12:30 pm Oct. 2, 2012
The message came down from on high at Monday's Media Day for the Brooklyn Nets, and was repeated by one and all: the Nets are focused on defense.
“We must make a major step defensively,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We’ve got to be in the top ten. That’s one of the barometers for us defensively.”
That's an interesting statement. There's little question that the Nets were just terrible defensively last season. Using John Hollinger's defensive metrics, the Nets ranked 29th of 30 in the N.B.A. last season defensively, just ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats, who finished 7-59.
That alone isn't relevant to this Nets team. Not only has the franchise moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, the roster is utterly transformed.
But the new starting five doesn't carry much of a reputation for defense. Center Brook Lopez is considered below-average defensively, power forward Kris Humphries merely average. Joe Johnson is vulnerable to isolation plays, while Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams check in as a bit better than average.
Is that enough of a talent base defensively to finish in the top ten defensively? Possibly. The bench also has some strong defensive parts, like forward Reggie Evans and backup point guard C.J. Watson. And MarShon Brooks can't be expected to ruin a defense all by himself.
The real question is whether the Nets even need to be a top ten defense. Among the playoff teams, defensive rankings last season ran from Chicago's first through Utah's 20th. The four conference finalists were Miami (fourth), Boston (second), Oklahoma City (ninth) and San Antonio (eleventh).
The latter two teams provide a window into roughly what the Nets need to do. They finished right around average defensively, but ranked 1-2 in offensive efficiency.
If the Nets lack the impressive defensive credentials in their lineup, the same cannot be said offensively. All five starters can be expected to provide above-average offensive production, and the Nets have a deep bench capable of more. A top-ten finish defensively is possible, but a top-five finish offensively is probable if the new pieces play well together.
This Nets team, on paper, is as capable as any in the Eastern Conference, with the exception of LeBron James' Miami, of making a sustained playoff run. They'll need to play competent defense, of course. But it is the offense that will get them there.