No. 30 Brooklyn Nets
Climbing the NBA Preview Mountain
Ah, the good ol’ Brooklyn Nets, the most storied franchise in the league. From its humble beginnings of being owned by a rap mogul and a Russian billionaire to trading for three of the top-10 players of 2003 (in 2013), the Nets have been the model of how not to handle a move to a bigger market.
That’s why in just four years since what felt like a literal parade from Jersey to Brooklyn, the Nets are starting from scratch.
Jay-Z is no longer part owner, Billy King is out as GM, and wonder-twin Brook Lopez is the only remaining player from the 2012–13 roster. Former Atlanta Hawks assistant, Kenny Atkinson, will be the sixth head coach since the migration, and RC Buford protege, Sean Marks, is now calling the shots in the front office.
It’s going to be a painful few years in Brooklyn (#TrustTheSystem redux??), but this clean slate feels a lot like that deep breath you take right before starting a 3,000-word essay the night before it’s due — you know the near future is going to suck ass, but it’s the necessary sludge you have to crawl through to get back to some semblance of stress-free living.
Just ask my boy, Mikhail Prokhorov, he knows what I’m talking about.
Thaddeus Young (IND), Jarrett Jack (ATL), Donald Sloan (China), Shane Larkin (N/A), Wayne Ellington (MIA), Thomas Robinson (N/A), Sergey Karasev (Russia), Willie Reed (MIA)
Jeremy Lin (3 years, $36 million), Justin Hamilton (2 years, $6 million), Trevor Booker (2 years, $18.5 million), Randy Foye (1 year, $2.5 million), Greivis Vasquez (1 year, $5 million), Luis Scola (1 year, $5.5 million), Joe Harris (2 years, $2 million), Anthony Bennett (1 year, minimum), Caris Levert (draft), Isaiah Whitehead (draft)
Yep. That’s Brooklyn’s huge offseason haul of Joe Harris, Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin (who’s apparently trying to trick Nets fans into thinking he’s the Asian Allen Iverson), Caris LeVert, Josh Hamilton, and Anthony Bennett — among others not pictured.
*The rest of the NBA shivers in fear*
This team is going to be pretty bad. The front office used this offseason to pick up a bunch of spare parts and bumper stickers to slap on the sputtering, wheezing ’89 Chevy Impala that drove to the finish line with the league’s third-worst record last season. That isn’t necessarily a criticism, since these contracts were cost-effective and given to players that still have some sort of fleeting potential to fulfill (more on that later).
What the Nets lost looks even worse than what they gained, though, which is, like, good, right? Four dudes that cracked last season’s rotation aren’t even on NBA teams right now, and Thad Young is the only departure that will immediately help another squad.
The additions definitely aren’t enough to bring the Nets out of the deep, dark cellar of the NBA, though. And considering their draft pick situation (no 1st round picks until 2019), that cellar is more of a dripping, pitch-black dungeon filled with tools of torture and agony.
Sorry, Nets fans.
Ideal Rotation + Position Breakdowns
PG Jeremy Lin
SG Bojan Bogdanovic
SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF Trevor Booker
C Brook Lopez
These five will, no doubt, join to form the best bench in the leag — erm, wait, this is the starting five. Oh geez.
Look, I like all five of these guys. As a starting unit, they each have pretty intriguing skill-sets. All five of them could conceivably help out a contender, but I don’t see any of them actually starting on a contender — except Lopez, probably.
We’ll start with Lopez, who is widely expected to be traded mid-season, which would make sense for both parties. Brooklyn was very smart to grab Lin on a reasonable contract in order to bolster Lopez’ trade stock, and more importantly, to create the wonderful “Brook-Lin” buddy nickname (insert 12 goat emojis).
Lin has been widely accepted as an above-average operator in the pick-and-roll since the Linsanity days, and Lopez attempted the third-most field goals as the roll-man in the P&R last season. Lopez converted on 49.1 percent of such attempts, which seems low for a 7-footer but is right on par for someone with that type of volume— for context, DeMarcus Cousins was at 46.5 percent, Karl Anthony-Towns converted 47.7 of his attempts, and LaMarcus Aldridge was at just 45.2 percent.
Keep in mind that Lopez was paired with the likes of Shane Larkin (47 percent of his possessions came as the P&R ball-handler and 22.3 percent of those plays ended in turnovers…Jesus) and Donald Sloan for most of those rolls to the rim, so Lin will be miles ahead in this regard. Defensive and rebounding shortcomings aside, Lopez could put up some career numbers with another notch in usage rate and Lin finding him on cuts and in the post.
I mean, just look at the magic that was the Lin-Ed Davis P&R:
And they didn’t even have cool nickname.
So offensively, the Brook-Lin connection will be the centerpiece. As far as the other three starters, Bogdanovic is the most intriguing scorer. I’d slot him at SG to sort of fill the void Joe Johnson left as a big, savvy guard/forward who can take smaller wings in the post. He’s also a pretty good spot-up shooter (53.5 effective FG% on spot-up attempts, which is on par with the likes of Kevin Love and Mike Conley) and is surprisingly effective in the open court, ranking 10th in EFG% among players with at least 150 shot attempts in transition last season. Heading into his third season he’ll only become more polished as an offensive player but he’s way behind on the other end of the floor, which is the case for much of the team.
