When the Nets revamped their organization and moved to Brooklyn, a key component in their on-court success was an attempt to model the roster and personnel similar to the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, who have won four championships in the last 15 years are one of the most successful organizations in professional sports. With consistency comes success, something the Nets have yet to achieve their first few seasons in Brooklyn.
Take this offseason for example. Once again, the Nets saw a hectic summer unfold, losing five key role players, along with their coach who unexpectedly left for Milwaukee. Although they kept their "core" of star players, ten altogether, they lost Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche, and Marcus Thornton, all of whom play significant roles in the 2013-2014 season.
Based on that, it's easy to be pessimistic about the upcoming season. But, with the additions of some younger and more athletic players, the Nets may exceed many of the low expectations placed on them. Let's take a look at who they've acquired that should help make for another competitive season.
Pooch's Picks: The Five New Factors
5. Markel Brown and Cory Jefferson
There's only so much we can analyze with these two guys. Neither has played a single minute in the NBA, and both were second round picks, but judging from their college experience and summer league performance, there are reasons to be excited for for these two hyper-athletic rookies.
Billy King and the Nets have always been high on college players with the full four-year experience. It gives them a better sense of how NBA-ready they really are. Thus far it's worked for Mason Plumlee, and now, they're hoping the same for Jefferson & Brown, both of whom have played the full four years at their colleges. It didn't work with MarShon Brooks.
Markel Brown, the Oklahoma State standout taken 44th overall in the Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who sold the pick to the Nets for $1.1 million in cash considerations. On their projected draft board, the Nets had him marked down as the 22nd pick. The reason for the disparity between their mock draft and where he was picked? The Nets, an insider explained, put more emphasis on college experience and maturity.
In Brown's senior year, he averaged 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 35 minutes per game. He became the only player in Oklahoma State history to record 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocks in his career. He also played more than solid defense.
This video from the Nets vs. 76ers Summer League game displays a neat picture of what Markel Brown's game is about. A smaller guard, Brown's physicality enables him to drive hard to the basket and finish off with a hard slam or a trip to the free throw line. You also get a good sense of his ability to knock down the open three and find the open man. The Nets were particularly impressed by his passing ability. It surprised them. At 6'3", Brown is someone Lionel Hollins can use as a combo-guard, similar to how we may see Jarrett Jack utilized. His ball-handling ability will be key to his minutes.
Cory Jefferson's role may be limited in his rookie season, but the fact that he's on the team and learning from one of the best big men in NBA history has to be a happy surprise the Baylor standout, even if his contract is only partially guaranteed. Jefferson was the 60th (last) overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Nets acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers for $300,0000 in cash considerations. In his senior year at Baylor, Jefferson averaged 13.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in 29.0 minutes per game. Take a look at some of his highlights:
The video paints the perfect picture of how athletic and aggressive Jefferson plays in the paint. The majority of his points came off of dunks, but another interesting aspect to his game is his ability to hit the three ball on occasion. In his first three seasons at Baylor, Jefferson only attempted 12 three pointers. In his senior year, he nailed 14 three's on 38 attempts, showing a little more confidence from beyond the arc. If he can hit the three, while still being aggressive down low, he may become a secret weapon for Hollins in the future. The Nets would also see him put more pounds on his 6'9" frame. That may not be easy. He turns 24 soon.
4. Sergey Karasev
Before the Nets selected Mason Plumlee in the 2013 NBA Draft, Karasev was on their list right up until he was selected 19th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Karasev played just 22 games in the NBA last season moving back and forth betwee the Cavaliers and the Canton Charge of the D-League. He played well enough for a teenager in the D-League. The 19-year-old played in 19 games in Canton, 22 games in the NBA.
Karasev averaged only 1.7 points in seven minutes per game in Cleveland. In his 19 games in the D-League, Karasev averaged 13.0 points per game while shooting 44 percent overall and 41 percent from deep in 29.7 minutes per game. Along with his fine touch from beyond the arc, Karasev is a very skilled passer for a player of his length.
