Rival Report:'s Ben Couch
By: Jim Eichenhofer,
January 7, 2010

Throughout the 2009-10 regular season, will be interviewing writers from other NBA websites to obtain unique insights on the Hornets opposition, prior to home games at the New Orleans Arena.

With the Hornets hosting the New Jersey Nets at 7 p.m. Friday, we caught up with writer Ben Couch. The Nets have obviously experienced a brutal start to the season. Like the Hornets, theyve already experienced a coaching change and injuries to key players. What has been the most frustrating aspect of the first two-plus months for the Nets?
Couch: Besides the losing, you mean? Ha. Try explaining to people with a straight face that you have no idea why this team is 3-32. Well, fine, there are lots of reasons. But think about it this way: the probabilities of actually achieving such a record are miniscule, and as one recently departed Net commented offhand (Word to your Rafer), when you look at the nameplates, its almost perplexing that this group of players managed to get in this kind of hole. Theyre talented, I swear!

Think back to preseason, when everyone comes up with all the scenarios for how a year could play out, and people think of all the what ifs they can in both directions, with most predictions falling somewhere in the middle. Well, this has been a season that started with low pundit expectations (generally 25-30 wins) falling victim to a fourth-quarter collapse against a similarly developing Timberwolves team in the opener which included the first of many, many injuries when Jarvis Hayes tore his hamstring in two places and everything snowballing from there and rolling off a cliff. Sure, people might have mentioned this could be one of the worst teams in the NBA in their predictions, but no one thought theyd be threatening Philly for the league record of fewest wins in a season. Fact.

Nets center Yi Jianlian has been one of the more recent bright spots for New Jersey this season. With various players out of the lineup for chunks of the season, which Nets players have shown the most progress recently in terms of individual improvement?
Couch: Progress recently is a discussion that starts and ends with Yi Jianlian. The 7-footer has come back from a seven-week layoff to play eight games at a level befitting his No. 6 draft selection two seasons ago. (P.S. It wouldve been five weeks had Sean Williams not accidentally thrown a 50-stitch elbow during a post-practice 3-on-3 session. That kind of year. Ugh.) In seven games, Yi has averaged 20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting .476. Being that there was only one real clunker in the bunch (a 2-13 night against Cleveland when he still managed 11 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks), it appears Yis finally establishing himself as a legitimate NBA player.

While its unlikely at this point hed maintain a 20-7 the rest of the way, this is a guy who entered the season with career averages of 8.6 PPG (.401 FG%) and 5.3 RPG. His defense needs work, but he tries, and thats reflected in the steal/block hes averaging since returning. Its amazing what adding strength and making decisive moves toward the basket can do for your game. Watching him attempt to dunk all over Carl Landry twice in 30 seconds two weeks back (succeeding once, converting the free throws on the other) was the most stunning sequence of the season. New Jerseys start would seem to preclude it from competing for a playoff spot. What are Nets primary objectives to accomplish over the remainder of the regular season?
Couch: Development, development and development. Devin Harris needs to continue to evolve as a point guard, finding ways to balance the distribution and confidence among his young charges, while maintaining his aggressiveness as primary go-to player. Brook Lopez needs to evolve in response to opponents constant double-teams, and learn to play alongside this new Yi. Yi needs to maintain this type of play, if not the numbers, for more than seven games. Chris Douglas-Roberts needs to find ways to keep himself involved in the offense after hot starts. Terrence Williams needs to do that rookie thing and absorb the lessons of mistakes as he makes them. Courtney Lee needs to work on his isolation game and quick release so that his FG percent can climb closer to last years .450 than this seasons .391.

Oh, and if they could find a way to win say seven more games, that would make everyones lives easier. If they win two a month from now to April, they end up with 11. That makes it seem reasonable, right? Right?! Yikes. Within the past year, usage of social networking media has become widespread in the NBA. Who are the Nets most entertaining and active players using Twitter or other platforms?
Couch: Chris Douglas-Roberts PERIOD.

Oh, you need explanation? My word isnt good enough for you readers? I see how this is. Hmmm, lets see: there are pictures of his twin Bengal cats, stories about stalkers that required FBI interference, ticket giveaways, copious amount of fan (and hater!) interaction, outfit breakdowns, videos of tattoo sessions, and 140-character updates on living the NBA life during an unbelievably tough season on the court. Sound interesting yet? Follow already! You can find Chris @cdouglasroberts. And dont forget to check for us @netsbasketball!

Terrence Williams practices his skills on the other side of the microphone with fellow rookies Earl Clark (Suns #55) and James Harden (Thunder #13). Who is the best interviewee on the Nets roster?
Couch: Thats a tough one. Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes are great guys and great talkers. Trenton Hassells honest as an NBA player will get. Josh Boone, Tony Battie, Bobby Simmons and Eduardo Najera are all ready with an answer when you need it. Skip was great while he was here. Brook Lopez is funny, though often lengthier when not discussing basketball (the bball answers tend to be terse, without being impolite). Courtney Lees quite insightful when youve got him away from the media scrum. Devin Harris bears the mantle of best player/nightly media sacrifice with admirable aplomb. Yis English is noticeably improved this year, and he even cracks jokes now. Chris Douglas-Roberts is money, day in, day out, any topic.

But I think Ive actually got to go with Terrence Williams. Though hes occasionally a tough nut to crack during questioning, hes funny and thoughtful and perceptive and charismatic. All these things are apparent if you interact with him casually and come through during a formal interview if you give him the chance. Also, he once offered to write love poems if I ever got in trouble with my girl. Whats one thing we might be surprised to know about the Nets?
Couch: Statistically, not much. The numbers bear out the record. But this is a special group of guys in that despite the losing the postgame locker room can bum you out they come back every day ready to do something different. They work hard in practice, with various guys coming early or staying late, and stay loose, but focused. Maintaining a positive attitude under the specter of negative attention can be tough round these parts, and its inspiring that the guys who have to put on the jerseys and step on the court are upbeat, even if the results have yet to catch up to the effort.

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