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Can Lionel Hollins fix the Nets' D?

Lionel Hollins' teams in Memphis had a great defensive presence. Will his Nets? Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams recently offered a critical assessment of the team's defense during the preseason.

"We were a little disappointed in our defense," Williams said. "At times, I think we were a little lazy, we were standing up. There's definitely a lot of things we can improve on the defensive end. I'm not even looking at offense, really. What we need is defense.

"So when we're putting that type of effort up or kind of standing this early, it's going to be a problem."

Since 2007-08, the Nets have finished 25th, 23rd, 25th, 22nd, 29th, 18th and 19th in defensive efficiency. But if they're going to go where they want to go in 2014-15 -- which means a deep playoff run -- they're going to have to be better on D.

A lot better.

Enter new coach Lionel Hollins.

In 2012-13, Hollins' Memphis Grizzlies were the epitome of a defensive force. According to data obtained from Synergy Sports, those Grizzlies ranked second overall in points per possession allowed and first in points per possession allowed while playing man-to-man defense.

Synergy Sports ranks how teams defend 11 different types of plays (spot-ups, P&R ball-hander, transition, isolations, post-ups etc...). The Grizzlies ranked in the top-5 in seven of those 11 categories. Bruising center Marc Gasol was named the Defensive Player of the Year, while tenacious guards Tony Allen and Mike Conley made All-Defensive teams.

"He does not do anything magical on defense," one NBA scout told ESPN.com. "Many teams have similar defensive concepts, Lionel just held everyone accountable. Everyone knew their defensive responsibilities, and he created a culture where a lack of execution and effort were unacceptable."

Unfortunately, Hollins doesn't have that caliber of talented personnel in Brooklyn.

Despite being a solid post defender, the slow-footed Brook Lopez is no Gasol. Williams and Joe Johnson aren't Allen and Conley. Thirty-eight-year-old Kevin Garnett, a brilliant defensive coordinator throughout his career, can no longer play 30-35 minutes on a consistent basis. And rookie Bojan Bogdanovic has a long ways to go on that end of the floor.

So how will Hollins compensate?

"I think it is about trying to instill that same culture in Brooklyn," the scout said. "It is going to be tough, though. There are a lot of bad habits the Nets have that he is trying to change. Especially the guards, it is obvious that they are struggling at times with fighting through screens that they would have just switched last year."

Under Jason Kidd, the Nets found their identity after the New Year with Lopez out, going small, switching and wreaking havoc on defense. They forced oodles of turnovers and ranked 12th in efficiency after Jan. 1.

That won't be the case this season.

"In a more traditional lineup, it's a little harder [to switch], and Lionel doesn't like it," Williams said. "He likes you to know who your man is and stay with your man.

"A lot of times, when you start switching, it gets out of hand, and it starts to be the blame game. Like, 'I said switch, but you didn't switch.' So when you're not switching, you don't have that problem. You know your man scored, it's your fault."

The scout added: "A lot of their success is going to be dependent on the guards and wing defenders. One of the main defensive principles in Hollins' system is 'no middle' and forcing the ball along the sidelines and towards the baseline. This combined with no switching creates a lot of work for the guards and determines how successful they can ultimately be."

The Nets also need to be able to complete successful defensive possessions by grabbing the rebound, something they were largely incapable of doing last season, when they finished second-to-last in rebound percentage. Garnett did lead the NBA in defensive rebound percentage in 2013-14, so there is a small ray of hope there.

"You can guard for 23 seconds, the shot goes up, you give up an offensive rebound, you're back on defense again," Williams said. "So that's not a stop."

"Part of rebounding too is [guards] not allowing straight-line drives and penetrations, which causes guys to help, which leads to big guys on the glass with smaller guys," Hollins said.

Before Lopez went down with a foot sprain, the Nets looked really efficient running their new motion offense. Williams looked comfortable running the pick-and-roll with Lopez. There was a lot of player and ball movement, with plenty of shooters to space the floor.

If the Nets are healthy, scoring shouldn't be a problem. It's their defense and rebounding that could be.

"We've had moments where we look really good, and we have moments when we have two or three guys doing well and then a couple of guys are resting," Hollins said. "It has to be all five guys every defensive possession."

Can the Nets be a top-15 team in terms of defensive efficiency in 2014-15?

"I think top-15 is possible for this team and should be a good starting goal," the scout said. "I do not think they have the talent to be a top-10 defensive team, but if everything goes right for them, top-12 isn't out of the question."