2018 Preview — Brooklyn Nets

2018-19 Brooklyn Nets


Projected Record: 29-53 (11th in East)

Over/Under: 32.5

2016: 28-54 (12th in East)


Key Additions:

  • Dzanan Musa (Pick #29)
  • Rodions Kurucs (Pick #40)
  • Kenneth Faried (Trade)
  • Jared Dudley (Suns)
  • Shabazz Napier (Free Agent)
  • Ed Davis (Free Agent)
  • Treveon Graham (Free Agent)

Key Subtractions:

  • Jeremy Lin
  • Darrell Arthur
  • Nik Stauskas
  • Dante Cunningham
  • Isaiah Whitehead
  • Dwight Howard*

*Traded for and then waived, never appeared for Nets


Summary

Strengths:

  • Coaching
  • Sneaky roster depth
  • Own their own draft picks again!

Weaknesses:

  • May not have a potential star on the current roster

While the most publicized rebuild in recent NBA history rightfully belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers and their notorious “Process,” you could make the case that few franchises have rebuilt more effectively than Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets have quietly done over the past few years.

The 2013 trade between Brooklyn and Boston will be remembered as one of the worst trades in sports history. The loss of three unprotected draft picks for a pair of aging stars set the Nets franchise back in devastating fashion. In a way, their rebuild has been the functional opposite of what Sam Hinkie and the Sixers underwent; Philadelphia at least profited off their own ineptitude in the form of multiple top lottery picks, while every Nets loss helped the Celtics much more than themselves.

Marks and Co. have been making the best of a bad situation for years, and it’s finally starting to pay off. They’ve taken on other teams’ unwanted salary in exchange for draft picks (Allen Crabbe, Kenneth Faried, Dwight Howard) and compensated for their lack of top picks by finding interesting young talent in the later end of drafts (Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) or free agency (Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris). Combined with a talented coach in Kenny Atkinson that always seems to have this roster playing over their heads, and it’s easy to see why there’s so much growing optimism for this franchise.

The burgeoning bandwagon for Nets might be getting a little bit ahead of themselves, however — at least this year. This is an interesting roster that rolls pretty deep on potentially useful rotation players, but their dearth of valuable lottery picks has left them short on top-end talent. Even in the generally weak Eastern Conference, every aspiring playoff team has a star of some caliber — the Charlotte Hornets might be on the outside looking in this season, and Kemba Walker is several notches above anybody on this Brooklyn roster at this point in time.

For Brooklyn, this will be a season about sorting through what they have. Jarrett Allen looks like a future stud, but question marks still make up much of the rest of this roster. Is D’Angelo Russell anything more than an inefficient chucker? Can Caris LeVert expand upon a red-hot second half and carve out a solid role for himself? Was Spencer Dinwiddie’s breakout first half a flash in the pan? What exactly can Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs become?

Armed with their own draft picks for the first time in what feels like an eternity, and wielding a formidable amount of cap space in the impending 2019 offseason feeding frenzy, they’re well-positioned to finally reverse their fortunes in a hurry. The league has taken notice, too — it’s no coincidence Brooklyn was one of Jimmy Butler’s favored destinations this September. Right now, the Nets are a team focused on the horizon, but that sunrise could be closer than you expect.


Most Valuable Player: Jarrett Allen

Jarrett Allen’s afro alone is worthy of this honor.

Okay, I’ll actually write about him now.

But seriously, the ‘fro is great.

Jarrett Allen was one of the most unimpeachably fun players to emerge from last year’s draft. He’s basically the modern ideal of what a full-time center should be — quick on his feet, capable of protecting the rim while also holding his own in space. Pick-and-roll defense will be a strength of his before long. Offensively, he’s mostly a rim-runner in the Clint Capela vein, but he can finish from pretty much any angle and complements his highlight-worthy dunks with a respectably soft touch. A smattering of three-pointers and midrange jumpers add some interesting upside.

If the Nets have their way this offseason, Allen certainly won’t be the “Most Valuable Player” going into next season. There’s not really superstar upside here — his ceiling may be somewhere around Capela as a very good starting center, but not quite an All-Star. That’s perfectly acceptable, and the Nets having found a player of that caliber without so many of their own picks is an incredible success.