So why did he struggle in Cleveland? Nets officials believe the Cavaliers made Karasev an afterthought to all of their lottery-picked players, essentially stunting his development and not giving him an equal opportunity. So, a fresh start in Brooklyn, where veteran players are a surplus and Russian native, Andrei Kirilenko, is there to help the also-Russian Karasev in his pursuit to becoming a solid NBA player. The Nets demanded he be included in the three-team deal with Cleveland and Boston. Cleveland wanted to surrender a second rounder in the deal, but the Nets wanted Karasev. With the Cavs desperate to dump salary for LeBron James, they agreed.
It's a small sample size, but this preseason game vs. the Orlando Magic not only shows how Karasev has a smooth jump shot from anywhere on the floor, but also how he can create shots for himself and for his teammates. If he can hit the open three on a consistent basis, he and Deron Williams may coexist very well on a penetration-and-kick.
David Blatt, who would have been his coach this season in Cleveland, coached him on the Russian national team in the 2012 Olympics, where he won a bronze medal at age 18. Here's what he said of Karasev.
"He’s a special talent, a three position player. He doesn’t look athletic, but he does athletic things," Blatt told Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress. "He still hasn’t grown into his frame. He will improve his strength. He’s a quick and attentive learner. He held his own on defense better than I thought he would."
3. Jarrett Jack
The loss of Shaun Livingston this off-season was one of the few losses that really stung the Nets roster. With Livingston on the outs, it once again left the Nets without a reliable backup point guard -- seeking their third backup in their third off-season. And of course, with Deron Williams' health issues these past few seasons, it's absolutely crucial that the Nets have a reliable backup. Billy King once again had to search for an imperfect "plan B".
He got his guy in the three team deal that sent Marcus Thornton to Boston, Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to the Nets and meaningless draft rights of Ilkan Karaman and Edin Bavcic to the Cavaliers. Jack, the nine year swingman, had one of his worst seasons during his one year stint with the Cavs where he averaged 9.5 points and 4.1 assists in 28 minutes per game. This comes one season after he averaged 13 points per game for Golden State --and better than 17 points in the playoffs, and the year prior to that when he averaged 15.6 points and 6.3 assists per game with the New Orleans Hornets. Keep in mind, he's still only 30 years old, same as D-Will.
The Nets believe they can still get the most out of Jack. Deron Williams should be 100% healthy for the start of the season, [hopefully] eliminating the idea that Jack is mostly Williams' insurance. Hollins can select a few options with the versatile scoring guard in Jack. Jack will likely be the backup to Williams, providing the second unit with a veteran point guard to run the offense, while also providing the second unit with a legitimate scoring threat. With Andray Blatche and Thornton gone, the Nets needed to add some type of scoring threat to their bench.
The Nets have a lot invested in Jack. He's owed $6.3 million each of the next two seasons with only $500,000 guarantee in the 2016-2017 season. It seems like a risk worth taking, but if Jack continues his decline from last season, the Nets could be in trouble at point guard.
Check out NetsDaily writer Reed Wallach's Film Study on Jarrett Jack here.
2. Bojan Bogdanovic
When the Bojan Bogdanovic signing was made official this past July, everybody around the organization could breathe and say "finally". Bogdanovic was the Nets 31st overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, a pick they got for $1.3 million in cash considerations and a second round pick in the 2013 Draft. For three years the Nets and Bogdanovic couldn't make it work, mainly because of an onerous buyout, but finally, King and the now 25-year-old were able to make it work. Bogdanovic committed for three years and $10.3 million.
During his three year holding pattern in Europe, Bogdanovic starred on the well-known Turkish club, Fenerbahce Ulker. During his tenure there, Bogdanovic averaged 14.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 27.7 minutes per game. As far as his shooting numbers, overall he shot 47.3% with Fener, while converting on 37% of his threes. He's been pretty consistent with the three ball throughout his career, but shot just 30% in the 2013-2014 season. In this Q&A with Turkish writer, Ismail Senol, Senol cites Bogdanovic's struggles last season:
In Fenerbahçe Ülker, Bojan’s backcourt partner was Bo McCalebb. Bo is one of the best European scorers in the open court, but since he’s not the best shooter, he’s having trouble with halfcourt offense. Fenerbahçe also didn’t have a low-post threat, which prevented them to combine an inside-outside game. So, opponents were focused on Bojan Bogdanovic.
