Enemy: Brooklyn Nets
Coach: Avery Johnson
Potential Starting 5: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez
Other Key Players: CJ Watson, Marshon Brooks, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic
Threats: Offense, Hustle guys, Playmaking, Depth
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-0
I happened to be in Brooklyn on Saturday, and decided to wander over to the new Barclays Center, where the revamped Nets team will be playing their home games this season. It was exciting. From what I could see, the arena is a very interesting building in a very accessible area. In addition, I’ve been impressed with the Nets sleek advertising campaign, which seems to possess some strangely hypnotic Apple-esque appeal. The Nets recognize that what the Knicks have in tradition, they taint with their all-around incompetency as an organization (way more on that tomorrow), and aim to capitalize on this by putting as much pressure on the Knicks as possible, in attempt to hijack a share of the New York basketball fan base. Their goal: to make it cool to like the Nets again. It may seem like it has been a long time since this was the case, but growing up in the area, I can attest to the fact that the Nets were wildly popular in the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin days. If you build it, they will come, and the re-brand and Jay-Z ownership feature are helping tremendously in this regard. All this being said, no amount of hip appeal will save the Nets from irrelevance if their organizational display of equal if not greater incompetence to that of the Knickerbockers was not left for dead in New Jersey. The Nets are definitely doing their part in luring people into the hype, but can they keep prospective fans on the hook? No amount of “cool” will make that happen if they don’t take care of business on the floor. Well this offseason, they invested just about everything that they physically could to try and ensure that they do just that. The resulting roster is very much a patchwork construction. The first order of business was surely the most important, as they had to retain their risky investment, Deron Williams. The Nets succeeded in this endeavor, and followed by securing Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez. They then sent a message that Dwight Howard or no Dwight Howard, they were out to improve the roster. They kept plenty busy this offseason, as they traded roster scraps for six time all-star Joe Johnson, tossed the mid-level exception at Euro-star, Mirza Teletovic, and picked up CJ Watson, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Josh Childress, Jerry Stackhouse, and Tyshawn Taylor. In short, the Nets overhauled the supporting cast, and have committed to pay out a whole lot of money this offseason. They’re left with an interesting mix of guys and talent for coach, Avery Johnson, to work with.
The biggest question that the Nets will face is that of whether this is merely a group of talented guys, or a team. Be it because of the impending relocation, or not, since the trade for Deron Williams, the Nets have struggled to establish an identity. Deron is the face of the franchise and an incredibly skilled point guard, but it takes more than simply giving a good point guard a bunch of good legos and having him build a cohesive unit. The guards surrounding him in the rotation going into the inaugural season in Brooklyn are Joe Johnson, Marshon Brooks, and CJ Watson, with Tyshawn Taylor potentially seeing spot minutes. First impressions of this group highlight the size advantage that the Nets backcourt will enjoy. Deron is 6’3 and weighs in at around 210. Joe Johnson is 6’7 and is listed at pushing the scales to 240. The size factor will make this tandem very hard to deal with, but will they play well together? Johnson not-so-endearingly earned the moniker “iso-Joe” in Atlanta, which was a testament to his propensity for ball dominance outside of the flow of the offense. This may not be indicative of the style he will play in Brooklyn, however. Years back, Johnson played admirably alongside Steve Nash, as his performance in Phoenix is what brought him league-wide recognition in the first place. Similarly, Williams has been far less facilitative during his stay in New Jersey than we were used to seeing in his Utah days. Thus we may see a match made in heaven between the two, allowing them each to fall back into their respective realms of comfort and optimal effectiveness. Furthering the Phoenix parallel is Gerald Wallace at the small forward spot. Wallace’s game compares very much to that of Shawn Marion, as a dynamic, strong on the boards, defensive minded forward, who is plenty comfortable stretching to the four. Also speaking of Phoenix, Josh Childress makes his way over to Brooklyn after a disappointing stint with the Suns, to hopefully offer some solid defense off the bench. Shifting our sights to the post game, the Nets will again be running out Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez to start the show. Humphries, despite the drama, is a hard worker and a relentless rebounder. On the other side of the coin, Lopez’s apparent aversion to the glass sort of washes out the rebounding advantage that Humphries gives them. Brook is coming back from a serious injury, but if he can put up a little bit stronger on the boards, there is a lot he can offer to the team. He is one of the more talented offensive big men in the league, as he possesses a solid array of moves around the basket, excellent footwork, and a decent mid-range jumper. The bigs off the bench are a unit of the fiery Reggie Evans, the “Strotential” of Andray Blatche, and European import Mirza Teletovic. Teletovic intrigues me the most out of this group, as he is a solid 6’9 with a strong international resume as an offensive weapon, and the ability to step out and shoot from long range.
I took a trip into Jersey last year to attend the Grizzlies’ lone matchup against the Nets, and believe that I saw Marreese Speights play the game of his life. Speights did his best Zbo impression that night, as he was all over the glass picking up 18 boards to go along with the 20 points that he put up on the board. To be fair, the front-line that he was up against consisted of Humphries, Johan Petro and Shelden Williams, but his performance was impressive nonetheless. As a whole, our Grizzlies had to claw and swipe for the victory, which was alarming due to the level of the competition we faced, but this year I’m sure the Nets will not be taken as lightly, with three all-stars on their roster (four if you count Jerry Stackhouse). The guards match up by far in their favor, as their size and ability will keep Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and our guys busy for 48 minutes. What we give up on the perimeter, we take back in the post. Lopez and Humphries are fine and nice, but no match for what we have to offer. Especially if Big Mo digs back into how he performed last time we met. My only fear in the post against them is the bulldog Reggie Evans. If you are reading this blog, I am sure I do not need to go into detail of how he downright abused us in the playoffs. That alone, though, should be motivation to come out strong and put out the fires that he creates with his havoc. So all in all, I see us against the Nets coming down to a classic battle where elite post play meets a top notch perimeter team. The Nets may be close to turning the corner as a franchise, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like our chances.