It’s doubtful the Nets anticipated being four games under .500 at the All-Star break when this roster was assembled last summer. But a slow start and an absurd amount of injuries derailed the team in the first two months.
In the last six weeks, the team has found its footing somewhat and are very much alive in their quest to secure one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference and avoid a first-round matchup with Indiana or Miami.
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The grades ...
It was believed Williams would perform at or near the All-Star level he played at in the second half of last season but an offseason ankle injury has derailed things and cost him 16 games. When he has played, Williams has averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 assists — representing the lowest averages since he averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 assists as a rookie. Four years ago, Williams was voted by league general managers as the best point guard in the NBA. But now, he might not crack the top 10. Of course, Williams was in a similar situation last season before completely turning it around and a repeat of that would help the Nets immensely.
Johnson gets high marks for consistency — having missed only two games — and his 15 points per game lead all active Nets. The team thrived in January when Johnson shot 47.2 percent and averaged 19.7 points in the first eight games of 2014. Johnson also remains the team’s primary closer with buzzer beaters at Phoenix and Oklahoma City and the Nets are 9-4 when he leads them in scoring. However, there have too many single-digit scoring nights. Johnson is shooting 30.1 percent in the 15 games he has been below 10 points and has had 23 games shooting under 40 percent.
Pierce was tough to watch in the first few weeks of the season as his body language looked poor. Pierce, however, has been as instrumental in the turnaround as anyone after being moved to power forward. Since that move, Pierce is averaging 14.6 points per game. But instead of the role player’s numbers, the Nets need more of what they’ve seen in the last 20 games, including higher scoring totals.
Out of all the veterans, nobody has been handled with kid gloves more than Garnett. Keeping him fresh for the playoffs has caused his minutes per game to drop to 21, which might be more of a statement on his physical state. Still, Garnett seemed to get fatigued in the playoffs last year so the minutes limit might prove beneficial. When he’s on the court, Garnett has experienced mixed results with 11 games of double-digit scoring, two double-doubles and four games with at least 10 rebounds. Even in a diminished state offensively, his defense has helped especially since being moved to center — a position Garnett dislikes playing.
Livingston not only gets high marks for his continued redemption from a gruesome knee injury in 2007 but for also playing well and being one of two Nets to appear in every game. He was expected to be part of the second unit but injuries changed the story and Livingston has responded well on both ends. The highlight of his season has been getting LeBron James to foul out in a game when Livingston nearly had a triple-double. The numbers may not be impressive but they don’t tell the entire story.
Since the Nets have won 16 of 22 games he has played it’s hard for them not to imagine what their record would be if he played in most of the 28 games that he missed due to back spasms and a calf injury. Even if his statistics are not high, they don’t often tell the whole story of a player who is constantly in motion and using his length to do various little things that often win games.
Anderson has been real find for the league minimum and during the first two months was one of the few consistently providing effort. Though he is your typical streaky shooter, the Nets have benefited more often than not — most recently Feb. 6 when he scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Teletovic was buried on the bench by former head coaches Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo last season and did not hide his disappointment during media day this year. He started to get consistent minutes in December and is averaging 8.7 points while having nights like Jan. 24 against Dallas when he scored 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting. Teletovic also has endeared himself to Net fans by not backing down from LeBron James, who was clearly angry at a hard foul in the Jan. 10 game.
Blatche has focused more on the court as the Nets have given him the green light on offense. That can be a good or bad thing depending on the night. Blatche has taken 10 or more shots in 27 games and the Nets are 16-11 in those games. The Nets still see mistakes at times and he isn’t much of rebounder but for his price Blatche has mostly been a positive bargain.
Plumlee appears to be a very good find at the No. 22 slot in last year’s draft. After being in and out of the rotation, he has shown tremendous athleticism as evidenced by five dunks Feb. 9 against New Orleans. Plumlee can enhance his game by hitting shots outside of the paint which is something he has yet to do in his young NBA career.
Recovering from offseason knee surgery derailed Terry and based on what the Nets have been getting, it’s easy to see why the Celtics insisted on his inclusion in the blockbuster trade. Terry has had six games in double figures but his 36.2 percent shooting is the lowest as a pro.
Every loss in the first two months seemed to draw more ridicule about how overmatched Kidd was, especially the ones coming in the wake of his poor handling of Lawrence Frank’s re-assignment from the bench. Since then, Kidd has adjusted well by creating a small lineup and a more active and vocal personality on the sidelines.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.