We’re one night, one day away from Brooklyn Nets basketball and we’ve seen flashes of play that give us some optimism, along with several question marks. The Nets played four preseason games -- two fewer than last year — and impressed with their style of play and the skillsets of the personnel working inside a system.
Instead of over-analyzing preseason numbers, here’s a brief take on each of the main guys on the roster.
Russell faced a bit of an adjustment in a new offensive system, but that didn’t stop him from displaying his bag of tricks on the offensive end, highlighted by his no-look passes and ability to put the ball in the bucket ... no matter what it takes. He loves to push the ball in transition and will not hesitate to pull-up for a fast break three. Expect Russell to have the green light and lead the Nets in field goal attempts (and points) this season.
Biggest shock? His defense. He’s longer and much more active in the passing lanes than anticipated. He averaged better than three steals per 36 minutes.
Lin didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (40 percent overall) and looked a bit out of sync playing off the ball so much. It’s something he mentioned in the first preseason game, citing how just being back in the bright lights was an adjustment. Otherwise, Lin played well and facilitated well for both the first and second unit. He did have a turnover problem, averaging more than five per 36. The Nets struggled when neither him or Russell were on the floor.
We don’t need to discuss how much of a ‘steal’ this can be if Carroll plays the way he did in preseason. He showed flashes of the DeMarre Carroll from Atlanta — the same one who played in a pace and space offense under Coach Mike Budenholzer... and assistant Kenny Atkinson. Carroll looked spry and healthy, chased after loose balls, banged down low, ran the floor and hit his three-pointers at better than a 40 percent clip. He should be just fine in Brooklyn, as long as he stays healthy.
Talk about somebody who looks like the heart and soul of the team on and off the court. Hollis-Jefferson has that personality, that character that’s infectious in the locker room. It’s something that cannot be replicated and something that was valued when he was drafted by Billy King. As a matter of fact, he’s the only one left from the King era and he was just “exercised” for the 2018-2019 season.
Hollis-Jefferson bulked up enough to bang down low with bigger forwards and centers. He slashed and moved along the baseline to be set up by the guards and/or clean up missed opportunities. The most impressive thing, aside from his defensive prowess, was his mid-range jump shot that didn’t look all too broken. He didn’t take a single three pointer in the preseason, and shot nearly 70 percent overall.
It’s hard to give LeVert a fair assessment being that he only played two preseason games. Still, in both Summer League and Preseason, LeVert showed signs of maturity in his game. He bulked up and seems less flustered with the ball. He looked confident driving the ball to the hole, knowing he’s longer and stronger than last year. His mid-range jumper looks good, but his three-point shot continues to be a work in progress. He hit only 12.5 percent in the two games. LeVert may very well squeak into the starting lineup, showing a lot chemistry with D’Angelo Russell.
Crabbe is also hard to assess after playing just two preseason games. That being said, he looked like the perfect system fit in his first game running around off-ball screens and freeing himself up for open three-pointers, hitting 3-of-4 vs. New York, including three early in the game that essentially sealed the win. He should flourish. A few questions linger, though. His defense needs work and if he isn’t hitting his three-pointers, there may not be many other avenues for him to contribute. Consistency will be key for him.
Acy continues to impress Kenny Atkinson and the coaching staff. He brings a high level of intensity on both sides of the ball, and his ability to hit the three is crucial. The frontcourt is thin with shooters and Acy is one of the very few that fits the script. He should be ideal in a pick-and-pop situation with somebody like D’Angelo Russell, who will attract double teams with him. Acy was Mozgov’s backup for most of the preseason. He’s going to have a bigger role this season, perhaps one of the biggest of his career.
When Sean Marks talks about players playing above their pay grade, his name is one of the first that comes to mind.
It doesn’t sound all too great when Mozgov is your most reliable big man, but he serves the purpose in Atkinson’s offense that doesn’t utilize a big man as much as other offenses. Mozgov needs to set good, hard screens in order to open guys up on the perimeter. He did a good job of doing so in preseason. Defensively, he held his own up until he was matched up with Joel Embiid. He did better against Kristaps Porzingis. He doesn’t have much reinforcement behind him. A rookie and a journeyman are the only other two players on the roster that are 6’10” or taller. He’ll need to stay out of foul trouble and be the enforcer for the young Nets.