Last season, the Nets allowed the most points in the paint and had the second-worst defensive rating. Much of that speaks to Lopez’ complete disregard for rim protecting, but that’s where the other two starters come in.
Hollis-Jefferson and Booker are two versatile defensive players that have the potential to thrive in switch-heavy defensive schemes. RHJ played only 27 games last season, but Brooklyn’s defensive rating was 8.2 points better when he was on the floor, and he notched double-digits in either blocks or steals in a dozen contests. He’s a very athletic, lanky player who can develop into a five-position defender if he proves his ability to stay on the floor as a small-ball PF.
I’m somewhat surprised another team didn’t swoop in on Booker for a more lucrative contract because his ability to switch screens as 6-foot-8 forward is highly coveted in today’s NBA. He’s obviously no Draymond Green or Paul Millsap, but with a similar build, Booker held opponents to a 31.9 FG% from 15 feet or greater — those opponents usually shot 37.7 percent from that distance. Again, he wouldn’t be starting on a good team, but Booker is a defensive-minded veteran who forms a very intriguing forward duo with Hollis-Jefferson.
Overall, this starting unit won’t blow anyone away but shouldn’t be entirely scoffed at, either. Lin has proven he can create his own shot, previous teammates have loved him, and he’ll do what any competent PG on Brooklyn should do: get Lopez the ball. He gets bullied on defense, though, and tries to do too much at times. Bogdanovic is highly skilled for his size on the wing but loses a lot in terms of speed and defense. Hollis-Jefferson is a good, young project who should be a part of the team’s long-term plan. Booker is on a nice contract and should help boost the defense. And finally, you know what you’re getting out of Lopez: a soft touch, a knack for diving to the hole, and really long arms on defense…when he puts them up.
6 Sean Kilpatrick
7 Justin Hamilton
8 Caris LeVert
9 Randy Foye
10 Luis Scola
Yeaaaaaaaah, yikes. After getting matched by Miami and Portland on offer sheets for Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, respectively, this is the (projected) bench unit Brooklyn scraped together for the upcoming season. Let’s take a closer look at those last bits of leftover ice cream that Sean Marks was able to lick off the free agency wrapper.
After coming over from New Orleans mid-season, Kilpatrick found his niche with the Nets pretty quickly: instant offense off the pine. In 23 games with Brooklyn, the 6-foot-4 guard put up 13.8 ppg in just 23.4 mpg (21.4 ppg per 36min) with a true shooting percentage .578. That’s not half bad. He launched about 4 threes a game and made over 36 percent of them and has some experience as a ball-hander when the game flow calls for it. From the limited action I’ve seen him in, he reminds me a bit of Ben Gordon, especially because he doesn’t play an ounce of defense. But if he can give this team about 10 points in 20 minutes a game, it’s all gravy.
Coming over from a stint in Spain, Hamilton is the mysterious masked man that will surely get butts in seats at the Barclays Center. Well, probably not, but he’s a $6 million, floor-stretching (supposedly) gamble worth taking, I guess. The big man has 49 NBA games under his belt and has attempted 40 threes, making a whopping 13 of them. Apparently, he hit over 40 percent from deep in Spain, so we’ll see if that translates. I don’t see him bringing much more than size and at least the idea of spacing.
LeVert is by far the most intriguing of this bunch. He’s a 6-foot-7 ball-handler who can play the 1, 2, or 3 and has a full arsenal of scoring abilities. But the unfortunate narrative to LeVert’s story has been the long list of injuries that kept him from reaching his lottery-pick potential with Michigan. His injuries have been mostly in the foot, including a Jones fracture, which is concerning for a young talent. Plus, he’s already 22. Brooklyn did trade Thad Young to the Pacers for him, though, so they must see the kid’s potential. If he can stay on the court, he can make a push for the starting lineup. A Lin-LeVert-Bojan-RHJ-Booker positionless, space-out, switch-everything squad could be something. Or it could be absolutely terrible, who knows.
But plays like this should have Brooklyn fans cautiously optimistic. Just look how fast and gazelle-like he gets down the court.
Rounding out the bench are Scola and Foye, which is cool for some veteran stability to help out youngins like LeVert, RHJ, and other prospects like Chris McCullough and Anthony Bennett (someone unironically wrote the former No. 1 pick is “hungry” to prove himself, ha). Scola can knock down some mid-range jumpers and Foye is another ball-handler who can sort of shoot, but neither of them should really be getting playing time on a competitive team.
Glass half full: Lopez has a fantastic start to the season, and Marks lands a huge package of picks and at least one impact player for him. Coach Atkinson finds plenty of time on the court for guys like RHJ and LeVert, making the team fun to watch. Lin debuts a new haircut every week and leads the team in scoring and assists.
Glass half empty: The defense is still terrible even with RHJ and Booker’s versatility. LeVert can’t stay healthy, so Foye and Kilpatrick player bigger roles. Lin struggles and proves to be a career backup. No one bites on a trade because Lopez’ defensive liabilities overshadow his offensive prowess, so Marks watches a stacked 2017 draft from the sidelines. Prokhorov trades the team for a nuclear missile and a couple mules.
Projected Record: 17–64
A moving picture summarizes: