Brooklyn Nets 2017 Season Preview
Vegas over/under: 27.5
Napoleon Bonaparte once said that a leader is a “dealer in hope”. If that is true, Brooklyn Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean Marks have a lot of leading to do. Hope has become a scarce resource in Brooklyn with the aftermath of disastrous moves by former GM Billy King. Marks and Atkinson aim to flip the script this season.
The Nets come into the season with the third worst projected record according to Vegas. Only the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls have fewer projected wins. The Nets finished last season with a paltry 20 wins, four less than anyone else in the league. Then, during the offseason, they unloaded Brook Lopez to get younger. Clearly, this is a team destined for the top of the lottery, right? Wrong. My colleague Jason Cordner did a fantastic piece on why the Cavaliers might not be getting as high a pick as they hoped but with the new NBA season around the corner, here are 5 reasons why Brooklyn might be better than you think.
Reason #1: Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin emerged as the second-best player on the team behind Brook Lopez and perhaps its biggest x-factor. Atkinson’s offense relies on kickouts to generate open threes. When Lin was on the court, the team was significantly better as Lin was able to penetrate and get to the second level of the defense, which created space for other players on the perimeter. The Nets were 12-22 in games where Lin payed at least 20 minutes. A healthier season from Lin that sees him playing normal minutes for even 60 games could tick the number of wins up from a year ago. The Nets would have won around 30 games and been closer to the fifth pick than the first when that record is extrapolated across a full season.
Reason #2: Tanking
The Nets finished last season on a relative tear. They went 11-13 in March and April. While that sounds great (.500 basketball!), there is a lot of noise in those numbers as other teams were clearly tanking to increase their own odds. However, the Nets still have no reason to tank this season. They do not own their pick while other teams like the Hawks, Bulls, and Pacers will likely be looking to be as bad as possible for a stacked draft. Many experts project the upcoming draft as one of the best since 2003. Do not be surprised when flailing teams start benching veterans halfway through the season. One mediocre team that will not be doing that is the Nets. If the Knicks trade Carmelo Anthony, they join the aforementioned teams in the Tank-a-palooza as well.
Reason #3: The Loss of Lopez
The loss of Brook Lopez hurts. He was the best offensive player on the team by a mile last year but Lopez was never an elite defender. At his best, he is a good rim protector who guards the paint. As the league shifts to the perimeter, Lopez became a dinosaur. He is far too slow to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter and with the dwindling supply of quality “traditional” big men that makes him a target on defense on every possession. Unlike other behemoths, Lopez cannot hurt opposing teams on the boards. Last year he was 43rd among 45 qualified centers in rebounding per 48 minutes. If he continues to drift towards the perimeter, those numbers and his ability to protect the rim will slip even further.
On offense, Lopez was able to space the floor shooting nearly 35% on five attempts a game from beyond the arc. The number of open looks will decrease this year as the league adjusts and while Lopez possesses a post-game, do not be surprised to see other teams dare the Lakers to play through him in the post. Lopez has never posted a positive assist to turnover differential in his career and teams will test his ability to find cutters and open men on the perimeter when the defense collapses.
Reason #4: Coaching
Atkinson is a mad scientist when it comes to lineups. He was not afraid to play with his lineups and put some of his players in different positions. Under him, the Nets were fourth in three-pointers attempted a year ago but the difference between them and the number one team (Houston) was almost the same as the difference between them and the 28th team (Phoenix). Atkinson should ratchet this up even more with the return of Lin and the addition of Russell. With two point guards, the Nets should be pushing even more in transition and looking for threes every time down the court. Jarrett Allen fits the rim running role needed to help space the floor in the pick and roll. All the other players added in the offseason can shoot. Look for the Nets to improve on their 26th place finish in three-point percentage even as the volume increases.
Reason #5: D’Angelo Russell
Hell hath no fury like a lottery pick scorned. Just like quality NFL quarterbacks, talented lottery picks rarely end up on the trade market while still on their rookie deals. Boston traded Joe Johnson and Chauncey Billups who both became all-stars. It does not always work, though as Michael Carter-Williams and Derrick Favors have not developed. However, it can be the best way for a team without draft assets to move into contention. Russell represents that chance for the Nets. Russell is still only 21 and in just his third season. The Laker circus also has clearly had some unintended consequences on his development. The Nets must hope that those effects are not permanent and that he can resuscitate his chances of being a star in Brooklyn. If he does, the Nets could even find themselves on the fringes of the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
The Nets will miss the playoffs but end up with 32 wins and a lot more hope as Russell averages over 20 points a game in his first season as a Net.