One other thing to look for. Mozgov is coming off a national team experience that saw him play nearly 20 games —friendlies and championship games— over two months. He admitted to a Russian reporter that he was having a hard time adjusting in Brooklyn. Mozgov is the only Net with an NBA championship ring which he won with the Cavs two years ago.
Trevor Booker continues to do Trevor Booker things. He hustles and shows grit on the court that the team and fans rally behind. He’s going to be with the second unit, which bodes well for Brooklyn because they’ll have a big that can bang down low and run the break with the guards. I saw a lot of chemistry between him and D’Angelo Russell, the two lefties looking to push the ball as quick as possible.
He is someone that the coaching staff trusts with any role, on or off the court.
It was great to finally see Jarrett Allen get action with the pros. It was the first time we got a hint of what he can do... at 19-years-old. He fits the ‘lobs and blocks’ script we keep hearing so much about. Brooklyn’s guards were simply lobbing the ball up by the rim and letting him go up and get it. He’ll be lethal if he can bulk up and finish alley-oops and simple put-backs. He showed a hint of his range, hitting mid-rangers and even a three-pointer from the corner in the last preseason game. He’s raw and he needs to get bigger. Still, expect him to see time at the five this season. He has some learning to do, but his potential is through the roof.
Dinwiddie continues to look better and better every time he steps on the floor. He’s comfortable and has shown that he’s a capable backup point guard - and capable shooter for Kenny Atkinson to use in a three-guard set. He isn’t the flashiest player and doesn’t put up crazy numbers, but he does the little things. His basketball IQ is very high, rarely turns the ball over —he went three games last season without a single TO— and gets his hands dirty in the passing lanes. Dinwiddie has moved himself above some in the 8-guard depth chart. And although he acts (and looks) 27, he’s just turned 24.
We kind of knew what we were getting when Kilpatrick stepped onto the floor this preseason. The guy just knows how to score. He was in the gym all summer , working on his game since late April up to this point. He will be important for the second unit, especially when they’re struggling to score. Still, his one-dimensional style of play might not be enough to break past the 8-guard rotation.
On the other hand...
More per 36 numbers for Nets. Sean Kilpatrick 27.8 ppg, 13.7 rpg, shooting 47.4% overall, 42.9% from three. He just knows hot to score— NetsDaily.com (@NetsDaily) October 14, 2017
You get what you get with Joe Harris. He’s a bit of a liability on the defensive end, especially covering quicker guards. However, he’s a pure shooter who can light it up from deep. He is another system fit we keep talking about. But if he’s having an off night from deep early on, he probably won’t see much time in the second half. It goes back to the 8-guard rotation, with other guys waiting for their chance to step up. One thing is for sure: Kenny Atkinson likes Harris.
Whitehead appears to be out of the rotation. He was a CD-DNP in the final two preseason games after shooting 1-of-8 and committing four turnovers in the first two games. He’s still only 22-years-old, but don’t be surprised if he’s playing for Long Island in a few games. He has potential, especially as a big guard, but he has a lot to prove. He is already one of the inactives in the opener.
Zeller didn’t see much time in the preseason and we don’t expect that to change much during the season. He is the newest player on the roster and has some adjusting to do. He is, however, the only other player aside from Mozgov that’s taller than 7’0”. He might log time for that reason alone — when they’re getting killed by bigger players down low.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson admitted he feels more comfortable with his decision-making and other things as he enters his second season. He’s popular with his players who universally laud him and his development skills. He remains the ideal coach for a young, developing group.
Again, we’re taking preseason with a grain of salt in terms of statistics and wins/losses. That being said, Atkinson and his staff gave us a good look as to how the Nets want to play and who they’re going to play in certain situations. They appear to be pleased with the depth at the guard and wing spots. The frontcourt is a work in progress.
We’ll find out for sure starting on Wednesday. Let the games begin.