Team Name: Brooklyn Nets
Last Year's record: 44-38
Key Losses: Jason Kidd, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Marcus Thornton, Andray Blatche
Key Additions: Lionel Hollins, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
There's a lot to unpack here. After the Nets lost to the Miami Heat, things were looking up. Jason Kidd had a reasonably successful debut season as a head coach and figured to be a prominent part of the team's success over the next couple of years. However, all hell broke loose shortly thereafter. Kidd forced his way out of the organization and was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for two second round picks. After the Kidd situation cleared up, Billy King and Nets management quickly rebounded and hired ex Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins for the job. Was that it on the management side of things? Nope. There was news late in the summer that the ownership was forming a partnership with Guggenheim Sports. There were a lot of questions about this arrangement, and some of those were answered here.
On the personnel side, things were just as busy. The team decided they no longer wanted Paul Pierce and let him leave to join the Washington Wizards. Shaun Livingston parlayed a career year into a well deserved three year contract with Golden State. And with no NBA suitors, Andray Blatche took his game to China. Coming into Brooklyn was Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev. They were acquired in the trade that sent Marcus Thornton to Boston. But perhaps the most important acquisition was one that was made back in 2011. The team drafted Bojan Bogdanovic in 2011, but he was unsure about coming to the NBA. After a false start in the 2013 offseason, Bojdanovic finally signed and figures to be a key part of the Nets rotation.
What are the team's strengths?
When he's on the court, Brook Lopez is one of the league's best scorers. Prior to breaking his foot, he was on pace for a career year. He was averaging over 20 points a game and shooting a career high 56.7 percent from the field. Where he was most effective was close to the basket. The big man shot 63 percent inside of the restricted area and got to the free throw line almost seven times a game. That wasn't all for him on offense. He's able to successfully extend out to sixteen feet with his shot, and that flexibility can open a variety of options for the Nets. It's only preseason two games, but it's a great sign for Nets fans that Lopez appears to be rounding back into form well ahead of schedule. If Hollins can successfully instill some more "toughness" in Lopez, you've got perhaps the best center in the Eastern Conference.
This time around, the Nets hope that there can finally be some consistency in the head coaching position. Since Brook Lopez entered the league in 2008, the Nets have had six different head coaches (Lawrence Frank, Tom Barrise for two games, Kiki Vandeweghe, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carleismo, and Jason Kidd). Hollins makes the seventh, but he figures to be the best of all. Hollins comes to Brooklyn with a successful track record from Memphis and while he was down there, helped revitalize Zach Randolph's career and turn Marc Gasol into an All Star caliber center that has a decent chance of getting a max contract. With Hollins, Lopez and Plumlee will have a great coach with a successful track record on developing big men.
In addition to Hollins' work with the big men, his offense should get the most out of the other Net players. There were plenty of times under Kidd, Carleismo and Johnson where the Nets offense became stagnant. There was no movement of any kind as players just stood around and ball watched. You can head back to the end of Game Five against the Heat to see how a lack of ball and player movement can damage a team's chances of pulling off an upset. Our own Reed Wallach noticed this trend and recently wrote:
The Nets have a lot of ball-dominant players. Johnson has a nickname based on his preference to play with his man one-on-one and Williams also likes to keep the ball in his hands and create off the dribble. Both Williams and Johnson need to become more adept at cutting off the ball to allow Lopez to become the efficient passer he is. Off-ball movement is something that made Andrei Kirilenko a living in the league, and it stimulates ball movement, something the Nets didn't do at times last season.
The increase in movement should do wonders for Joe Johnson and Bogdanovic. Johnson is at his best when he's in a one-on-one situation, but with the increased movement should create more room for him as well as an increase in trips to the free throw line. He's also turned into a bit of a dead-eye from deep. He's been a league average and better shooter for deep throughout his career, and last year shot 40 percent from three point range, the second highest mark of his career. When you take into account his post game, three point shooting, solid passing, and success at the end of the game, you've got one of the finer guards in the league (contract jokes be damned). As for Bogdanovic, he has been one of the better players in international competition and is familiar to the folks that watched the FIBA World Cup. With the Nets looking to make Lopez a better passer from the low post, those two can make defenses think twice about Lopez on the inside.
What are the team's weaknesses?
Injuries have been a concern for the Nets in recent years. Injuries to Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and others have short circuited what could have been great seasons and led to early playoff exits in both 2013 and 2014. If there is another major injury, the team's depth will be put to the test. That will place a heavy burden on Jack, Kirilenko and Mirza Teletovic to contribute in their place. Alan Anderson has been out due to a sore abdominal muscle, but he should be good to go once the season starts.
