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Will Brooklyn’s Point-Guard Trio Keep Nets Afloat?

With the Deron Williams era in the rearview mirror, the Brooklyn Nets’ point-guard depth chart has been dramatically reshuffled entering 2015-16.

Jarrett Jack is back, but now he’ll potentially have the starting role from Day 1. Sharing floor general responsibilities are a couple of Eastern Conference imports: former Indiana Pacer Donald Sloan and former New York Knick Shane Larkin.

No one is expecting any of these signal-callers to explode for a star-studded season. However, the hope is that this trio can compete enough to give Brooklyn a fighting chance to reach the playoffs.

How exactly will these point guards fare on both ends of the floor? Will their efforts be enough to complement Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, helping the Nets flirt with a postseason berth?

Jack’s best years were in Toronto, New Orleans and Golden State, and he’s certainly past his prime. But he’s the only returning quarterback in Brooklyn and has the experience to mentally handle the starting duties. The 6’3″ playmaker does a great job of using hesitations and angles to generate opportunities:

Last season, he started 27 games as a fill-in for the banged-up D-Will and played 28 minutes per game for the balance of the season. This year, Jack could possibly make 70-75 starts and play 30 minutes per game if he’s healthy.

His 27 starts in 2014-15 weren’t brilliant and Brooklyn went 11-16 in those games, but that number is a bit misleading. WeMustBeNets at The Brooklyn Game explains:

Jack’s per-game statistics appear similar whether Williams was inactive or on the bench, but it’s worth noting that his assist-to-turnover ratio was significantly better when Williams wasn’t available (8.0/3.4 compared to 4.7/3.6)…The starting lineup that surrounded Jack during those games was much different from the lineup that led the post All-Star break surge, a 17-13 record and a postseason berth.

The article also noted Thaddeus Young wasn’t on the team yet during that stretch, and that Jack’s workload was heavy because the only point reserve at the time was Darius Morris. The point is Jack shouldn’t be judged based on that 11-16 record.

That being said, Nets fans should hold modest expectations for the veteran. He’s savvy and is cool in crunch time, but he lacks firepower and has noticeable deficiencies in some areas.

Jack averaged 6.0 assists and 3.1 turnovers per 36 minutes last year, which is serviceable but not great. He was able to collaborate with Brooklyn’s veterans and find high-percentage opportunities for returnees like Lopez (53 percent), Young (49 percent) and Bojan Bogdanovic (45 percent).

So if Jack’s such a solid distributor, why did Brooklyn score just 102.4 points per 100 possessions with Jack on the floor (compared to 109.0 with him on the bench) during 2014-15? Part of the blame is on the aforementioned lineup issues and injuries, but part of it was Jack’s lack of dynamic creativity and sub-par catch-and-shoot efficiency. Jack shot just 33 percent on all catch-and-shoot attempts last year. He also shot just 27 percent from three-range, which lowered his career average to 35 percent:

Just as Jack’s offense will be a mixed bag of scrappiness, clutch aggressiveness and inconsistent shooting next season, the defense will also be a roller coaster.

He goes through stretches of sound defensive positioning and effort, but too frequently, Jack exhibits fatal lapses in awareness and close-out effort. And once an attacker gets a step on him, Jack does a poor job of recovering or steering the slasher away from the rim. Within six feet of the hoop, opponents shot 63.5 percent against him, which is 5.8 points higher than the rest of the league.

Meanwhile, the backup point spot isn’t cemented yet, as either Sloan or Larkin could win the job.

Sloan has more NBA experience than Larkin, but last year was his first substantial season in the league (and by far his most minutes logged). Larkin enters his third year after a tough first two years in the league, which were spent with the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks.

Sloan generated more points and assists per minute for the Pacers than Larkin did with the Knicks, but at a steep price of woeful efficiency. The former Indy playmaker shot just 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-land in 20.9 minutes per game.

The good news is that Sloan is a shifty slasher at the point of attack who continually surveys the floor for cutting teammates. He notched 6.2 assists and 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes in 2014-15, which is the best assist-to-turnover ratio (3.0) among the Nets’ three current point guards:

Larkin is a speedy point guard in his own right, although his talents were not maximized in the Knicks’ Triangle offense.

He averaged just 9.1 points and 4.4 assists per 36 minutes last season, which is disconcerting even for a young player on a sub-par roster. Larkin’s quickness helps compensate a little bit for his 5’11” stature, but he doesn’t shake defenders enough to consistently execute pull-up jumpers and drives. Hollins should hope that Larkin will be more successful in his pick-and-roll oriented system than he was in the Triangle.

Together, Sloan and Larkin could piece together a respectable but unspectacular chunk of minutes as reserve facilitators. But like Jack, both Sloan and Larkin won’t offer much fortification as individual defenders. Sloan has trouble staying in front of the NBA’s quicker attackers, and Larkin struggles to contest anyone once they access the middle of the floor.

In conclusion: don’t expect stout defense from the Nets’ point guards in 2015-16:

Despite their defensive shortcomings, can the trio help Brooklyn reach the playoffs again?

That’s a doubtful proposition. It would take career-best efficiency on both ends of the floor (or something close to it) from all three in order to secure the No. 7 or No. 8 seed.

A realistic outlook projects Jack to notch 12-15 points and 4-6 assists per contest, with Sloan and Larkin chipping in a combined 10-12 points and 3-5 assists off the bench.

That kind of offensive production would be okay if they had the defensive teeth of a guy like Patrick Beverley. But unfortunately, they’re not top-tier stoppers.

This lack of offensive firepower and defensive consistency is part of the reason why Brooklyn is more likely to land 11th or 12th in the Eastern Conference. It’s a transitional year for the Nets, whether they like it or not.

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