NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
Coach: Kenny Atkinson (Second year)
Last Season: 20-62 (15th in Eastern Conference)
Notable Additions: D’Angelo Russell (trade), Jarrett Allen (draft), Allen Crabbe (trade), DeMarre Carroll (trade)
Notable Subtractions: Brook Lopez (trade)
Vegas Over/Under: 28.5 wins
Best-Case Scenario: We’re talking absolute best case, right? How about the 10th seed in a desiccated Eastern Conference?
The Nets are an object of fascination in the Ringer sphere because of how quickly GM Sean Marks has cultivated something resembling an actual NBA team. Even when things were at their lowest (like, for example, when the Nets managed only two wins between Christmas and March 1 last season), the team played a style that’s conducive to winning basketball—as soon as their talent level improved. They had a drove of ball handlers, small-ball 4s and 5s, and ready-and-willing shooters. But few played at even an above-average level, and even fewer had the ability to elevate the play of those around them. They’re hoping that changes this season with the reinforcements they’ve acquired.
The team’s ceiling (and ability to play spoiler to the Cavaliers, who are now armed with the Nets’ unprotected first-rounder) hinges on Russell. Brooklyn is banking on the young guard’s ability to thrive in an offense that should give him ample opportunities to create in the spread pick-and-roll, flanked on all sides by versatile athletes. The addition of Crabbe gives the team a dead-eye marksman from 3. Late-first-round steal Jarrett Allen projects to be the team’s center of the future, serving up a game as classic as his Afro, but with skills that should allow him to become a versatile threat on offense, both as a rim-runner and as a creator from the high post. And the dueling banjos act of Russell and Jeremy Lin gives the Nets a dual-point-guard setup that has become de rigueur in a spaced-out league. Should all go well, the team will be way more competitive than most are expecting. For any other team, that’s a backhanded compliment. For the Nets, it’s all they can hope to be in 2018. They’ll be out of their Garnett-trade-inflicted prison soon enough.
Worst-case scenario: Absolutely nothing changes from last season’s dismal campaign, which results in the Cavaliers being gifted their fourth no. 1 overall selection of the past eight seasons.
Had he been drafted back in June, D'Angelo Russell would've been coming off his junior season at Ohio State, and the Nets are treating his acquisition as such. It’s a fresh start for both the team and the player, who has been maligned for frustrating bouts of inconsistency and immaturity over his two seasons with the Lakers. There is no questioning his talent: 3-point threats who can also deftly maneuver in the pick-and-roll are invaluable today, but we haven’t yet seen much proof that Russell is anything more than a slightly below-average shooter for his position.
Brooklyn is catnip for process-trusting, it’s-about-the-journey NBA dorks like myself, yet tether the team’s prospects to only the season before us, and things get much less rosy. Brooklyn went on a tear acquiring new talent this offseason, but the most intimidating thing about Timofey Mozgov these days is his contract; ditto for DeMarre Carroll. Crabbe projects to improve upon last season, when he was one of the top 3-point shooters in the league, but he’ll first have to air out the stink of the Blazers’ buyer’s remorse. As fascinating as this rebuild is, the Nets are still nowhere near talented enough to lock in a playoff spot, even in the conference’s current landscape.
Still, let’s give Russell some credit. He definitely arrived with a swagger (the efficacy of which is to be determined during the season). “I want teams to hate us,” he said in August. Admirable goal. Though maybe it’d be better to want teams to acknowledge more than half the roster first.
TL;DR: Your enjoyment of the Nets this season will depend on how much you enjoyed watching Bear Grylls’s Man vs. Wild. Watching someone climb out of a morass is fun until it’s not.