Basketball Prospectus is the geekiest of the basketball annuals. What else can you say about a publication that ranks teams based on "Standardized Comparable Heuristic Optimizing Empirical NBA Evolution" (SCHOENE) and "Wins Over Replacement Player" (WARP)? This is serious stuff, and it's well-respected by those who follow the game closely.
So we were surprised when we read the section of the Prospectus on the Nets. John Hollinger may think the Nets are a 26-win team and other may dismiss the possibility of a 12-win team making the playoff jump in one season. Not authors Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton. They write, "One of SCHOENE’s more surprising projections for 2010-11 is that the Nets will return to the postseason, more than tripling their win total from a year ago." Yikes!
There are a number of reasons why the BP authors are positive. For one, they think the Nets, even as reconstituted ("It's All New!), weren't as historically bad as they looked last season.
One of the biggest reasons New Jersey threatened the worst record in league history was the team’s complete inability to win a close game. The Nets were 1-13 in games decided by five points or fewer, which was historic futility. No other team in the last nine seasons has been anywhere near that poor in close games.
Another reason: the Nets' improved bench. Their point: it's hard to get any worse than the Nets' pine warmers.
Another factor working in the Nets’ favor is clearing the dreck that inhabited the end of the roster a year ago. Nine players who saw action for the Nets last season rated below replacement level. Combined, these players cost New Jersey nearly nine games as compared to freely available talent.
The authors also believe the Nets should have significant internal improvement beyond the players they picked up in the off-season...which compared to who they replaced, "represent a massive infusion of talent".
The Nets can count on some improvement from within. In addition to Williams, Lopez should take another
step forward in his steady development and could emerge as an All-Star center as quickly as this season.
Point guard Devin Harris is the second-oldest player in the Nets’ rotation after Murphy, but he figures to
bounce back after he followed up a breakthrough All-Star campaign with a nightmarish 2009-10 season.
But perhaps the biggest improvement will come in a less tangible, less easy to measure category: coaching.
Coaching will also be a factor. Harris played at an All-Defensive level under Johnson in Dallas before turning into a sieve in New Jersey. His effort level, which was nonexistent much of last season, should turn around in a hurry. Johnson will be a major upgrade at the defensive end over Vandeweghe, who was miscast as a head coach.
There's a lot more, including some interesting insights on Johnson's positive effect on Devin Harris; the solid defense the Nets possess at the wings; prospects for Anthony Morrow to get better; which position Travis Outlaw excels at; why Brook Lopez really is one of the NBA's top three centers; and chances of making the Nets the "younger, hipper alternative" to the Knicks. Buy it.