When the Brooklyn Nets acquired Joe Johnson they also acquired great expectations. Joining forces with perennial point guard Deron Williams equated to an offensive juggernaut and one of the most potent backcourts in the league. But like music, basketball is a game predicated on chemistry and rhythm, intangibles that don’t arrive overnight. They take time.
“It’s been cool,” Johnson said of playing alongside Williams. “We’re still working on some things, still learning one another, still trying to become a good backcourt. We’ve still got a lot of room for improvement and as the season goes on, we’ll get better.”
It’s been mostly ups so far for the Nets, but there have been some downs and inconsistencies, as well. They started the season winning six of their first eight, but later had a five-game winning streak immediately followed by a five-game losing streak. Ups are Johnson’s recent buzzer beater; downs are the team’s late-game collapse against the Bulls the following night. “We had 18 turnovers,” head coach Avery Johnson said after the Bulls loss, “and had we done a better job of taking care of the ball down the stretch, we probably could have came out on the winning end. Those guys [Williams and Johnson] draw a lot of attention, we’ve just got to do a better job of getting them out of spots.”
“Hopefully we can just come around,” Williams said after the Bulls loss. “We had a stretch where we won those five games in a row. We were playing great defense. Our offense still wasn’t as great as we’d hoped, but we were winning games defensively. If you’re doing that you gotta be happy, but we’re not doing that right now.”
“I don’t know what the reason is,” he said. “It’s a little bit of everything. We really, as a whole unit, haven’t clicked offensively all season as far as everybody being on at the same time and our offense working for a full game. We’ve had bits and pieces. We’ve had guys be hot, guys not be hot, but we haven’t had everybody on the same page.”
Offensively, Johnson and Williams have both struggled compared to previous seasons. Williams is averaging a modest 17 points and eight assists per game, but his field goal (38%) and three-point shooting (29%) percentages are the lowest of his career. Johnson’s 16.8 points per game is his lowest since 2003-04, though he’s picked it up in recent weeks averaging 19 points on 45 percent shooting thus far in the month of December. Williams – and the Nets’ roster in general – has been banged up, but, “we’re not gonna use that as an excuse,” he said. As the team finally gets back to 100 percent with the return of Brook Lopez, the search for their rhythm will continue. Roughly only a quarter of the way through the season, there’s still time.
“We know what we can do when we have a full deck. We showed that earlier in the season, now we’re just trying to get back to that point,” said Johnson. “My main concern isn’t really about my rhythm, it’s about this cohesiveness as a team, us becoming one unit and getting back to playing how we were in the beginning of the season. I just wanna win, that’s it. It’s not about what I’m out there doing, as long as we’re winning I think that’s the main thing.”