There is a lot of blame to go around for the recent struggles of the Brooklyn Nets. One player, David Nwaba, should perhaps be exempt from this criticism.
The Nets currently rank 22nd in net rating, per NBA.com, 19th offensively and 18th defensively. On an individual player basis, only four Brooklyn players have positive net ratings, meaning the Nets have outscored opponents with these players on the court.
- Jarrett Allen: Outscored opponents by 1.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor
- Caris LeVert: Outscored opponents by 1.1 points per 100 possessions
- Taurean Prince: Outscored opponents by 0.6 points per 100 possessions
- David Nwaba: Outscored opponents by 7.3 points per 100 possessions
Yes, that’s correct. By this measure, Brooklyn has performed the best with David Nwaba on the floor. But before Nets fans start a campaign to insert the guard into the starting lineup, it’s worth noting that 1) it’s early in the season and 2) due to Nwaba’s modest playing time, the sample size is quite limited.
The fourth-year player has appeared in nine of 14 games and averaged only 10.6 minutes per contest.
One could try to downplay Nwaba’s strong net rating by theorizing it’s been built up during the so-called garbage time, when the game’s outcome has already been decided. This isn’t the case, however, as the guard actually has a negative net rating (minus-19.7) in the final quarter.
His positive net ratings in the first (plus-22.0), second (plus-42.7) and third (plus-4.4) periods have more than balanced this out.
Although it’s still too early to tell, is it plausible that Nwaba has actually been near as good as his net rating suggests or is it simply a fluke?
Real or fluke?
David Nwaba’s positive net rating has been driven by his team-best defensive rating of 94.5. Among other Brooklyn Nets that have appeared in at least nine games, Dzanan Musa (105.4) and Rodions Kurucs (106.3) rank second and third, yet still well behind Nwaba. Although the Cal Poly grad only ranks eighth offensively per net rating, his defensive prowess has more than offset this.
Nwaba has long been known for his stingy defense (the strength of his game), so the fact his defensive rating echoes this shouldn’t be overly surprising. Along with his strong start this year, the Cleveland Cavaliers were roughly five points better per 100 possessions defensively with Nwaba on the court last season.
The 26-year-old can effectively guard a variety of positions and only 24 players defended a wider range last season, per Krishna Narshu’s data. He spent nearly the same percentage of time defending guards (41.4 percent) as he did forwards (50.3 percent).
At 6-foot-5, he’s quick enough to stay with quicker perimeter players, but at roughly 220 pounds is strong enough to hang with larger opponents.
Along with defending multiple positions, Nwaba’s often been tasked with defending the opposition’s best scorers. There were three players that Nwaba guarded for over 30 possessions in a single game last season: James Harden (50), LeBron James (33) and Jimmy Butler (30).
Besides Damian Lillard, Nwaba hasn’t been matched up with any opposing stars much in the early going and perhaps this should change.
Is David Nwaba one of the best defenders in the league? This would probably be an exaggeration, but it can be reasonably argued he’s the best defender on the Brooklyn Nets roster. With this in mind, should he be seeing more than his 10.6 minutes per game? Perhaps, but it’s difficult to figure out who these minutes would come at the expense of.
Finding more minutes for Nwaba might have been a bit easier last season, when Brooklyn led the league in bench minutes per game (21.4). At 21st so far this season (18.2 minutes), there’s a bit less flexibility.
As previously discussed, it’s very possible (perhaps likely) that despite Nwaba’s strong defensive play, his team-best net rating isn’t sustainable. His mediocre offensive game (2.0 points per game, 33.3 percent on 3-pointers) doesn’t help the case for him either.
If Brooklyn continues to struggle, however (particularly defensively) and Nwaba’s net rating holds up, it will be difficult for Kenny Atkinson not to increase his minutes. At the very least, it would be worth a shot.