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Brooklyn looks to grow by sticking with what they've got

POSTED: Oct 20, 2014 6:34 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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2014-15 Nets Team Preview

Sekou Smith says new coach Lionel Hollins must find the right chemistry to help the Nets get to the next level in the Playoffs.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

There was a point in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the conference semifinals when the best player in the world was helpless. His teammates had had their shot, and it was LeBron James' turn to try to stop Joe Johnson. In the end, he couldn't do it by himself.

The Miami Heat won the game (and the series) by double-teaming Johnson on the final possession, but the eventual Eastern Conference champs weren't able to stop the guy Kevin Garnett dubbed "Joe Jesus" one-on-one. The same could be said about the Raptors in the first round. Johnson averaged 21.2 points on an effective field goal percentage of 59.2 percent in 12 postseason games, reminding everyone that there was a pretty good player holding that pretty big contract.

Johnson was also the Brooklyn Nets' leading scorer in the regular season, but took things to a new level in the playoffs, when individual matchups take precedence. And it's matchups that make Johnson the player that he is. At 6-foot-7, he can shoot over smaller wings. And his ball-handling skills give him all the space he needs to get off a shot against everybody else.

You could do a lot worse than running your offense through Johnson or letting him play one-on-one early, late and often. And Johnson acknowledged before camp began that he'd like to build on his own and his team's playoff performance.

Nets Season Preview: Moving Pieces

Stu Jackson and Dennis Scott examine Brooklyn with the return of Brook Lopez and the exits by Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston.

"I'm coming in with the mindset that I have to help lead this team in the right direction," Johnson said. "So, coming off the playoffs, obviously with a little momentum, coming to camp feels great. And we should all have something to build off of, because I honestly thought in that Miami series we let a couple games get away and it easily could have gone seven."

But new Nets coach Lionel Hollins says that he doesn't want his offense to rely heavily on one player. With the return of Brook Lopez and the improved health of Deron Williams, the Nets have the pieces of an offense that can be just as potent over 82 games as it was over two playoff series. But Hollins wants the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.

We've got a lot of good shooters, a lot of good decision-makers, a lot of high IQ guys. And I want to utilize that and take advantage of all the personnel that's on the floor.

– Lionel Hollins

"I'm looking for a system that involves a lot of people on every possession," Hollins said, "so that whoever has the ball that's open can shoot the ball. We've got a lot of good shooters, a lot of good decision-makers, a lot of high IQ guys. And I want to utilize that and take advantage of all the personnel that's on the floor. Now I'm not going to say we're not going to iso. I'm not going to say we're not going to post up. But that's not going to be our focal point."

According to SportVU, the Nets ranked in the middle of the league in passes per possession last season, but near the bottom in distance traveled. The ball moved more than the people, who often stood around when the Nets got the matchup they wanted.

Hollins doesn't want that. He won't call for many direct entries into Johnson or Lopez in the post, so that four other guys stand still and watch. The Nets believe they can still take advantage of matchups, but that being less deliberate will make them tougher to guard.

"It's reads and reactions," Johnson said of the new offense. "You can't game plan for one guy. You can't double-team or load up, because a lot of it is movement, catch and shoot, catch and make a quick play, instead of just coming down like, 'OK, we're going to put Joe in the post.'"

In April and May, Johnson reminded us of how good he is playing one-on-one. In November, Hollins wants to remind you how good Johnson can be playing five-on-five.

ICYMI ...

Deron Williams hopes that cleaned-up ankles will lead to more bounce and more confidence ... They've traded a lot of first round picks, but the Nets always feel they can buy into the second round. They purchased three second rounders, including athletic wing Markel Brown, in June ... Shaun Livingston took his length to Golden State and was replaced by Jarrett Jack, who arrived in a three-team trade ... Paul Pierce took his leadership to Washington and was replaced by Bojan Bogdanovic, who finally came over three years after getting drafted ... Mason Plumlee was a surprise selection for the U.S. National Team that won World Cup gold.

THREE POINTS

1. One way the Nets can be better than last season is just avoiding a slow start. As Jason Kidd learned on the job, his team went 10-21 through Dec. 31.

2. Bogdanovic, Jack and Andrei Kirilenko could all be candidates for the fifth starting position, but Alan Anderson is another veteran for Hollins to lean on.

3. Even though Pierce played his best at power forward last season and is now in Washington, the Nets still have somewhat of a logjam at the four, with Garnett, Kirilenko, Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic all options at the position.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Brook Lopez and his surgically repaired (three times over) right foot will largely determine the success of the Nets' season -- as well as the outlook of the next few years in Brooklyn. If healthy, Lopez is an offensive anchor and an improving defender who takes up a lot of space. But right foot injuries have taken away two of his last three seasons. The Nets hope that January's procedure, which reset a bone in Lopez's foot, made him less susceptible to further injury. But the minor sprain that Lopez suffered in the team's third preseason game can only elicit further concern.

STARTING FIVE

Deron Williams |14.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 6.1 apg
Though he wasn't playing his best, the Nets' offense was its best with him on the floor.

Alan Anderson | 7.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.0 apg
Called on to provide floor spacing in the Toronto series, though he's not a great shooter.

Joe Johnson | 15.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg
He was 11-for-14 in last 30 seconds with a tie score or his team down one or two points over last two seasons.

Kevin Garnett | 6.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.5 apg
Fell off offensively, but still helps the D. Led the league in defensive rebounding percentage.

Brook Lopez | 20.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.9 apg
Fragile feet, but game-changing size and skills. Looked like an impact defender early last season.

KEY RESERVES

Jarrett Jack | 9.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.1 apg
Versatile, veteran guard will push Williams to SG at times.

Mason Plumlee | 7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 apg
From No. 22 pick to First Team All-Rookie to FIBA World Cup gold medalist.

Mirza Teletovic | 8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.8 apg
Floor-spacing power forward launches (and makes) shots from anywhere.