Friday, November 23, 2007

Opposing View: 11/23 vs. New Jersey

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview.'s Matt McQueeny is traveling to the West Coast with the team and took some time out to answer our questions. Check out Matt's blog for more inside info on the Nets. Also give a look to the JoeNetsFan blog and as well as the always-entertaining blog by Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger.

The Nets struggled in Vince Carter's absence, then got back in the winning column in his return Wednesday. How much of a difference did his injury make?
His injury made a very big difference. Not just because the Nets lost the obvious last-year 25 point a game scorer but because of the effect he has all the way down the lineup. He is an instigator and an initator. With him on the floor, by default, he draws a double-team. He creates spacing for guys like Bostjan Nachbar, Antoine Wright and even Richard Jefferson to thrive on the perimeter. He is a phenomenal pick-n-roll player with both the small and big players, opening up the easy scoring lanes for guys like Josh Boone and, in time, Sean Williams. He diversifies the attack in that, when he and Jason Kidd are on the floor together, there are two guys who can run the pick-and-roll to perfection. The Nets were having offensive trouble with him through the first couple of games, that must be mentioned, but look at Nachbar, for instance. He was a guy who the Nets relied on heavily in the second half last year and was shooting just 36% from the field and 27% from three going into Wednesday's game with the Blazers. Vince returns and Nachbar breaks out, to the tune of 23 points, including four three-pointers in the fourth quarter that all either tied up the score at the time or gave the Nets a lead coming from a deficit. People like to criticize him for how it looks like he is playing the game at times, but as Nets coaches and management like to say, name five guys in the league who can average 25 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

Jefferson is off to a fine start to the season. Is this another step in his development?
More than a step in his development, this season represents a return to full health. Jefferson had ankle problems last season - for which he eventually got surgery - that robbed him of explosion. Without explosion for a player like him, it is like playing a sports video game without being able to use the "turbo" button. Jefferson is still only 27, the time many say is the entrance of a player's "prime," and works very hard to get better every season. The guy is an insanely efficient player, a winner, and a prime defender. He has grown up in the NBA entirely under Jason Kidd and has fostered many of his positive attributes through the six years they have been together. Also, he is the guy on the Nets who finds points, especially by getting to the free-throw line. Through 11 games this season, he was fifth in the league in average free-throw attempts, at 9.8 per game. And he is knocking them down, shooting 89%.

Rookie Sean Williams is a guy the league is buzzing about right now. What can you tell us about him?
The "rook" has opened eyes. Coming to the Nets, everybody knew his innate freakish athletic ability but there were questions about his development and maturity level. If the 21 year-old did not have troubles at Boston College, many say he would have been a top-five lottery pick. In Summer League, some of the entusiasm about him making an immediate impact were tempered as he did not have a great showing, though he did show improvement as the week progressed. But since then, he has made continual strides. As the competition got better, he stepped up to that level. His explosion is unbelievable and his shot-blocking prowess is ridiculous. There are usually two to three of his plays a game where you gasp and double-take, wondering if you really saw what you just saw. Before the game with the Blazers, Sean was already sixth in the league in blocks per game, with 2.5, and that was while playing just 21 minutes a game. He is making his share of game-plan mistakes - as a rookie and young player will - but what he can do on the court has made an absolute difference. He has even started two times this season. He has already had four blocks in a game three times this season, which is more games than the Nets had that happen all of last season. He has a praying mantis-like attack. He has blocked - off the top of my mind - three transition attempts this season where the opponent was in the open court, ahead of the pack, and Sean comes out of nowhere to erase it.

How much will the Nets benefit when Nenad Krstic is back to full strength in his comeback from a torn ACL?
They will benefit greatly. He is still not quite there; they are currently looking again at what the best plan of attack for getting his conditioning right is. The knee is fine, but the conditioning has been an issue. He needs time in games, but if he is struggling, the Nets cannot afford to keep him out there. Catch 22. So they are re-assessing how to treat him. For now, they are working him out very hard outside of the games, and pulling back his minutes - he is coming off the bench now - in games. Running up and down the court is not the problem for him; rather, it is moving laterally. He is still a step behind. He will be back to the 17-point, seven-rebound player, but it is a process and one which the Nets can't afford to let games slip away for. He is a tireless worker who never wants to stop, and he feels at a low point right now, but he knows he is on the way back and has faith that he will be back to his old self before long.

What don't we know but should about the Nets?
Might know it, but it's impressive for a team that was futile for so many years: the Nets have made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. There are only four teams in the NBA who claim a similar or better consecutive playoff-string. They are Detroit, Dallas, and San Antonio. You cannot forget how swiftly one man - Jason Kidd - changed the fortunes of this franchise.

Kidd notched his 90th career triple double against the Blazers. It was, amazingly, his 52nd as a Net. There are only five franchises that have had more total triple-doubles than Kidd, including the Nets.