|Lopez broke his foot back on December 20th. The Nets have been 9-5 since.|
When it was announced around a month ago that Nets' center Brook Lopez would miss the rest of the 2013-14 season with a broken foot, the Nets were a lowly 9-17. The injury news sounded like a final death knell to a team that went through, quite possibly, the most disappointing opening 26 games that any team has experienced in the NBA in a very long time.
Brook was averaging over 20 points per game at the time, and was the Nets' most productive player. He got injured, and for awhile, it looked as if the very wind was taken out of Jason Kidd's team's proverbial sails. Brooklyn went on to lose four of five after the announcement was made, only improved after the new year arrived. In that new year? The Nets are 8-1 and have gotten crucial contributions from their remaining big men, who truly needed to play well without Lopez in the fold.
Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche, and Mirza Teletovic have all been amazing so far in the month of January and are quickly letting Nets fans forget about how their star center, and likely All-Star participant, won't be on the floor until the 2014-15 season.
KG, who was shooting around 36 percent from the field through the campaign's opening two months, has found his trademark mid-range jumper as of late and is hitting 18-footers without abandon. Sitting at a scorching 68 percent in January alone, Garnett's role in the Brooklyn offense as a key rebounder and open shooter is being fulfilled perfectly. With the multitude of other scorers this team has, opponents can sometimes forget about Garnett and may leave him open from 15 feet or so. The way the Nets have been moving the ball in 2014, whenever he's open, he gets the ball, which usually means two points for the Nets.
Looking at the last three games alone, all wins for the Nets, KG has played 18 minutes in each contest, scored 8.7 points per, and went 13-for-17 (76 percent). Basically, he's automatic between the hoop and around 20 feet away from it, and is now another player opposing defenses have to account, at the harm of another aspect as defense, such as rebounding. Kevin's making shots now, which he simply wasn't doing early on this year. Just his presence and the threat of his accurate shot stretches defenses thin and makes them more vulnerable.
Blatche, who has actually seen his playing time decrease without Lopez in the lineup, had two double-doubles in the Nets' first 37 games of the season, and has two in their last three. He's been shooting at a 51 percent clip in January and is averaging 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 2014, even throwing in a pair of three-pointers to boot. Just like KG, Dray has been especially good in Brooklyn's last three games (the wins over the Hawks, Knicks, and Magic) as he has 20-, 19-, and 18-point games respectively with 14- and 12-rebound showings as well.
How many times did he even reach 10 rebounds in a game before the win over Atlanta in London? Two. How many times since, including the London win? Two. Interesting.
Finally, we have Mirza, who is at 45.8 FG% and 44.0 3FG% so far in the new year. Those two numbers are both gradual improvements over his percentages in December, which were better than those from November. As the season has progressed, and Brook got injured, Mirza's game has improved. The consistent three-point shooting he provides the Nets significantly expands the halfcourt offense, opening up looks in the paint, which in turn allow for more open long-range shots. It's certainly no coincidence that the Nets' recent stretch of winning has happened right as MT3 turns into a true sharpshooter from deep.
There's no doubting that Brook Lopez is an offensive and defensive (maybe not rebounding, I'll concede that) force which Jason Kidd and the Nets love to have down low. However, though, the fact that players like KG, Blatche, and Mirza have been able to step up and rise to the occasion in his absence makes his brutal injury much less devastating. When a star goes down to injury, teams have two choices of what to do: Wither away and die or use their adversity as an advantage and springboard to improve. It's fairly obvious the Brooklyn Nets chose the latter, and are on their way to a playoff berth.