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Diagnosing The Demise OF DFS Since Trade To Nets
Bridges Was Up For Nets' Back-to-Back In Orlando--Where Was The Rest Of The Team?
After Dorian Finney-Smith came over from Dallas in the Kyrie Irving trade on February 6, there was a rumor that the Nets could have flipped him for two first-round picks. First, I don’t have any insight into the truth behind the rumor, and I can also understand why General Manager Sean Marks would have passed in the moment, even if there are many Nets fans who would now want him to leap at any offer for the underperforming “3-and D” wing.
Players of that ilk carry outsized value in the modern NBA. Finney-Smith has always been the prototype, a true two-way player whose presence helped his team win games.
For some reason, it hasn’t exactly gone as planned with the Nets (40-35), who have gone 8-13 since they blew up the team by trading both Irving and Kevin Durant. Finney-Smith, though far from being solely culpable, has been at the center of some of the struggles.
There was some hope that things would turn after Finney-Smith made several key plays on Saturday to spur the 129-100 rout of the Heat, including converting on 2-of-5 three-pointers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the start of an upward progression to his 35.6% career rate from behind the arc. After a 0-for-4 outing from 3 in Brooklyn’s lackluster 119-106 loss in Orlando in Sunday’s back-to-back, his three-point percentage dropped to 25.8% in his 21 games in a Nets uniform.
From my vantage, some this could be due to his adjustment to Brooklyn’s systems—and the Nets’ continued pattern of forcing guys into roles for which they might not be ideally suited.
Prior to the last four games when sophomore center Day’Ron Sharpe emerged from Head Coach Jacque Vaughn’s doghouse and produced enough to warrant reentry into the rotation, Finney-Smith was the de facto backup five, similar to what the team did with Ben Simmons prior to the back injury that has sidelined him for the rest of the season after just 42 games played.
Bear in mind that in Dallas, the 6-foot 7, 220-pound Finney Smith was most often tasked with guarding the opposition’s leading perimeter scorer. He had never averaged as many as four defensive rebounds per game in any season nor has he ever blocked more than 0.5 shots per game, even in the years where he was playing over 30 minutes. As such, his defensive impact has been diminished in Brooklyn, as measured by NBA.com’s field goal percentage allowed as closest defender.
On offense, the Nets again do not seem to be maximizing Finney-Smith’s production. As a Maverick, about 43% of his three-point attempts (not including backcourt heaves) were taken from the corners, per NBA.com. The differences in the efficiencies were striking—ten points better from the corners versus above-the-break 3s during both last season and in the first 40 games of 2022-23.
From my recollection, I would have guessed his corner three-point frequency would have been higher given how Dallas ran its attack with star Luka Doncic dominating the ball like James Harden used to in Houston. Doncic wanted the floor spaced so he could see where double-teams could come from—unless you were the screener, which Finney-Smith rarely set, you went to the corners.
So what has Finney-Smith’s shot profile looked like as a Net? 33 corner threes and 64 taken from above the break. Now, it hasn’t helped that he has been brutal from everywhere, but how about trying to get him back to where he once was most comfortable more often? He has taken more pull-up 3s in his last 20 games than he did in 40 games with Dallas.
This isn’t new in Brooklyn, where Marks has often left his roster so undersized that his coaches have been forced to try pounding round pegs into square holes. Nets fans have to hope that Finney-Smith can eventually be unscrewed up.
You know the old joke about why airplanes aren’t completely manufactured using the same invincible materials that they use for the black boxes? That sort of applies to the wreckage the Nets showed up with in Orlando on Sunday, where I wished more players brought the fortitude of wing Mikal Bridges.
Brooklyn, coming off perhaps one of their best performances of the season in that crucial win at Miami on Saturday to take back the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, yielded much of the goodwill from that effort the next night against the league’s fifth-worst team.
It certainly wasn’t the fault of Bridges, who was as beat up as any of his teammates by the physical Heat the night before , with 11 free throws in 38 hard minutes. He then went out and did all he could to keep Brooklyn in it on Sunday, dropping 44 points on Orlando, one point off his career high, on 13-for-22 shooting from the floor, including 6-of-9 from deep.
The problem was that the rest of the Nets might as well have been stuck in the Disney World parking lot. As a group, they went a ghastly 24-for-69 (34.8%) from the field, including 2-for-26 (7.7%) on three-pointers. Many of the misses were short, which can be an indication of tired legs from the back-to-back.
Then again, that can’t be an excuse, not when every game could mean the difference between a guaranteed playoff berth or the pot luck of the play-in round. When long-range shots aren’t falling, you try other ways to put points on the board. You work inside-out, try to get to the foul line, etc. It’s not like Orlando was loaded with rim protectors—they recorded two blocks prior to the final three minutes of garbage time.
Except the drive-and-kick game was cast aside on too many possessions in favor of the easier perimeter-passes-plus-contested-shot attack. You know, the complete opposite of what had success in Miami. As a result, the Nets tied a season low with just 17 assists and nearly doubled their total turnovers from the previous game.
Much has been made of the Nets’ “easier” schedule over their remaining seven games—the only team they’ll face that’s in a top six seed is Philadelphia in the finale, where either team could easily decide to load manage key players if the contest doesn’t have any seeding implications, and all but one game at lowly Detroit will be hosted by Barclays Center. Of course, that Pistons game is on a back-to-back, so I guess anything goes.