By Christopher Dempsey, Nuggets Insider
NEW YORK – Among the early surprises this NBA season, we find the Brooklyn Nets. At 3-3 they have a win over LeBron James and Cleveland and are the only team to date to have beaten Orlando, which has gotten off to a 4-1 start.
And they have done all of their winning at home.
The Nuggets are looking for a second win on this road trip, and this will be a tough place to get it. Brooklyn is a rapidly improving team with some promising young talent, and that starts right at the top in point guard D’Angelo Russell.
Traded from the L.A. Lakers to the Nets in the summer, Russell is off to a solid start with averages of 21.4 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
“I see a young man who is being aggressive, playing with confidence,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone of Russell. “(Nets coach) Kenny (Atkinson) is giving him the ball, telling him to make plays. Sometimes you see young players get traded, how are they going to react to that? He taken it almost like a new lease on his career. Things didn’t go great in L.A., they made a move, and I think he’s taken advantage of the opportunity here in Brooklyn. D’Angelo right now is playing in attack mode, looking to score.”
At 115.3 points per game, Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in the league, so this game is expected to be packed with tons of possessions and shots taken for both teams. What do the Nuggets need to do to get the win? Start with these areas…
Get out to the 3-point line. Brooklyn is one of the most prolific shooting 3-point shooting teams in the NBA, taking a robust 32.3 of them per game. Three players (Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, DeMarre Carroll) shooting 41 percent or better. Three more (Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe, D’Angelo Russell) shoot at least 37 percent from the arc. “Guys are not bashful,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The shot is going up, and that’s their style of play.”
When Nets players drive into the lane, they are many times doing so with the specific intent on collapsing the defense to kick out for a 3-point shot rather than driving looking to score at the rim. The Nuggets catch a little bit of a break because Acy is not playing due to injury, but closing to 3-point shooters and running them off the line is a big key.
Have a plan for D’Angelo Russell in pick-and-roll. Russell has a variety ways to score, but he gets into most of his possessions using a screen. In fact, he’s got one of the biggest disparities in actions used of any player in the league. A whopping 58 percent of his offense comes out of pick-and-roll actions. He hasn’t used any other action more than 10 percent of the time. And the Nets are very creative with screening, rescreening, using double screens and drag screens to get him open. Nuggets players defending him will have to be ready for a physical game getting through many of those screens.
Apply the pressure. While the Nets are an improved team, they are by no means a finished product. Under pressure they have shown the propensity to get stagnant offensively, lose their spacing and pass the ball around the perimeter without much movement. Brooklyn has also shown a little bit of a turnover personality, averaging 16.8 per game. Opponents are scoring 17.3 points per game off of Brooklyn turnovers.
INJURY REPORT: Juancho Hernangomez (mononucleosis) is the only Nuggets player out of Sunday’s contest.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey