After playing their first two games of December in the 2013-14 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets were just about as far as a team can possibly get from their preseason expectations. This is a team that, after acquiring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett via a blockbuster trade this offseason, was talked about as potentially challenging the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. Two games into December, though, the Nets sat at a putrid 5-14.
Since that time, though, the Nets have started to get rolling a bit. Over their six games since that time, they have gone 4-2 and improved their record to 9-16 on the year. Over that six-game span, the Nets have also gotten healthier. Sure, Brook Lopez has missed a few games and Joe Johnson and Garnett are out on Friday night, but the return of Deron Williams and slow arrival of Andrei Kirilenko to the lineup have been big for Brooklyn.
Since their third game of December, on Dec. 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets have actually been on quite the tear. Over that time, the Nets have the second best offense in the league while averaging 113 points per 100 possessions. Moreover, the Nets have had the league’s eighth best defense over that span as well, allowing just 99.4 points per 100 possessions.
Obviously there are a few anomalies that help out Brooklyn’s case, namely the game where Johnson helped Brooklyn explode for 130 points against the Philadelphia 76ers, but that doesn’t change their newfound success and a sustained solid level of play.
Though it seems trivial, this really all comes down to the return of Williams. While Tyshawn Taylor and Shaun Livingston weren’t bad in Williams’ absence, they don’t bring the high level of play, leadership and even threat of playing at a high level to the game like Williams does. Williams not only demands defensive attention because he can produce by himself, but he is also a more than capable facilitator when the defense indeed does focus on him. Moreover, he is a better defender and his leadership can help keep the Nets’ defense from imploding, like it did quite often early in the year. This Nets team still has a ways to go and it would be nice to see everyone at full health, but there are certainly positive signs with how they are performing at the present.