Through the first week of the NBA season, 3-pointers are flying. The Brooklyn Nets were second in the league last season with 35.7 attempted per game, but going into Monday night’s games eight teams were attempting more than that in 2018-19.
The Nets were not — surprisingly, but also relatively speaking — part of that early three-for-all. Through three games they are averaging 35.1 threes per game, right around last year’s pace. And after they put up 27 against the Detroit Pistons on opening night, coach Kenny Atkinson made clear he’d like to see more than that. After attempting 30 threes against the Knicks in their home opener last Friday, they launched 37 against the Pistons in Indiana on Saturday.
“It’s take what the defense is giving you,” said Atkinson on Monday. “That was a team that was crowding the paint. We’ve still got to do a better job of getting off it. That’s an improvement area. Quicker decisions, get off the ball a little more. We’re still holding it a little too long. We addressed that today in film. Play with the pass, move the ball quicker.”
Against the Pacers, the Nets connected on four threes in the first five minutes and went on to score 58 first-half points. Joe Harris had two of those early threes, on the way to making 5-of-6 for the game and finishing with 19 points.
“We’re going to get them in the flow of our offense with the personnel that we have,” said Harris. “You’re going to get a lot of good looks at three just through the offense. We were trying to get more in transition. We didn’t really get a ton in transition against New York. Thought we did a better job getting out running, trying to get a few more up. Still not quite actually the number that we would like to get to.”
After an off night against the Pistons, Harris made eight of his 10 3-point attempts against the Knicks and Pacers. And his teammates have been in concert with that. The 5-of-27 3-point shooting hurt in a three-point opening night loss, but over the last two games the Nets are 28-67 (41.7 percent).
The Nets’ newly spread-out offense has helped keep the paint open, and with that the Nets led the NBA in drives per game (53.6) after their first three games.
“Just because the spacing that we have, even with Jarrett (Allen) being able to step out and pose a threat at the 3-point line to open stuff up, we’ve just got to do a better job making the correct reads where, the drive is there, obviously we’re taking it,” said Harris. “But if they’re not and they’re contested, especially against these heavy shift teams, we’ve got to get off it and move the ball quicker. Where we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble is getting in there, turning it over versus getting in there, making the right pass, making the simple pass and moving it from good shots to great shots.”
SHABAZZ NAPIER READY FOR NETS DEBUT
Like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Shabazz Napier was sidelined for all four preseason games, and missed the first three regular season games as well. But the newly acquired guard, a summertime free agent pickup, is also available for the first time this season Wednesday night in Cleveland.
“First get him some minutes,” said Atkinson of the plan to work Napier into the mix. “Get him some rhythm. Looked good in practice yesterday, so that’s a good sign. Don’t expect big minutes from him, but we’ll build him up. I think he’ll be that sparkplug. I think it gives us something defensively. He creates turnovers. He’s a ball-pressure guy. He gets into guys. He’s fast. And offensively he can give you a punch and come off and get 10 points in 10 minutes. His experience, right? NBA experience. He’ll help us.”
Last season, his fourth in the NBA, Napier posted career highs with 74 games played and 10 started, averaging 8.7 points and 2.0 assists in 20.7 minutes per game while shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range.
The return of Napier and Hollis-Jefferson continues a bit of an early-season personnel shuffle. The Nets lost DeMarre Carroll on the eve of the season due to ankle surgery and Treveon Graham strained his hamstring on Friday and missed Saturday night’s game in Indiana. Rookie forward Rodions Kurucs also left that game after turning his ankle in the second half. Meanwhile, Allen Crabbe returned on Friday after missing the final two preseason games and the season opener.
“With Rondae back and Shabazz, we’re going to throw in some lineups that no one’s seen before, not even myself,” said Atkinson. “But we’re just going to have to feel that and work it out and as guys come back from injury and guys are out and guys are in we’ve just got to figure that out, and that will be something to keep an eye on.”
Atkinson said on Monday that Graham would be out “awhile” with his hamstring injury. The third-year NBA player had taken advantage of the opportunity opened up by his teammates’ injuries to make an impression through preseason and the start of the regular season.
“With Rondae out, he was our best, versatile defender,” said Atkinson. “That’s what kind of grade I give him. That’s how important I thought he was for our defense. And offense, he doesn’t need the ball, which is a compliment. He knows how to move it. He gives us a physicality. It’s a loss, and we want to get him back as soon as possible, because he’s been a pleasant surprise for us.”
The Nets had an unusual three days off between games early in the season, so after an off day on Sunday, they had practice sessions Monday and Tuesday.
“This was a good two days for us to get back on track and integrate the guys coming back,” said Atkinson. “I think in professional sports, it’s just part of the job. You have to figure out the puzzle you have. Guys are going to be in and out. In a perfect world, you want everybody healthy and you want continuity and lineups that have played together for long periods of time. That’s perfect. But it’s not perfect, so we’ve got to figure that out.”
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS
It’s a different world in Cleveland. LeBron James went west and the Cavs have lost their first three games, giving up 131 points to Minnesota and 133 to Atlanta in their last two games. Kevin Love is the new fulcrum of the offense, and he’s averaging 20.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists, but shooting 26.3 percent from 3-point range and 30.4 percent overall. One Cleveland strength has corresponded to an issue that has been a problem for the Nets: the Cavs are hitting the offensive boards pretty well — Tristan Thompson is also a double-figure rebounder with 10.7 per game — and Cleveland is third in the league in second chance points with 19.0 per game. The Cavs have been allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from 3-point range — that’s 29th in the league — which could be an opening for the Nets.