Team Name: Brooklyn Nets
Last Year's record: 21-61
Key losses: Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack
Key additions: Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker, Greivis Vasquez, Kenny Atkinson (head coach)
What significant moves were made during the off-season?
In his first summer with the team, Sean Marks went about altering the makeup of the roster and organization. He hired Kenny Atkinson to be the new head coach shortly after the Nets concluded their season. From there, he went about looking for young free agents who had the potential to improve in the coming years. The team had signed Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe to offer sheets, but their original clubs (Miami and Portland) matched the contracts and were able to retain their services. Undeterred, Marks tinkered at the margins, signing Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Luis Scola, and Greivis Vasquez for bench depth. In the draft, the team added Caris Levert (who will be out rehabbing a foot injury he suffered at the University of Michigan) and Isaiah Whitehead. Gone are the duo of Thaddeus Young and Jarrett Jack, who are in Indiana and Atlanta respectively.
The biggest move was the pickup of Jeremy Lin from Charlotte. Lin looks to bring a level of excitement the team hasn't seen since their initial arrival to Brooklyn.
What are the team's strengths?
For an organization that has undergone a variety of makeovers over the past decade, having Brook Lopez in the middle is the one thing Nets fans can reliably count on. Brook is one of the more reliable scorers in the league and can consistently get you 18-20 points a game while making a living at the free throw line. If the Nets are going to be anything close to respectable this season, they’re going to need Lopez to have the best season of his career. His teammates know the deal and they’re gonna feed him the ball early and often. As the role of big men in the league continues to change, having a player like Lopez that is a great scorer in the post and as the roll man in pick and rolls will open things up on offense for his teammates. Lopez is also a better than average rim protector and can thwart off guards that drive to the basket.
There’s been so much discussion about the marketing aspect of Lin in New York that we sometimes forget that he’s a pretty solid point guard. He was one of the best players in the league at driving to the rim and shot a respectable 48 percent on those attempts. He and Lopez will make for an intriguing pick-and-roll pairing for Kenny Atkinson and the Nets. The two of them seem like a natural fit and as they get more playing time together, they’ll be able to keep the Nets offense humming.
More importantly for Lin, he’s decreased his turnover rate each season following the Linsanity run from 2012. The Nets had the sixth highest turnover rate in the NBA last season, and having a point guard that has worked to cut down on his turnovers will help save possessions for Brooklyn. Lin will be tasked with creating good looks for his teammates and finding good looks for himself within the flow of the offense.
Nets fans should be excited for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's sophomore campaign. RHJ was the team’s best defender and highest net rating of the regular rotation players (granted it was -2.9, but still.). His skill set presents some unique options for the Nets, and Atkinson should look to experiment with the second year player. RHJ still has to improve on his shooting stroke, and it's something Nets management will keep an eye on throughout the season.
It won’t manifest itself immediately, but the team’s approach to development has begun to improve. The team reacquired their own D-League club after losing their previous affiliate, the Springfield Armor. Having a D League team doesn’t sound like much, but when you take into account the perilous draft situation the Nets are in, investing in and using the D-League as a serious arm of the organization will provide short and long term benefits. In years past, players like Whitehead would’ve had to fight for minutes along with other prospects from various teams on a single D League affiliate. Now that the Nets are running their own team, they can give a player like him the attention he deserves.
What are the team's weaknesses?
When a team adds a bunch of new players, it naturally takes time for everything to fit. And when you add in the fact that they will have to adjust to one another while playing under a rookie head coach, don't be surprised if Brooklyn gets off to a slow start.
Who's starting at power forward? In his year and a half with the Nets, Thaddeus Young provided a reliable 15 points and eight rebounds a night on good shooting and solid defense. Looking to replace him will be the duo of Trevor Booker and Luis Scola.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding the bench. Vasquez practiced Friday for the first time, still recovering from ankle surgery. His availability for Opening Night is up in the air. Anthony Bennett has impressed the Nets with his game and work ethic, but this is the fourth team in four seasons for the number one pick. Sean Kilpatrick had an impressive showing after the team signed him out of the D-League last February, and he’s going to have to be their top scorer off the bench.
Atkinson is gonna have his hands full fixing the Nets defense. Brooklyn was the second worst defensive unit in the NBA last season, allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions and allowing teams to shoot a league high 47.9 percent from the field. It was a nightly adventure watching the Nets defend pick and rolls last season, and it’s something they’re working to fix this preseason. They’re going to have to rely heavily on Hollis-Jefferson on the perimeter, especially considering that defense isn’t one of Bojan Bogdanovic’s strengths. More on him in a bit.
While the Nets are heading in the right direction, their peers in the East have made major strides as well. Orlando picked up Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City. Philadelphia should be much improved with the arrival of Ben Simmons and the debut of Joel Embiid. And the Knicks ought to be close to a playoff spot with the acquisitions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Brooklyn's roster is better than the 2015 version, but have they done enough to get back in the playoff hunt?
What are the expectations for this year?
Depending on who you talk to, the Nets will be one of two things this season: bad or REALLY BAD. With the bottom of the East getting better, it's highly unlikely Brooklyn makes the playoffs. However, fans shouldn't be too dismayed. Look for the development of youngsters like Hollis-Jefferson, McCullough, and Whitehead. It’s gonna take a while, but things are starting to look up in Brooklyn.
Point out the bounce?
We usually refer to the “Olympic Bounce” in relation to players on Team USA as they begin the new season following their appearances in the Olympics. The Nets and Bogdanovic are hoping that his success in Rio will translate to the upcoming NBA season. Bogdanovic led all players with a 25.3 points per game average on a 50.4/45/78.6 shooting split. He was Croatia’s best player and led them to their best Olympics finish since their silver medal in 1992. Oh, and he escaped a bombing in Turkey in the summer.
Even before he left for the Olympics, his game was trending upwards. After the Nets fired Lionel Hollins in January, he saw his shooting percentages and scoring average improve. When Bogdanovic is active on offense and not standing around, he can score in bunches. He’s coming back to the NBA feeling more confident in himself and sure of how the Nets will build on his strengths. My colleague Anthony Puccio has more:
Perhaps if the ball moves as well as Atkinson hopes, Bogdanovic should benefit. Not to mention, if they give him a chance to do things where he thrives in the European game, such as posting up, he can really benefit from a new system and coach.
Bogdanovic thinks the Nets will be competing for a playoff spot, and if he can play like he did in Rio, it might actually happen. The team doesn’t have many scoring options outside of Lopez and Lin, so he’ll get plenty of opportunities to get shots up. Atkinson has discussed tailoring the offense to the roster, and that bodes really well for Bogdanovic. He's also going to be a free agent this summer, and if he plays well throughout the year, he's in line for a huge payday this summer.
Across the network
As we get closer to Opening Night, check out the previews of the other teams in the league:
Los Angeles Clippers - Clips Nation
Boston Celtics - Celticsblog
Philadelphia 76ers - Liberty Ballers
Golden State Warriors - Golden State of Mind
New York Knicks - Posting and Toasting
Toronto Raptors - Raptors HQ
Phoenix Suns - Bright Side of the Sun
Los Angeles Lakers - Silver Screen and Roll