Brooklyn Nets Season Outlook
The new Brooklyn Nets season is now upon us, and with that comes hope and optimism for this revamped and improved squad. Yes I said it…improved squad the Nets are indeed. The feeling I have going into this season is excitement and optimism. Compare this to how I was feeling this same time last year and it is a drastic change. Going into last year’s disaster of a season there was no young foundation, no plan, no structure, there was not quite a clear plan and future for the Nets with Billy King at the helm. This year we have a new general manager in Sean Marks, a man with Spurs pedigree. We have Kenny Atkinson, a coach known to maximize potential in youth. He was a big part of Linsanity and afterwards a big part of developing many players on the Hawks. We also have veterans like Lin, Lopez, and Booker playing with youngsters who will hopefully develop and be a part of the Nets future. Most of all the new vision and clear plan Sean Marks has put in place alongside Kenny Atkinson’s new uptempo offense and stress on defense, will make this a fun squad to watch even if the team loses 50 games. But the key in all of this is progress. What we want to see is a cohesive team and the young players developing.
Most experts are predicting the Nets to finish in the 20 to 25 wins area. Some say even worse than that, going as far as saying that this team is worse than last year’s 21-win squad. Honestly I find that quite ludicrous especially since most of these so-called experts haven’t watched a Nets game in a couple years, but can you blame them. But back to my point, this team in my eyes is already much improved than last year’s team. Out is Andrea Bargnani, Markel Brown, Wayne Ellington, Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev, Shane Larkin, Willie Reed, Donald Sloan, Thomas Robinson, Henry Sims, and most notably Thaddeus Young. The only real loss on that list is Thaddeus Young, most of the rest of these guys aren’t even in the NBA right now. That’s how abysmal the roster was last year. In the Nets added Luis Scola, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead, Trevor Booker, Greivis Vasquez, Justin Hamilton, Randy Foye, Anthony Bennett, Joe Harris, and Jeremy Lin. The Nets bought in proven veterans like Scola, Booker, Lin, Vazquez and Foye. Each of whom can contribute to this team much more compared to last season’s counterparts. Not only are they talented veterans but are high character guys who can show the youngsters how to be professionals. Sean Marks also just gave Kenny Atkinson, a player development coach, a bunch of darts to throw on the board and hopefully one or two stick. You got Kilpatrick, Bennett, McCullough, Lavert, Whitehead, and most notably Hollis-Jefferson who is already showing to be a defensive stud in this league. Of course on top of all this you have Lopez who has been the face of the Nets franchise for a long time now and a top 20 talent in the NBA. This group of players led by Kenny Atkinson will have it’s ups and downs but will no doubt in my mind be much improved over last year.
It starts off at the point guard position. Jeremy Lin is a huge upgrade over the horrific atrocity of the Larkin/Sloan monster last year. Larkin and Sloan were both -0.27 WARP last year. Compare that to Lin’s +1.35 WARP. It may not seem drastic but this was with Lin coming off the bench. I expect his WARP to go up even more this year. But just the addition of Lin I believe is good for about 5 more wins than last season. The point guard position is by far the most important position. Even marginal upgrades in that position show in the win column. We saw that difference when Deron Williams left, as much as the parting of paths between the Nets and Williams needed to happen, the loss of his talent at the point guard position hurt the Nets in the win column immediately. Now with Lin, a much improved player from the Linsanity days, a player entering his prime, is going to help the Nets drastically. He also seems willing to accept the leadership role on this team alongside Brook Lopez, something Deron Williams always shied away from.
