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Dumpy's Stairway to Success

For past three seasons, NetsDaily has used Dumpy as our stats guru and systems/process guy. He's taken looks at the team's statistical performance and analyzed how the draft might go based on historical trends and the preferences of team management. Now he's taking a "systems-oriented" look at the coming season by examining whether the right pieces are in place to be successful. We think he's a bit of an alchemist.

Predicted Record: 39-42, with one rainout.

Hello again, and welcome to another fun-filled season of New Jersey Nets basketball. As in past seasons, the Nets will be led this season by their "big three" of Jason Kidd, Richard Jeff---

Oops. Old habits die hard. Who would have thought that the Nets would eventually give up on the idea of trying to surround Kidd, Jefferson, and Vince Carter with a group of mediocre veterans without any tangible upside and hope for the best? If there was an upside to Jason Kidd’s petulant behavior last season, it was that he essentially forced management to turn the page and adopt a different tack. So, with that in mind, let me try again. In what has been termed a "rebuilding season," the New Jersey Nets will struggle to reach double digits in victories, and have set an ambitious goal of achieving the 29th best record in---

No, wait a second. That doesn’t seem correct, either. The club just has to be better than that, right? This preseason prediction racket is more difficult than it first appears. So who, exactly, are these New Jersey Nets? With only three players returning from last season’s exciting opening day match against the Bulls, what can be realistically expected from this squad? What, exactly, could be considered a "successful season" from this group? More importantly, why should we waste our winter rooting for a team that is so obviously doomed to a season of ineptitude and failure?

To help answer those questions and more, this piece is going to have to be a little different from the typical preseason fare. Because this squad consists nearly entirely of new players who have never played together before, it probably wouldn’t be very instructive to just go through the roster and guess where the strengths and weaknesses are.

The truth of the matter is that we just don’t know what this season will bring; there are too many variables and unknowns. We don’t even know what the opening day starting lineup and rotation will look like, let alone what it will look like four, eight, or twelve weeks from now! Moreover, the Nets sport three rookies and two sophomores that are expected to have significant roles during the upcoming season. That’s fully a third of the team! How can we even try to predict what their strengths and weaknesses will be—other than merely to list "youth" on both sides of the ledger? We just can’t do it. We can try to guess whether Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, and Sean Williams will be productive, but when all is said and done, it will just be a guess based solely on whether we have a tendency to be optimistic or pessimistic about the future. We might as well read used tea leaves or try or hand at numerology; we’d have just as much chance of being correct.

So instead, what I’d like to do is focus on whether the Nets appear to have a plan in place to achieve success; try to figure out what that plan is; and try to predict whether they have the pieces in place to achieve that success. To do this, I am going to start by exploring just what it seems to take for a team to be successful in today’s NBA. Then we can try to decide whether the way that the Nets have rebuilt this team has a chance to be successful, if not this season, then a year or two down the line. If the team doesn’t have a plan in place, then it does no good to simply acquire players with potential, even if they are super-athletic. They have to be nurtured, and be focused on achieving results through commonly-held goals. Now, by the term "successful" I’m not just referring to the teams that have ultimately become NBA champions, although obviously they would be included in the discussion. No, I’m referring to the characteristics that appear to be shared by most (if not all) of the top eight or ten teams each season. To be clear, these are those teams that are playoff-caliber teams, and they all probably believe that they have at least some chance to reach the Finals once the playoffs begin. As you would expect, these teams are built all sorts of different ways, and play all sorts of different styles, but, remarkably, they have more in common than you might think.

First and foremost, you need the right personnel. A look at most of the successful teams reveals a couple of interesting patterns regarding their starting lineups:

All of the elements listed above—the team identity, deep bench, and chemistry—will counter the personnel weaknesses, most notably the reliable inside scoring threat, and possibly being a below-average rebounding team. A lot of things have to go right for the team to be successful. For instance, they have to avoid injuries to Harris and Carter, and the youngsters have to develop and begin to contribute fairly quickly. Most importantly, though, is that they learn to actually PLAY defense, as opposed to WANTING to play defense. On that last point, it is true that the team has played erratically defensively during the last few preseason games. However, that was without the injured Najera, Hayes, Swift, and Boone (and one game without the defensively underrated Vince Carter), all of whom should play significant roles over the course of the season. I believe that the team will gradually improve defensively and this will eventually become one of their strengths, so long as they remain focused and committed to the principles taught by the coaching staff, and don’t reach a point where they give up in frustration. All in all, I like their chances more than the Oklahoma City's and Minnesota's and Charlotte's and Atlanta's and Knickses, etc.

So, can the Nets reach the playoffs? I believe that it is possible, but probably unlikely. I believe that the pieces are in place for the Nets to achieve between 35-45 victories, depending on how fast the youngsters develop, and on any injuries suffered by them (or by their primary competition for those last few playoff spots). My prediction is that the Nets will win 39 games, and narrowly miss the playoffs by just two or three games, but in the attempt will have established a foundation for 2009-2010.

Regardless what happens, though, this season is sure to be filled with unexpected developments, and we may even get to witness the development of a special player or two.

Enjoy the season!

[Credit for some of these ideas is due towards Kenny Smith, who discussed many of these elements in an article several months ago that discussed what playoff teams needed to have in order to contend for the NBA title. I've taken those ideas, and expanded on them to explore what makes a team "successful," which is slightly broader, and not nearly as demanding. For Smith's original article, go here: link]