If Sunday’s close 95-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was any indication, Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries isn’t just out of coach Avery Johnson’s rotation. He’s out of the scene entirely, set to rack up some Did Not Play – Coach’s Decisions, because of his struggles on both sides of the ball. A pretty steep freefall, to be sure, but is it one that’s deserved?
Johnson sat Humphries in favor of a forward pairing teaming up smallish forward Gerald Wallace and former shooting guard Keith Bogans. Both responded with fine outings – Bogans managed a very un-Keith Bogans line that included 13 points, and Wallace came through with nine rebounds, six assists, and 14 points in the win. Both combined for over 72 minutes of play, and that’s a lot, but the Nets (who had lost eight of 10 entering Sunday) had to do something.
"He just said he was starting Gerald [Wallace] and it was going to be inconsistent for me for a while," Humphries said. "I really didn't know it was going to be a DNP, but you've got to be ready to handle anything in the NBA.
"Anybody wants to start and play as much as possible, so you are obviously frustrated. But it's about more than one player."
That is, perhaps, the most shocking but most understandable element of the demotion. Fewer minutes? Sure. A benching? That’s fine, I suppose. But a DNP-CD? No minutes at all, even as 6-9 forward Tornike Shengelia got to see three minutes off the bench? Tornike Shengelia is a thing, people.
"He's fine. He's healthy. He's not in the doghouse," Johnson said. "Hey, we just had to try something else . . . "
"We'll just see how it goes. At the end of the day, we've got to settle on something. Sixty percent of the league plays this way, and this also helps us on transition defense because we have smaller, quicker guys and the floor is spaced differently."
It is true that the modern NBA more and more often leans on smaller lineups that like to push forwards out past the three-point line. Bogans’ entire offensive arsenal comes from spotting up for and hitting less than a league average percent of three-pointers, surely his and Wallace’s 4-6 mark on Sunday from long range cannot be counted on game in and game out.
Then again, Humphries can’t shoot a lick from outside, and the Nets were put together to be an offense-first club. That’s part of the reason why his benching feels like a smokescreen of sorts, even if it wasn’t intended that way.
The Nets are currently ranked ninth in offensive efficiency, and 18th on the other end. That’s not too far off from what we expected of the squad entering the season, and asking more on the defensive end from a team featuring flat-footed players like Humphries, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Reggie Evans would be ridiculous. These players neither have the instincts nor quickness to keep up with opponents.
Also, Andray Blatche is on this team.
For that group to be at 18, some would suggest, is an accomplishment. The real letdown is on offense, where it was assumed before the year that the Nets would have to be a top five or even top three offensive team if they wanted to compete. With the defensive end dragging them down that much, the squad had to shoot the lights out. And while number nine was good enough for John and Yoko, it can’t be counted on if the Nets want to hit the postseason looked upon as a force.
Deron Williams wishes he had a towel that matched his top (Getty Images)The Nets’ typical starting lineup of Williams, Joe Johnson, Wallace, Humphries and Lopez has played teams just about even on the year, and that’s the stuff of 41-win dreams. Not 59. The pairing of Humphries and Lopez was worrisome entering the year, and it’s possible that their stone-footed approach to defense and scoring acumen that only extends to the lines on the end of the paint could be a problem, but it’s also worth noting that the new lineup (with Wallace and Bogans raining in treys) only won by three last night.
Humphries’ production has dipped a bit since last season, but there are also more mouths to feed with Lopez’s return to health and Joe Johnson on board. Offensively, he’s the same player he’s always been – a big forward with no range that still manages to shoot a bad percentage on the inside while rarely getting to the free throw line. He’s a rebounder that sometimes dunks and still loves that pull-up jumper that seems good in theory but rarely falls.
Is he the biggest problem, though?
The five-man lineup Johnson previously rolled out was playing almost exactly average basketball, outscoring its opponents by only two points since the start of 2012-13. Deron Williams is still making fewer than 40 percent of his shots, though. Johnson is playing below average offensive basketball despite putting up strong per-game numbers due to his massive minutes and shot attempts (where have we seen that before?). Those two players combine to shoot nearly 11 three-pointers a contest despite making 33.9 percent of them. That’s just 11.1 points per 10.9 possessions. That’s awful, and it’s not something that would appear to be changing any time soon.
Maybe the real issue is outsized expectations. The Nets are full of very famous people with very large contracts. Williams and Johnson, though, are probably not worth the same maxed-out salary that other stars make. Same with Lopez, though we can understand the market constraints that led to his deal. If anything, the Nets should be banking on 66 future healthy games from Lopez, who has turned a corner (even if, for a center, he’s still – ahem – behind the curve) with his rebounding game. And a possible uptick in shooting percentages from Williams and Johnson.
Little of this is the fault of the team’s doofus power forward. Going small isn’t going to be a panacea. As it’s been, the onus is on Brooklyn’s smalls to help things done change. We’ll give them one more chance.
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