11:19 am Dec. 4, 2012
Much of the attention on the Brooklyn Nets has focused on Deron Williams lately, and that's not really a surprise. The Nets are relying on Williams to be their best player and, so far, he's struggled to fill the role.
Williams is right near his career norms in rebounding, assist percentage, usage, steals and turnovers, but his shooting accuracy has taken a noticeable dip.
Williams is a career 45.3 percent shooter overall, 34.8 percent from three-point range. Prior to last night's 117-111 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was at 38.2 percent overall, 26.8 percent from three. Both numbers are subpar for a point guard, let alone one who is a high-volume shooter for the Nets.
With leading scorer Brook Lopez nursing a foot injury, and Joe Johnson continuing to provide more complementary offensive production than steady leading production, the spotlight is on Williams. And while his season mark is bad, it was even worse over the ten games prior to last night, when Williams shot just 32.8 percent from the field.
There's no real mystery about why this is happening: Williams is playing hurt. He didn't practice Monday, to rest injuries to his right elbow, his wrist, and both legs. Considering that the marathon 82-game season is only 16 games old, the fact Williams is already breaking down is troublesome.
Equally unsurprising was the effect the rest had on his performance Tuesday night against the Thunder: a season-high 33 points on 10-for-20 shooting overall, 5-for-9 from three.
What is interesting about what we've learned about the Nets so far is this: they can win a lot of games with Williams playing at this lesser level. The Nets are 11-6, with wins over the Knicks (Williams shot 6-for-17), the Clippers (Williams shot 3-for-10) and two wins over the Celtics (6-for-17, 3-for-12).
So far, the team hasn't bothered to reduce Williams' minutes in order to limit wear and tear; he averaged 36.5 minutes per game over those past ten contests, and more than 41 minutes against the Thunder.
But the Nets aren't going to challenge the Heat or the Thunder, come playoff time, unless Williams is much better.
With months to go until the playoffs, the Nets ought to take a page from how the Knicks treated Carmelo Anthony last year.
Anthony, determined to play through several injuries, including to his wrist, struggled badly with his shot in the early part of the season. He shot under 40 percent overall, and just under 30 percent from three-point range, down from career rates of 45.7 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three.
Finally, a groin injury forced Anthony out of the lineup in February, allowing his body to heal all over for two weeks. (That's also when Linsanity hit, so you are forgiven for forgetting this.)
When Anthony returned, he shot 45.2 percent overall, and 36.6 percent from three, for the rest of the regular season. In the final month, he was at 49.7 percent overall, 44.3 percent from three. The Knicks ultimately fell to the Heat in the playoffs, but that had far more to do with the roster's limitations than with Anthony, who was playing quite well in time for the playoffs.
This year's Nets have the roster capacity to withstand a healing absence by Williams, particularly once Lopez returns to anchor the offense. C.J. Watson can play the point in Williams' stead; that's why the Nets signed him.
The Nets shouldn't limit their own opportunity to succeed in the playoffs, which is how this season can and should ultimately be judged, by compromising their own players. But Williams won't willingly sit himself. So the Nets need to be proactive here, and keep their best player in the best possible shape to lead them in the playoff run this roster deserves.