X Factor: D’Angelo Russell

D’Angelo Russell has shown flashes of a very high ceiling throughout his time in the league, but those flashes have still yet to add up to much more than an inefficient chucker and one very entertaining GIF.

I was as much on board the D-Lo bandwagon as anybody following his exodus from Los Angeles, but in his first season with the Nets, it’s starting to look like the Lakers had the right idea — especially since the salary relief from the deal helped them land LeBron James. Russell just did not improve; depending on how you look at it, he either stagnated or actually got worse. He chucked up more shots than he ever has previously, but did as little as ever — his 51% true shooting percentage did nothing to inspire. Defense remains far from his forte.

In Russell’s defense, his knees were as much the cause of his poor play as anything. It’s difficult to build consistency when you’re in and out of the lineup as much as he was. Still, it’s now his fourth season in the NBA, and with the Nets looking to accumulate a massive amount of cap space for an exciting offseason, Russell could find himself changing area codes yet again.

Don’t Forget About: Joe Harris

Yet another one of the Nets’ many bargain bin finds, Joe Harris has played his way from waiver wire fodder to a nice little $16 contract in the past two seasons.

Harris looks the part of a one-dimensional three-point shooter, but last season, he proved he could be much more than that. Over half his shots were threes, yes, but when he put the ball on the floor, he made plays. At the rim, he shot a blistering 70%, a tremendous improvement from the 55% he converted there the season before. His assist rate also grew to 10%; he’s not exactly a facilitator, but he’s at least capable of moving the ball as needed.

It should speak to how highly the Nets think of Harris that he’s one of the few players on the roster with guaranteed salary in 2019. He also just turned 27 years old. Casual fans may not be too familiar with Harris right now, but if the Nets’ resurgence goes to plan, odds are they’re going to be hearing his name quite a bit more very soon.


Second Opinion

Sam Sheehan, CelticsBlog (@SamSheehan)

For almost a half-decade, the Nets were synonymous with the idea of a team without a future. Now, with the book finally closed on the disastrous trade with the Celtics that cost them three lottery picks, the Nets will finally have access to the serious draft capital they could use return to playoff contention. After his hire in early 2016, Sean Marks set about his work tearing the team down as he angled to take on big contracts and shed veterans in exchange for the draft picks the Nets sorely lacked. In the good trades like this, Marks was able to turn Thaddeus Young into Caris LeVert, Bojan Bogdanovic into Jarrett Allen, and an agreement to take on DeMarre Carroll into Dzanan Musa. There were however, some gambles that have not panned out thus far, such as dealing the pick that became Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez to the Lakers in exchange for D’Angelo Russell.

All that said, the Nets have wisely used their time to develop their infrastructure and seemingly have a very solid coach in Kenny Atkinson. Trading Mozgov for the larger, yet shorter contract of Dwight Howard will leave the Nets in an interesting position next year. The Nets have a top 12 protected pick from the Nuggets incoming that has a significant change to be late lottery pick. They will also get the benefit of their own first round draft pick; something they haven’t had due to swaps since 2013 when they picked Mason Plumlee. There’s a significant path for the Nets to have double max cap space next year and if they land a top draft pick, it’s possible they could build an overnight free agent contender similar to the Heat, by trading that pick and Allen Crabbe’s expiring contract for a third star after two agree to come play in New York.

Now, that’s certainly not likely, but the Nets have have angled to at least make this is a possibility in the next few months. With that big picture in mind, I don’t think the Nets care too much about what happens on the court. I think they build the team to showcase tradable players like DeMarre Carroll, Spencer Dinwiddie, and possibly even Rondae Hollis-Jefferson if a sizable offer is made. Among other priorities will be the development of Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert as well as a final evaluation of what they have in D’Angelo Russell before his restricted free agency. Outside of that, I expect the Nets to be largely who they have been the past two years, a well-coached team that is short in talent, comes prepared to play every night, and probably wins more games than they should while still losing a lot.


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