Jim Mancari, SNYNets.comThere’s a chance Gerald Wallace will return to the Nets’ lineup Tuesday night when the Nets play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but in his absence, the Nets have managed better than expected.
Any team’s defense will take a hit losing a defender like Wallace, but the Nets have not let that loss cripple them. Brooklyn has won two straight against the Magic after tough losses to the Timberwolves and Heat.
Usually when a starter goes down, a team will turn to its sixth man for extra minutes with the starters. Early on this season, C.J. Watson has become th Nets sixth man.
When we initially learned that Wallace would miss games because of his ankle, some assumed that Watson would start in his place.
Watson and Deron Williams would have started at the guard positions, while Joe Johnson would move to small forward.
But instead, it was Keith Bogans who slid into the starting role.
Avery Johnson probably felt that Watson was playing well with the Nets’ second unit and didn't want to shake up that great chemistry. So far, it’s worked.
Although Bogans has struggled offensively—shooting just 31.3 percent from the field and averaging just 3.4 points per-game—he is a good perimeter defender and was needed to fill the defensive void left by Wallace's absence.
Though he's still playing off of the bench, Watson is playing the bulk of the extra minutes created by Wallace’s absence and he’s proving to be one of the most underrated signings in the NBA from this past offseason.
Watson is earning a minimum salary of just $992,000 this season, yet he’s delivering 8.6 points and 1.8 assists per-game in about 24 minutes of action. He's also shooting 47.2 percent on the season and has noticeably provided energy when the Nets seemed to have needed it most.
The Nets’ second unit led by Watson has shown it can score and has collectively played better defense than the starters. Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Jerry Stackhouse and MarShon Brooks (when healthy) have all fed off Watson’s pace of play.
Watson started 25 games last season for the Chicago Bulls last season, filling in for the injured Derrick Rose. Watson averaged 11.28 points per game in those starts and also averaged 8.0 points per game as a reserve for the Bulls. He proved that he can thrive in either role.
This Nets have backcourt depth, so when Wallace went down, rather than shake up the second unit by starting Watson, Avery Johnson turned to Bogans.
That was a good decision and over the course of an 82-game regular season, the Nets will probably rely on the contributions of Watson and the other members of the reserve unit to help them remain relevant in the NBA's Eastern Conference, especially when dealing with injuries.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.