The loss of Thaddeus Young is mitigated with the addition of Booker, Scola, and Hamilton. Young was a below average defender and his offensive game was good but limited. Scola and Hamilton can both shoot the three-ball well and Booker is a high energy guy who is a much better defender and can dunk the ball with ferocity. I expect overall the power forward position to be a slight improvement, but definitely much deeper than last season’s depth.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson whom I will always mistakenly call Richard Hollis-Jefferson, due to one of my favorite Nets being Richard Jefferson, has already shown flashes of All-NBA Defense talent. The dude is a straight up beast on the defensive end. What separates him from the really good defenders and makes him great you might ask. It’s his athleticism and ability to recover. Rondae is already very sound fundamentally on defense and can still improve on that, but his athleticism allows him to take gambles on defense consistently since he has the ability to recover and get back in front of his man. I am excited to see a full healthy season for Rondae. Even though his offensive game is lacking it is by no means horrible either. If he can develop a decent shot and improve on his handles he has the makings of an all-around great player. I see his floor being that of Tony Allen and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist which is still really good. Having someone like Rondae who can consistently guard the opponent’s best perimeter player night in and night out cannot be underrated, and that is what the Nets have with Rondae.
Brook Lopez has added a three-point shot to his already impressive offensive game. I mean is there anything this guy can’t do on offense. At first when I heard Lopez was going to be shooting more threes I was really not excited for that. It means he will be spending more time away from the hoop which is where he excels. But then I thought back to games I watched last year, Lopez struggled a little vs the likes of Drummond and other physical centers. At key moments when the Nets needed a bucket you would often see Lopez bullied out of the key to the point he was receiving the ball almost on the three-point line where he is less of a threat to score than inside the paint. By Lopez adding a three-point shot opponents now have to think twice about whether they want to force Lopez out to the three-point line if he starts hitting them. He is also very capable of driving it against most centers who choose to contest his shot from out there. I believe this is a smart move from Kenny Atkinson who watched plenty of film and noticed what I mentioned about Lopez being forced out to the three-point line.
The Nets defense should be improved this year. It is pretty difficult to be even worse than the defense the Nets displayed last year. Lin and Rondae are both good defenders who will give perimeter players a tough time. Lopez has developed into an above average shot blocker over the past few seasons, and Trevor Booker is an improvement over Thaddeus Young. But the second unit is where the Nets defense gets really suspect and is something I don’t see the Nets improving now, but perhaps next offseason.
Now the big topic all these NBA insiders like to ramble about is a Brook Lopez trade. Now I truly believe that this hasn’t been leaked from within the organization at all, nor discussed really. I believe at this point any thoughts Sean Marks has of trading Lopez have remained just that, thoughts in his head. I can’t see the Nets getting fair trade value for Brook. We are talking about a premiere center locked up for two years only entering his prime now at 28. Here is why I believe the Nets do not trade Lopez. He is only 28, his game will hold up well till he is 40. He has a game very similar to Tim Duncan’s and look how long duncan played. Even if Lopez plays till 35 that’s still 7 more years of a near prime Lopez. The Nets can still rebuild and keep Lopez around to contend for a championship. It’s not everyday a center like Lopez is available. The Nets got lucky in drafting him. The Nets should keep Lopez and rebuild through smart free agent deals and second round picks. Eventually they will have their own picks and will be contenders. I don’t see Lopez’s trade value dropping anytime soon, so there is no need to trade Lopez anytime soon. Nets should not entertain the idea of trading him until we see how the next year and a half pan out. I would hold off on even entertaining Lopez trade talk until trade deadline 2018. I don’t see the Nets receiving anywhere near fair value for a center of Lopez’s caliber. But if they do be my guest and pull the trigger. It will be a sad day for Net’s fans though.
Now for the fun part. My season prediction. I believe the Nets will win more games this year than last. But the Eastern conference is deep again this year with 40-42 wins grabbing you the 8th seed. If Kenny Atkinson can get something more out of these guys and they start looking like a team the Nets are very capable of stringing a couple small win streaks here and there. Assuming Brook Lopez is a Net all season I believe the Nets will win 33 games this season. The Nets will be 33-49. I am optimistic and so far team management and the players have me believing. This will surely be a fun and entertaining brand of basketball to watch, even if they are not winning too many games. This season will be the first step in the right direction for the Nets to become contenders once again.