As the Nets offseason continues, let’s take a look at lessons the Nets can learn from, of all teams, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs: the Atlanta Hawks.
LESSON ONE: Brooklyn Needs quick Guards Who Can Get To The Rim
Only 3 teams have 2 players who tank top 25 in the NBA in drives to the basket. LeBron’s Cavs, who are rolling. the Magic, but that is likely a function of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton being unable to shoot and resorting to continued rim forays because they know nothing else. And the Hawks, in Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.
Teague and Schroder both served as the foundation from where everything went wrong for defenses trying to stop Atlanta this season. Both get to the rim at will and finish once they are there (postseasons aside). Rotate off of them, and Carroll and Korver are both knockdown shooters who will make you pay, and did: the Hawks took and made many threes this season, to the tune of 4th in threes taken (and they created wide open threes more than any other team, per NBA.com stats).
Keep a body on the Hawks shooters and their guards can make plays. And, most importantly to Brooklyn, the persistent threats from the perimeter and off the dribble left Horford and Millsap with space to operate all season.
Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are likely a lesser pair than Horford and Millsap, but are a very good front court pairing. The Nets have capable shooting in Mirza, Bojan, Anderson, and Johnson and Deron, to the extent any or all of those players return. But the team does not have the ability to knife through defenses in the way Teague and Schroder do. That type of player is what Brooklyn needs.
LESSON TWO: FORGET ABOUT MAKING A SPLASH AND WORK THE BARGAIN BIN
The Hawks like the Warriors were another free agency “loser.” They had grand plans of acquiring Dwight Howard and Chris Paul in free agency. Those plans failed. But Atlanta did not continue with that plan or panic sign other huge names in a back page battle. Instead, they scoured the market for value signings over headline driven moves, and cobbled together an elite team (non elite teams don’t win 60 games, period).
I’m sure if the Nets marketed DeMarre Carroll in 2013 as a significant offseason addition, the reaction would have been “who.” And that is why the Nets did not scour the bargain bin for the 2013 DeMarre Carroll, and why some teams this summer won’t try to find the next Carroll: it doesn’t generate buzz.
Wel, forget buzz. Nothing the Hawks did in the past several summers from a personnel standpoint generated buzz. It generated 60 wins though. There seems to be a school of thought that NY wants brash players, “leaders,” guys who visibly throw their heart on their sleeves. Atlanta doesn’t have that: they have a winner, and in reality that is all Brooklyn needs.
The Nets can build a team, just like Atlanta did. A team in the modern NBA needs several ingredients. You need dribble penetration, shooting, players who can guard multiple positions, and players who can play both ends of the floor at a B level or higher. For all the talk of a “superstar league,” the conference finals feature a 0 superstar, 1 superstar, 1-2 superstar (Dwight was injured half the year and Houston hummed), and 1-2 superstar (Love is out and Kyrie is not at that level these playoffs with his injuries) team.
The Hawks won 60 games by breaking defenses down off the dribble, then quickly reversing the ball and making plays against recovering defenses.
Brooklyn can build that by targeting specific personnel, and do not need to get Durant in 14 months. It will not be easy. It may require patience and rolling some cap space into 2017, rather than winning the headline from the Knicks. But it should be the focus.
For all the talk that the Hawks style cannot win in June, it’s winning for Golden State and got Atlanta to a place Brooklyn has not been for now 12 years. The Hawks collapse is more about their collective psyche than a referendum on their style or roster.
Credit to the Hawks. When they struck out on Dwight and CP3 they went out and acquired complementary personnel, with players who can make plays off the dribble, shoot, guard their positions, and punish teams inside when they overload the perimeter.
The Nets have parts of that construction, but only parts. Will they find the rest?