There is something different about this year's Brooklyn Nets team that differs from past Brooklyn teams. No, not that they aren't gunning for the Atlantic Division title and hoping to prove the doubters wrong and succeed despite a large luxury tax bill. Rather, that they have some continuity in place. The team is healthy going into the season (well, somewhat), and they have brought back all but one "star" in Deron Williams.
Brooklyn is going to rely on the duo Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young that came together in February and played high level basketball together. As Dan Devine of Ball Don't Lie noted in his season preview, the two-man duo of Lopez and Young scored 108.5 points per 100 possessions over the second half of the season, which would put them inside the top 25 in two-man duos over that timespan. Even though they struggled on the defensive end together, letting up more than 105 points per 100 possessions, the two had a positive net rating greater than three.
Clearly the two big men work well together. Young is an athletic four who can stretch his game out beyond the arc to make room for the seven-foot Lopez to do his business on the block. Lopez also managed double teams much better over the second half of the season, kicking the ball out as his teammates swung the ball side-to-side looking for the open man. Young's versatility gave Lopez a nice safety valve on the high block when the big man was backing his man down.
It was wise of Billy King to lock Lopez and Young down to big deals hours into free agency: Lopez nabbing $63 million over three years, Young $50 million over four years with the fourth year a player option. With the market set to boom in the coming years, this was a safe investment for King, who knows what these two players bring to the floor, and, possibly more importantly, to the locker room (also, did you see what Tristan Thompson just got?). That's why King gave the money to these two big men, because the Nets need to start building a culture in Brooklyn. Not one that wins rings and brings in top talent to take them to the NBA Finals, but one that stays constant from year-to-year and develops their prospects. This is year one of a new regime in Brooklyn, the ground floor on what hopes to be a true contender in the years to come.
Will Lopez and Young be around to see the Nets contend again? That's not certain because the Nets don't have a direction right now. The team, outside of their starting five, has brought in a group of journeymen with a chip on their shoulders.
A few will make an impression on Lionel Hollins and King to stick around for the coming years, but the Nets will continue to cycle talent until they find the players that click. The Boris Diaw's of the Spurs and the Shane Battier's of the Heat. The glue guys that will give the team that extra ounce of energy and talent to win games.
Will it be Shane Larkin? The speedy point guard has played nicely in the pick-and-roll with Brook Lopez and has the quick hands and feet to be a better defender than he was during his first two seasons. Thomas Robinson has taken that Reggie Evans role that somehow worked in Brooklyn three years ago, grabbing rebounds at will and fighting down low. It's not an efficient style of basketball in 2015, but if Robinson can continue to do the dirty work, you better believe Hollins will get excited.
The main target in terms of developing talent is the most raw of them all: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. RHJ is the future of this team, all things considered. He is the youngest and he has the talent to become an All Star in a few years.
He has great defensive fundamentals, always in a low stance, keeping his hands active, and has great court sense despite a poor jump shot at the moment. The Nets fleeced the Trail Blazers in their Draft Night trade which turned out to be the rookie from Arizona for Mason Plumlee, giving the Nets young talent with high upside. Plumlee, five years old than RHJ, had his moments for Brooklyn, but his ceiling is likely what it is today, and Brooklyn needs a prospect. Hollis-Jefferson is that type of player. Besides being a very interesting human being, he is a talented player that will assimilate the pro game nicely around spot-up shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic.
For Brooklyn, a new era is beginning, the era of development. With the cupboard bare of picks, the Nets are going to continue taking shots on young guys that can click in the right system, as their bench shows. Brooklyn will continue to try and improve through Free Agency, as they should when their owner is fine with spending enough money to land top-tier talent, but they also need to develop a system, a brand ... a PLAN.
A reason why team's like San Antonio jump out to such great starts is that their roster is so similar from year-to-year. They're already in midseason form on opening night. Brooklyn has struggled in recent years at the start of the season due to lack of chemistry on the floor. Expect to see it again this year, based on what we've seen in preseason
The Nets have a great mix on their roster now, featuring veterans in Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson; talented bigs coming into their prime, Lopez and Young, and youth in the likes of RHJ and Bogdanovic. After years of bad luck, it is time for something to go the Nets way, right? As they say in that neighboring borough, ya gotta believe.