Since P.J. Carlesimo has taken over the head coaching duties from Avery Johnson, the Nets have not only survived, but they have thrived. Brooklyn has a 5-1 record with the only loss coming on the road in San Antonio. Even though the Nets had four very winnable games in that stretch (against Charlotte, Cleveland, Washington, and Sacramento), what P.J. has done is still impressive. What makes this even more surprising is that the Nets have played these 6 games in only 9 nights, which should make the players very tired. However, instead of looking flat last night against Sacramento, the Nets probably gave their best 48-minute effort of the season and the Kings never had a chance of winning the game.
Obviously the highlight of these recent wins has to be the 17-point win in Oklahoma City when Brooklyn beat a team that was previously 16-2 at home and held the best record in the NBA. The Nets dropped 110 points on a pretty good defensive team and they held superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in check. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson played with more energy in that game than they ever had under Avery Johnson and Brooklyn looked like an NBA title contender on that night.
But can P.J. keep this up? I don’t think so. Whenever a coach gets fired from a team that is supposed to be good, it serves as a wake-up call to the team. However, after a few games, that team can fall back asleep unless some real changes are made. Of course, it is possible that the Nets can continue playing well, but will that really be Carlesimo’s doing or would that just be because the team is getting more time to gel and know each other. We have to remember that P.J. and Avery have very similar backgrounds. Both are form the Spurs/Popovich coaching tree and P.J. was not happy when Avery was fired. He thought that Avery deserved more time with the team and he said that he didn’t plan on making big changes.
Of course P.J. has made some changes since Avery left, but who knows, maybe he is just making those changes to try and keep his job. Many of the changes have been in playing time distribution. In last night’s game against Sacramento, both Marshon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic got more minutes than they ever got under Avery Johnson, and they both played exceptionally well, scoring a combined 29 points off the bench.
But I believe that Avery would have eventually turned to these players. The reason he did not is because he is a traditional coach who doesn’t believe young players and rookies should have playing time over veterans unless they really earn it in practice, and apparently Marshon and Tele hadn’t earned that playing time yet. With lots of pressure on him, P.J. had to play those players to appeal to the fans and owners and appear that he is “changing” something.
The other big change I have seen, which was very apparent last night, was getting rid of all the isos and getting better ball movement, especially with Brooklyn’s Backcourt. Brooklyn had 26 assists last night on 44 baskets, a very good ratio. However, I don’t think that this new-found ball movement is P.J.’s doing. The players are just realizing after two months of the season that isos aren’t working and they are going to need to do something else. I’m sure Avery Johnson would have told the players the same thing. He didn’t like the isos any more than P.J. Carlesimo.
And still, the isos are a problem. Whenever the Nets aren’t playing well, they resort back to the isos and get themselves further and further out of the game. We saw this in the San Antonio game. The Nets were very much alive at halftime, but in the third quarter when they were down only 10 or 15 points, they went straight to isos and therefore only scored 5 points in the quarter. P.J. still needs to change this team’s mentality from going back to isos in desperation time to going to a pick-and-roll with Brook Lopez, or some other play when the Nets are trailing in a game.
There are also other problems that P.J. hasn’t yet fixed. One of Avery’s biggest problems with Brooklyn this year was the third quarters when the Nets gave away big leads. Even though the Nets are 5-1 in their last 6 games, they have been outscored in 4 of the 6 third quarters, allowing teams back into games, most notably in the Thunder game.
A new coach cannot change a franchise overnight. If the Nets want to continue improving, it is up to the players, not the coaches.