesday’s triple-OT loss in which he made a couple of big shots late but had many more costly breakdowns and turnovers when the game was in the balance.
He is averaging a quiet 19.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting and 6.2 rebounds. By comparison, after 20 games last season, Lopez was averaging 18.9 points on 48.6 shooting, 9.0 rebounds and had already collected nine double-doubles.
One-year ago today, Lopez had 31 points and 14 rebounds in leading the Nets to a six-point win over the Bobcats. It was significant because it was the Nets’ first victory after their record-setting 0-18 start. They were supposed to be better this season –- they are –- and Lopez was supposed to better -– and he’s not.
There’s plenty of season left and plenty of time to turn things around for Lopez and the Nets. But he’s got to take more of an active role as the co-captain and the person Johnson called a cornerstone player.
Other disappointments to this point include Troy Murphy. The Nets thought they finally found a reliable power forward, albeit a one-year rental, but it hasn’t worked out that way. He has been injured and has totaled just 31 points and 41 rebounds in nine games. Five times in his career, Murphy has averaged a double-double.
Terrence Williams also has been a letdown. He was expected to be a big part of the team, a playmaker and game-changer off the bench. But he’s taken more 3-pointers than foul shots (11-8), and his assist-to-turnover ratio is almost 1-to-1 (24-to-20). After an abdominal injury slowed Williams, he ultimately was sent down to the D-League for being late repeatedly.
Big man Johan Petro has also been a disappointment, especially at $10 million for three years. He is averaging 2.7 points and 2.0 rebounds.
The Nets’ positive surprises have been the play of Kris Humphries, Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow.
Humphries was behind Joe Smith at the start of the season and barely in the rotation the first time Murphy returned from injury. Then Humphries worked his way into the regular rotation and has stayed there throughout the season.
As for Outlaw, you can point at his five-year, $35 million contract and say the Nets overpaid him. But the veteran small forward has had some big games and hit some big shots or free throws.
The contracts of Morrow and Farmar aren’t nearly as rich as Outlaw’s so they’re looked upon differently. But both guys are essentially playing new roles and like Outlaw have knocked down some huge shots.
Rookie Derrick Favors is about where everyone expected he would be at this point. He’s a 19-year-old rookie who is going to have some good games, but he's also going to have some bad games where you don’t even know he’s out there.
The Nets can accept that from Favors, but not Lopez. Luckily, there is plenty of season for Lopez to turn things around.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)