How Hollins plans to use Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Plumlee will be something to keep a close eye on. One of the big problems for Brooklyn last year was the lack of minutes for Garnett. Throughout the year, Kidd and Billy King made sure to mention at every turn that they were limiting his minutes so he could be 100 percent for the playoffs. Garnett ended up getting injured anyway and...still didn't play that many minutes in the playoffs. Altogether, it led to the worst season of Garnett's 19 year career. Hollins has said that he will see an increase in minutes, and you have to wonder what that means for Plumlee. Plumlee did a terrific job filling in for both Lopez and KG last year and got a spot on the Men's National Team. He's a key part of the Nets future and as such, needs to be on the court as much as possible. The big men didn't spend much time together on the court last year and with a new coach and system in place, it's going to take some time for things to develop. Hollins has stated that Garnett will start and it makes sense. He has the ability to make jump shots consistently and that will help space the floor. At this point, Plumlee isn't much of a threat offensively, but his athleticism will do wonders for this team. Plumlee averaged 18.9 minutes a game last year, and I'm guessing he'll see at least 24 a night this upcoming season.
In recent years, the team has been pretty terrible on the glass. Here are their rebounding rankings over the last five years:
2009-2010 - 27
2010-2011 - 21
2011-2012 - 27
2012-2013 - 2
2013-2014 - 29
There is some explanation for the team's poor rebounding last year. With Lopez gone, the team went small and focused most of their energies on forcing turnovers. Garnett was actually pretty great on the glass but didn't get enough minutes to make enough of an impact on that end. Garnett will see an increase on his 20.5 minutes per game and with other players pledging to help on the glass, the Nets don't figure to be the worst rebounding teams in the league this time around.
What are the goals for this team?
Here's where things get interesting. Last year, the expectations were pretty high but the Nets ultimately fell short of them. The expectations are lower this time around, but they still have a pretty decent shot of making the playoffs for the third consecutive season. As it stands now, they're the only viable contender in the Atlantic Division to the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics and Sixers are in deep rebuilding programs and the Knicks probably won't be any good this year. Even if the Nets don't win the Division, they should be competing for a playoff spot throughout the season. With Paul George out of the way (although he seems to think he can make it back for the playoffs) for the time being, the Nets will be battling for position with teams like Indiana, Miami, and Charlotte. Anything less than a playoff appearance will be seen as a disappointment.
Guess who's back?
To understand where Deron Williams is today, we need to go back to when he first joined the Nets in 2011. Although he left Utah on bad terms, he had revitalized the Jazz franchise after John Stockton and Karl Malone retired and gotten them to the playoffs in every season but his first one. He was on the "Redeem Team" and was widely respected by fans, writers, and foes across the league. There was even a legitimate argument to be made for him being the best point guard in the league. When he came over, he was expected to bring the Nets out of the blue period the franchise and fanbase was in following Jason Kidd's departure (the first one) and the messy Carmelo Anthony saga.
Since he's been in the Eastern Conference, Williams hasn't really played up to that standard. He's dealt with wrist and ankle injuries throughout his tenure with the Nets that have sapped his athleticism and explosiveness. He also got called out by Jerry Colangelo for being out of shape. When you look at where he's taken his shots, he's taken fewer shots near the rim and has taken fewer trips to the free throw line than in Utah. To make matters worse, he was outplayed during key stretches in the playoffs by Nate Robinson in 2013 and Kyle Lowry in 2014. How bad did it get? Missing poster near Barclays Center bad. Although that may have been a bit much, it spoke to a great frustration with Williams among Nets fans. For a player as good as Williams has been, he hasn't consistently displayed that in his time here. Watching the new generation of point guards excel while the PG you pinned so many hopes on underperform will anger the home fans. When you add in his status as a max contract player, those frustrations become even more pronounced. To be fair to Deron, there has been a ton of roster and coaching instability since he joined the Nets. It's also the reason why his system comment from 2012 makes sense.
This is perhaps the most important season of Williams' career. He's taken tons of criticism and has seen his stock in basketball circles plummet. He's no longer seen as the best point guard in the league and is just an afterthought in those conversations these days. The best parallel I can draw to Williams' current predicament is when Joe Johnson was in Atlanta: Above average player that will consistently make the All Star team but not someone you can build a title contender around. And like Johnson in Atlanta, the Nets couldn't afford to let him leave so he was rewarded with a max contract. There are good signs for Nets fans though. Williams underwent surgery in the summer to fix his ankles and has come into camp looking more trim than usual. With him at 100 percent, he has a great chance of silencing the critics. If all goes well, this will be his first fully healthy season with the Nets. With that health also comes a system that Williams is familiar with and has excelled in. Williams should see a lot more and better scoring opportunities now that Lopez is back and healthy. With an offense that prioritizes cutting and fewer isolations, Williams will get more looks near the basket and that will in turn lead to more trips to the line. He can also isolate and break guards off the dribble so look to see him back on your favorite ankle breaker Youtube compilations.
More reading: SB Nation NBA
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