How Brooklyn Nets Hold Top Spot In East Without Kyrie Irving

Brooklyn Nets, NBA
NBA Analysis Network

After a feeling-out process at the beginning of the NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets have begun finding their footing. They are leading the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-5, winning three in a row and 11 out of their last 13 games heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the Boston Celtics.

The Nets were making some major adjustments coming into the season. Starting point guard Kyrie Irving did not receive his COVID-19 vaccination, so the team decided to hold him out until he did. Irving is not eligible to play in games at Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden without the vaccine.

The emphasis on rule changes was also impacting the Nets, specifically James Harden. The non-basketball movements that referees were told to focus on not calling hampered Harden, who excelled at deceiving the referees into blowing the whistle.

After a slow start, James Harden has gotten things on track and the rest of the team has followed suit. But, it is fair to question if things are sustainable for the Nets to continue their success.

LATEST NBA NEWS & TRADE RUMORS: This Clippers-Nets Trade Is Headlined By Kyrie Irving To L.A.

Having Kevin Durant and James Harden certainly makes this easier. Where the Brooklyn Nets have seen the biggest turnaround is on the defensive end of the court. A lot of their worst-rated defenders from last season’s bottom-10 defensive team are no longer on the roster, which certainly helps. Coaches have also adjusted the defensive scheme, which has been beneficial thus far.

But, there is some worry for things to regress to the mean. The Nets are contesting 3-point shooters at the same rate they did last season, but opponents aren’t knocking down nearly as many attempts. They have seen the third-largest drop in the opponent’s 3-point shooting thus far this season.

Thus far, the Brooklyn Nets have seen the fourth-largest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions. Offensively, things are down across the entire league. But, the Nets have seen the fifth-largest drop in points per 100 possessions, which is lessening the improvements defensively.

LATEST NBA NEWS & TRADE RUMORS: This Clippers-Nets Trade Is Headlined By Kyrie Irving To L.A.

This is the side of the court the Nets are missing Irving. They are incapable of scoring at the rim, as they are missing Kyrie Irving’s ability to get in the paint and attack the basket. Brooklyn is also lacking options to throw lobs to and is struggling to score in the paint.

DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and Irving were three of the five Brooklyn Nets to have at least 100 field goals in the restricted area and all three are no longer playing for the team. The team has become more perimeter orientated this season, especially with Patty Mills taking over for Irving.

Therein lies the biggest change for the Nets. Without Irving, the Nets are making their living in the midrange and from the 3-point line. Mills is knocking down 48.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. Joe Harris has connected on 46.6 percent of his attempts and Kevin Durant is at 41.8, providing Brooklyn with the best 3-point shooting team currently in the NBA.

LATEST NBA NEWS & TRADE RUMORS: This Clippers-Nets Trade Is Headlined By Kyrie Irving To L.A.

Kevin Durant is even deadlier from mid-range, shooting 56.6 percent there. He is dwarfed by LaMarcus Aldridge, who is making 61.4 percent of his midrange attempts. They are first and second in the NBA among players with at least 50 midrange attempts.

They have made the necessary adjustments to win without Kyrie Irving in the lineup, but sustaining this performance will not be easy. If they see a regression in those areas, the team will struggle to win games as frequently as they have been the last few weeks.

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