Things are much different for the Brooklyn Nets now than they were before the season began or even just a few weeks ago. Controversy and inner turmoil threatened to put the kibosh on this experiment before we ever got to see a full glimpse of the Kevin Durant–Kyrie Irving Nets.
The Nets outscore opponents by 2.1 points per 100 possessions when the duo is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, ranking in the 65th percentile.
Add Ben Simmons to the mix and that number jumps to plus-5.6 (83rd percentile).
But starting forward Royce O’Neale is not sold on the recent hot streak that has seen Brooklyn win six straight and 10 of their last 11 outings climbing all the back from a 2-5 start leading to a coaching change.
“I think we’ve got to raise our level of play,” O’Neale said per Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “The way we’ve been playing sometimes, you know, can’t come out with lack of energy or [focus]. We’ve got to set the tone from the jump and then we’ve just got to execute and control the whole game.”
Brooklyn has had to overcome deficits of at least 18 points in each of their last two games, both wins.
The issue is neither of their last two opponents – the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors – have been offensive juggernauts this season ranking 23rd and 15th in offensive rating, respectively per Cleaning The Glass.
Toronto is 13th in defensive rating but Detroit is 29th leaving some questions for Brooklyn.
“Definitely,” said the sixth-year veteran swingman who arrived in Brooklyn this summer amid all of the uncertainty. “It’s a big challenge for us.”
There has already been some consternation over this run from the Nets as only one of their last 11 opponents – the Boston Celtics – has been a full-fledged playoff team and the Nets lost that meeting by double digits. The Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Toronto Raptors (twice) would all be in the Play-In Tournament if the regular season ended today.
Each of Brooklyn’s other three opponents during this strong run – the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards (twice) – is at the bottom of a deep Eastern Conference.
Their slate gets tougher with 10 of their next 14 outings coming against playoff-caliber squads.
O’Neale’s On-Court Struggles
If there is one thing that would help the Nets get off to better starts and avoid the deficits they have had to overcome, it could be O’Neale finding his rhythm again. He is averaging a career-highs with 9.0 points, 4.5 assists, and shooting 40.5% from beyond the arc to go with 5.3 rebounds this season.
Interestingly, during the Nets’ recent surge, O’Neale has been one of the few things not going right.
He is still averaging 6.3 points, 6.3 boards, and 4.2 assists. But his efficiency has plummeted going from 55.7% true shooting before this stretch to 42% over his last nine appearances – he missed two games for personal reasons.
His minus-9.2 net rating is the third-worst on the team.
If Brooklyn is going to keep up their good fortunes against the higher-quality competition, then it will need O’Neale to get back to his two-way ways sooner rather than later.