2013--14 RECORD: 44--38 (2ND IN ATLANTIC) COACH: LIONEL HOLLINS (1ST SEASON WITH NETS)
To take pressure off his right foot after four surgeries in three years, Brook Lopez reported to camp about 15 pounds lighter. To turn him into an elite center, the Nets hired a coach who has developed one. Brooklyn hopes Lionel Hollins can do for the 7-foot, 275-pound Lopez what he did for Marc Gasol, who blossomed into a rugged interior presence with the Grizzlies. "Making Brook a better player is a priority," says Hollins. "I'd like for him to be a force."
Lopez already has some game; he's a career 18-point scorer and was an All-Star in 2012--13, his only healthy season of the last three. The knock on him is that he is uncomfortable being physical in the paint. Hollins insists he doesn't want the 26-year-old to abandon his jump shot—Lopez made 34 for 63 (54.0%) from 10 to 19 feet in 17 games last season—but rather to keep adding to his arsenal. The coach's message: Be tougher. "I want all our big guys to be like that," says Hollins. "If you're an inside player, control the paint and play outside last."
In practices Hollins has pushed Lopez to establish deep post position and encouraged him to take advantage of mismatches. He has emphasized that Lopez needs to become a more productive rebounder (7.3 per game in six seasons) and improve on his passing from the block. The Nets' offense is heavy on perimeter shooting; Brooklyn must have Lopez be more assertive down low to provide balance.
14.3 PPG; 6.1 APG; 45.0 FG%; 36.6 3FG%
15.8 PPG; 3.4 RPG; 45.4 FG%; 40.1 3FG%
13.4 PPG; 2.2 RPG; 2.2 APG; 49.4 FG%
6.5 PPG; 6.6 RPG; 0.7 BPG; 44.1 FG%
20.7 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 1.8 BPG; 56.3 FG%
7.4 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 65.9 FG%
9.5 PPG; 4.1 APG; 41.0 FG%; 34.1 3FG%
‚Ä†ROOKIE (TURKISH LEAGUE STATS)
A healthy run, a rejuvenated Williams and a savvy Hollins catapult the Nets to their first division title since '06.
Brooklyn's foundation crumbles from relying too much on proud vets who are past their prime.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE NETS
Lionel Hollins will look to improve their defense, which was O.K., and their rebounding, which was terrible. The Nets played small ball out of necessity under Jason Kidd, but Brook Lopez's return sets up Hollins for a more traditional lineup.... We've seen the last of Deron Williams as an elite point guard. He is still one of the better ones, but the ankle injuries have taken a toll. I see him hesitating in big moments, whereas before he would be decisive in shooting or making a play. They gave Shaun Livingston the ball and moved Williams to the wing a lot.... Replacing Livingston [who joined the Warriors] with Jarrett Jack hurts. Jack is the better perimeter shooter, but Livingston's defensive versatility and ability to exploit smaller guards provided them with more matchup options.... They need Joe Johnson to repeat his great year, especially after Paul Pierce's departure [to the Wizards]. Johnson and Pierce were the guys to make something out of nothing on broken possessions. Pierce was important defensively too, though Andrei Kirilenko can fill that gap if he's healthy.... Kevin Garnett [38 years old] can't play a full season anymore. He wasn't consistently making the 15-footer like he used to. But he can still have an impact in spurts because of his intelligence.... With Lopez's injury history and Garnett's limitations, Mason Plumlee is in line for more minutes. Plumlee has the mobility to guard stretch big men, the size to defend the post and the athleticism to finish inside.... Mirza Teletovic's three-point shooting is an asset. He's not shy about getting up shots.
ERICK W. RASCO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Foot injuries have plagued Lopez.