When the Brooklyn Nets traded for James Harden, they were sending a message to the league that they are all in this season.
So far, the Nets have been one of the most impressive offensive teams in the league, but defensively they've left a lot to be desired. It begs the question: Which will matter more in their quest for a title this season? Will their explosive offence be more than teams can handle or will their defensive issues be their downfall?
Ahead of the Nets' marquee matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night (10 pm ET, TSN) I've taken a look at two stats and asked my NBA.com Staff members to tell me which one will be more meaningful for the Nets this season.
Will Brooklyn's offence be enough to carry it to the championship or will its defence hold it back?
The case for their offence: The Nets might have three of the best one-on-one players in the league today between Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant. They've also got a tremendous amount of shooting to give them even more space to operate in Joe Harris, Jeff Green and, at times, Landry Shamet.
When Brooklyn's offence is humming along, it seems to score at ease. It's the reason the Nets are in the mix for having one of the best offences in the league, scoring 117.9 points per 100 possession - good for third in offensive efficiency - going into Thursday's game against the Lakers.
Most of their offensive numbers jump off the page, but the one to pay attention to is their true shooting percentage. True shooting percentage takes into account a player or a team's field goals, 3-pointers and free throws, and spits out an easy-to-read, catch-all percentage. If a team or player has a high true shooting percentage, they're likely adept from three, efficient from two and will make teams pay for fouling them at the line.
The Nets can certainly hurt teams at all three levels offensively, which is why they have the best true shooting percentage in the league at 62.4 according to NBA Stats.
Why is that important? Well, true shooting has historically given us an idea of the teams that will have more success putting the ball in the basket when the playoffs arrive and teams are able to lock in more defensively. In fact, since 2012, the regular-season leader in true shooting has made the NBA Finals each season.
|Year||Team||True shooting %||NBA Finals|
|2011-12||Oklahoma City Thunder||56.7||Yes (loss)|
|2012-13||Miami Heat||58.8||Yes (won)|
|2013-14||Miami Heat||59.0||Yes (loss)|
|2014-15||Golden State Warriors||57.1||Yes (won)|
|2015-16||Golden State Warriors||59.3||Yes (loss)|
|2016-17||Golden State Warriors||59.7||Yes (won)|
|2017-18||Golden State Warriors||60.3||Yes (won)|
|2018-19||Golden State Warriors||59.6||Yes (loss)|
|2019-20||Miami Heat||58.7||Yes (loss)|
Having the trio of great one-on-one players the Nets have will make things tough for opposing teams in a seven-game series, but their deadly efficiency will force teams to have to be mistake-free - and that might be too much when trying to beat Brooklyn four times in seven games.
Will teams be able to score on the Nets? Yeah, they might, maybe even more than they're accustomed to. But they'll also have to stop Brooklyn from scoring, which will require near perfection. Then if they do get a stop, they'll have to make sure they convert that into points on the other end. That sounds easy, but it's not.
And let's not forget, one of the most dominant playoff runs we've ever seen came from a team that finished 22nd in defensive rating. The 2001 championship Lakers - you know, the team that went 15-1 in the playoffs - had no issues rolling through the postseason with a subpar defence. And if you're wondering, yes, they had the best offence in the league that season .
Brooklyn's best defence may be its offence. They're not going to be worried about stopping you, you have to stop them.
The case for their defence: You know the saying by now - defence wins championships. Getting to the Finals would be a great accomplishment for the Nets but the ultimate goal is winning the title, and without the ability to defend they won't be able to do that.
The difference between this Nets team and the aforementioned teams that led the league in true shooting percentage is that they were far better defensively in the regular season than the Nets have been.
The Nets have the 26th ranked defence in the league, giving up 114.5 points per 100 possessions. It's been even worse with the arrival of Harden as they've been giving up 118.8 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 27th in the league during that stretch. That's far worse than where the '01 Lakers stood.
And speaking of the '01 Lakers, yes, they were below average in the regular season, but let's not forget that they had already won the title the year before, so they already knew what it took to win. Let's not forget that they were the best defensive team in the league in 2000 , which helped them win the first of three chips. Let's also not forget that they flipped the switch in the playoffs that year and finished with the best defensive rating in the '01 postseason . Most of all, let's not forget the defensive talent that roster had in Kobe, Shaq, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Horace Grant and Ron Harper. Even Devean George and Rick Fox were no slouches on defence.
Outside of Durant, Brooklyn doesn't have anyone currently on the roster who could "flip the switch" defensively in the playoffs. Right now, what you see is what you're likely going to get with the Nets.
While their offence can certainly carry them to the Finals, would that be considered a successful season if they don't win the Larry OB?
Scott Rafferty ( @crabdribbles ): It's the defence, no doubt.
The Nets have already proven to be dynamite offensively and have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league, whether it's the 76ers and Bucks in the Eastern Conference or the Lakers and Clippers in the Western Conference. The scary thing is that they should only get better as James, Irving and Durant get more comfortable playing alongside each other.
As for the defence, I have a hard time believing someone won't test them on that end of the court at some point in their title run. Maybe it's in the first round, maybe it's in the second, maybe it's not until the Finals, but they're going to have to lock in on that end of the court eventually.
The good news? I think they're capable of being better than they have so far this season. Also, there are players in free agency right now, as well as those who might get bought out at some point, who would make a difference. Their core is relatively easy to build around defensively as well. Irving can only really guard ones and twos, but Harden and Durant are multi-positional defenders capable of defending fours and even some fives. That should make it easier for the front office to fill in the gaps if they decide they need more help.
Juan Estévez ( @JuanEstevez90 ): To me, it's the offence.
I think we all know what to expect from Brooklyn's defence once the playoffs begin. The Nets aren't going to be a dominant team by any means, but they're probably going to be better than what they are right now. And by the way, they have already shown some improvements defensively when they have the full roster and face a team they respect as a real threat.
So far, their bigger problems have stemmed from injuries and playing without any energy against lesser teams . And while the first part of that is an x-factor for every team, the second part shouldn't be a weakness during the postseason.
Again, are the Nets ever going to win games because of their defence? Probably not. But they can still be average or slightly below average when players like Irving, Durant, Harden, Green and DeAndre Jordan give 100 percent. And that's OK ... I think they can win with that.
To me the biggest differential will come with how powerful their offence ends up being. Is it going to be very good (that seems to be the floor)? Great? Or historically great? Are they going to be the '17 Cavs or the '17 Warriors? That's the real question, and I think the answer will define their season. The defence has a clear floor and ceiling, at least with their current roster. But the sky is really the limit for an offence that includes three amazing scorers and a superb role player like Harris.
Kyle Irving ( @KyleIrv_ ): It has to be the defence.
I think Juan makes a great point in saying that the Nets likely won't beat anyone because of their defence and that the offence will carry them to wins in the postseason. I couldn't agree more there, but I also have no hesitations about whether or not their offence will show up.
If there were any sort of a blueprint to stop a three-headed monster like Durant, Harden and Irving then maybe there would be a cause for concern that if their offensive output happened to disappear than they'd really be in trouble. But with three multi-faceted offensive weapons that can give you a bucket any time, anywhere, there is no answer for containing all three superstars, placing the pressure on their defence to come up with stops when it matters most.
While this version of Brooklyn doesn't have the defensive pieces to marginalize their greatest weakness, I think the trade deadline and buy-out market will work out in their favour in taking steps toward becoming competent on that end of the floor. Their offence is going to score, they don't have to worry about that. Can they string together multiple stops late in the fourth quarter of a playoff game? That's going to be the difference between a team that reaches the Finals or falls short of expectations.
Final score: Defence 2, Offence 1
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