The mysterious case of Kris Humphries and the ailing Nets
The Brooklyn Nets saw their record fall to 13-10, with an 83-82 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.
It's not clear to anyone, least of all the Nets, why their play has dropped off so sharply after an 11-4 start to the season.
Though many of those losses came without Brook Lopez, the Nets received excellent play from Andray Blatche in Lopez's absence. And Lopez not only played Saturday night against the Bulls, he played quite well, with 18 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in just over 25 minutes.
One variable is coach Avery Johnson's use of Kris Humphries. In recent games, the Nets have seen far less of Humphries and far more Reggie Evans, who replaced Humphries in the starting lineup over the past five games.
This was supposed to be due to Johnson's preference to keep Evans and Blatche together, to last until Lopez returned. But in the past two games, Lopez and Evans have started together.
And over the past five games, Evans has played just under 30 minutes per contest; Humphries' average is at just 16.7. So for practical purposes, Evans has been the primary power forward.
It's not hard to see why Johnson made this choice. Evans has been posting eye-popping rebounding numbers, grabbing 18 of them against the Knicks last week, and putting up 10 double-digit rebounding games already.
Humphries isn't far behind, though, with a high of 21 earlier this year, and seven double-digit rebounding games to date.
The thing about Evans is, rebounding is all he does. He's not a particularly gifted defender. His field goal percentage this season is 59 percent, but that is way out of line from his career mark of 46 percent, a very poor efficiency from someone whose shots are almost all putbacks right around the rim. And his season-high in shots taken this season in any game is just four.
This lack of complementary skills is the reason Evans signed a one-year, veterans' minimum deal with the Nets. And the reason Humphries got two years, $24 million this offseason was because he can rebound nearly as well as Evans, while scoring efficiently and defending well.
Other than a slight dip in his field goal shooting so far, Humphries has been every bit the player he was last season, and the season before. Playing Evans over Humphries means more attention on defending Brook Lopez inside. It means opponents can move more quickly to help defend Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, since the Nets are essentially playing 5-on-4 on the offensive end. It simply doesn't make them as effective an offensive team, and it is that offense that needs to carry them as far as they'll go.
And the tradeoff doesn't yield much in the way of defense, or even rebounding.
Reggie Evans entered the season in a contest with Mirza Teletovic for backup power forward minutes, and his rebounding made him a great fit to take those minutes.
But playing Evans over Humphries, to judge by the Nets' record, isn't helping anyone.