He couldn’t handle the pressure and the result was bad: Bojan didn’t have a single three point field goal during his 15 attempts in four games. After all of his misses, the ball seemed to be heavier for Bojan. To give him some credit, this season Bogdanovic was used in a way he was never used before. Coach Obradovic used him as a pick-and-roll ballhandler. He improved himself, but this wasn’t his natural role, which explains his inconsistency.
An interesting point from Senol is that he states how Bojan struggled when opponents were focused on him. This could be a huge factor to his success with the Nets. If Bogdanovic can work his way up with the first unit, he'll be surrounded by the star power of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and the returning Brook Lopez, all of which will take the attention off Bojan.
Then again, he was the focus of the French national team in their World Cup battle last week. They tried double-teaming him and it didn't work. Check out this highlight clip of his 27 point performance vs. France.
In the FIBA World Cup, Bogdanovic was an absolute force for Croatia, averaging 21.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. He was also the team's emotional leader who loves the Big Shot. The game against France was his best showing of the tournament -- 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting. It's important to note that most of his points were off shots he created. He worked well in an iso-savvy system there, which can be good (and bad) for his play with the Nets.
Good because, well, if he plays with the backup unit, he can be a scoring force. He can score, and that's been evident throughout his career. But, if he plays with the starting unit, he won't always have the ball in his hands, which means he'll have to find a way to be effective working off the ball. Either way, he finds ways to put the ball in the basket and that's something the Nets will need to make the most out of.
With seven seasons of international experience, Bogdanovic looks like one of the most NBA-ready rookies in his class. Not to mention, he's 25 years old and entering the league during the prime of his career. This may prove to be the Nets most important acquisition this off-season.
1. Brook Lopez
This may be cheating because it's not necessarily an acquisition, but this is the number one "gain" for the Nets and their upcoming season. There's a lot of "what if's" with Lopez, but when healthy he's undoubtedly one of the best scoring centers the game has to offer. In the 2012-2013 season, Lopez averaged 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 30.4 minutes per game. He was the only one of the Nets' "core" players to be selected to the All-Star game during that season. All of this came after his first bad foot injury. So we think he can do this same this year, right?
Last season, Lopez was on pace for another fantastic year. Despite the Nets' early struggles, Lopez looked to be one of the few Nets players prepared for the season, averaging 20.7 points per game while shooting a superb 56% from the field. Check out his shotchart before the most recent foot injury occurred:
That's pretty for a big man. Lopez often gets criticized for taking too many shots outside of the paint, but evidently, he's very efficient with his jump shot. From 16-24 feet away, Lopez was close to automatic, especially on the right block where he shot 62.5%. If he and Deron Williams could get the pick-and-roll game going, which for some reason they haven't, Lopez can use his full repertoire of tricks, whether it be sliding through the paint for an easy flush, or flashing out on the wing for an efficient mid-range shot.
The PNR brings us back to Reed Wallach's film studies. In this example, Reed shows how much attention Williams attracts, which completely opens up the paint for Lopez to get an easy bucket:
Same thing for this PNR, except, Lopez shades out towards the perimeter. He may want to avoid shying that far away from the hoop if defenders stay tight, but clearly it's worked in the past.
With Hollins now running the helm, defense is going to be a big part of how Lopez excels in the system. In Memphis, Hollins turned Marc Gasol into a DPOY, and you can assume he'll try to do the same with Lopez. After his injury, ESPN noted how well the Nets were on defense with Lopez on the floor:
In the 17 games he played, Lopez allowed opponents to shoot just 39.7 percent at the rim (9.2 attempts per game), and the Nets gave up only 102.7 points per 100 possessions with the 7-footer on the court.
Still, Lopez has aspects of his play that need to be fixed. His pick-and-roll defense has been suspect and his rebounding numbers need to improve if the Nets are to be a force on the glass. Both are aspects of his game that we expect Hollins and his staff to address come training camp.
All of this is subject to change if another injury occurs, but there are reasons to believe Lopez can come back better than ever. Just ask Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas. Lopez did!
The gains of these six players should heal the wound of the players lost in the off-season drama. With the new players comes a new coach in Lionel Hollins, and even bigger opportunities for guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Mirza Teletovic, and Mason Plumlee.
They may have lost some important pieces, but with the right Head Coach and the right amount of depth and talent, this Nets team may prove many people wrong.