How The Brooklyn Nets Became The East’s Most Dangerous Sleeper

By: 04.03.14
Shaun Livingston, Jason Kidd

Shaun Livingston, Jason Kidd (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)

On December 31, the Nets suffered a 113-93 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. It was their 11th loss by double-digits in the first 31 games of the season, in which their record was just 10-21. Paul Pierce, a centerpiece of the trade between the Nets and Boston Celtics last summer, which was expected to catapult Brooklyn up the ranks in the Eastern Conference, had enough.

“It’s embarrassing,” Pierce told the media after the game. “I don’t think I’ve been a part of this many blowouts in one season, already. At some point we’ve got to have our pride come from each individual and say we’ve had enough of this. It’s extremely embarrassing.”

Since January 1, the tide has turned over the Brooklyn Bridge. The Nets are an Eastern Conference best 30-13 in the New Year, and in the process have clinched a playoff berth. They are currently the five-seed in the East, but have remained in striking distance to catch the Toronto Raptors for the three-seed and first-place of the Atlantic Division. They have also turned the Barclays Center into a house of horrors for opponents, recording 14 consecutive victories at home.

There are many reasons as to how the Nets saved their season and transformed themselves from epic failures into legitimate title contenders. Kevin Garnett‘s New Year’s resolution may have helped, Jason Kidd‘s turnaround has surely played a factor but above all else, the Nets–as a team –-have become extremely efficient. And in the NBA, efficiency is key.

In 2014, numerous players have stepped up on the roster from top to bottom–but none more surprising than Shaun Livingston. His play at both guard positions has been monumental to the Nets’ success this season, so much so that general manager Billy King recently stated that re-signing him this offseason is “priority number one.”

It has become evident that the 28-year-old has found a rhythm, getting to the rim often and making it look easy. On shots in the paint but outside of the restricted area, Livingston is shooting 49.4 percent since the New Year–more than eight percent above the league average.

Below, he speaks with Devin Kharpertian of the Brooklyn Game on how he executes these types of plays:

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Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston (courtesy. Brooklyn Game)

As the video explains and the image above shows, he managed to get off the shot because Al Jefferson (squared in blue) opted to stay back on Andray Blatche as opposed to helping out Luke Ridnour on Livingston.

Earlier in that same game, Livingston used another effective drive for two more points. After Gerald Henderson jumped a screen set by Mason Plumlee, Livingston was able to get into the lane and in this instance, Jefferson did step up to challenge him. Yet, he quickly recognized this and dished it off to the cutting Plumlee for the easy dunk. Essentially, Jefferson respected Livingston’s inside shot enough to challenge him, which left the rookie wide-open underneath the basket.

There is, however, another issue the Bobcats are facing in the video above. As Livingston drives, Kemba Walker appears to be headed toward the paint, either to possibly steal the incoming pass to Plumlee or prevent the pass from coming in all together, but he quickly retreats back by the three-point line. This is because he realizes Joe Johnson (not pictured below), who averages over two three-pointers per game, is about as open as one can hope to be.

New Jersey Nets

While these may seem like two minute, insignificant plays, this is a large part of how the Nets are an effective team in their half-court offense. Livingston has the ability to drive and either shoot or dish it off to two capable big men (Blatche and Plumlee are both shooting over 60 percent within eight feet of the basket) while Brooklyn also possesses talented shooters on the outside.

Keep reading for more…

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