Making shots is the name of the game, and the Nets still are doing it better than everyone else.
Even at half-strength. Last game aside.
The Nets lead the NBA in field-goal percentage, swishing at a 49.9 percent clip that would require missing their next 63 consecutive shots beginning Monday against the Spurs to be overtaken at the top by the No. 2-ranked Bucks. Is it a product of pure talent? Chemistry? Open looks?
“I think it’s a mixture of all those things,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “Obviously our defense is a big component to that, us getting out early and getting easy fast-break transition points.”
Jordan is an expert on this topic: He is the NBA’s career leader in field-goal percentage (67.2 percent) and one of only two players in history (Jazz forward Rudy Gobert) shooting better than 60 percent over more than 500 career games.
Like he did with the Clippers for 10 seasons, Jordan finishes around the rim and takes a backseat to the Big 3 of James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. But that trio – united after the Jan. 14 trade for Harden – has missed a total of 36 Nets games, forcing others like this season’s league-leader in 3-point percentage, Joe Harris, to step up.
“We’ve got so many weapons,” Jordan said. “Joe Harris is shooting the ball better than anybody in the league right now. Kyrie’s a great finisher, and James is doing MVP things out here. He’s the best passer in our league at the moment – and he’s shooting the heck out of the ball, too. With those guys, whenever Kevin is healthy, we have so many threats, guys that can create their own shots, create shots for other guys.”
Landry Shamet is coming on after a January-long slump that saw the Nets try to trade the sharpshooter they acquired precisely to knock down open looks of the drive-and-dish passes.
“The more aggressive that you are hunting shots, looking for your own shot, usually the more confidence that you’ll shoot with,” Harris said. “And sometimes it takes a little bit of time. Especially if you’re not hitting early on, you can sometimes have a tendency to be a little hesitant.
“Playing with everybody that we have, I think we’re just so dynamic offensively, especially now where we’re kind of finding more of a rhythm with one another where guys are just getting cleaner looks.”
Great shooting isn’t a fail-safe. But the team with the best shooting percentage at the end of each of the last eight seasons reached the NBA Finals: The Heat in back-to-back years, the Warriors in five straight and last year’s Lakers. Five won championships.
Only two of those eight teams (2013-14 Heat and 2017-18 Warriors) made more than half of its shots. The Nets were above 50 percent until a short-handed roster – without Durant, Irving and Tyler Johnson – misfired on 51 of 86 attempts from the floor in Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks that snapped an eight-game winning streak.
“When you can’t match them offensively and make shots with them, and have the weapons that we normally have,” coach Steve Nash said, “your defense has to be exceptional.”
Is the shot-making pace sustainable?
The Spurs rank No. 16 in the league in field-goal percentage defense. A chance to get back on track, especially if the league’s top-rated offensive player Irving (right shoulder maintenance) returns as expected. The Nets managed just four fastbreak points – 10 under their average – against the Mavericks.
“The role guys like myself, it’s easy for us to get baskets when teams are locking in on those guys who can score 25 at any given night,” Jordan said. “We just have to be able to continue to do our job and make it easy for those guys.”