Brian Fleurantin, who writes all our game previews, tries his hand at a review ... of the Nets first half.
Change is the name of the game for the Brooklyn Nets. Ever since Sean Marks became the General Manager last year, he has set out to rebuild the franchise from the ground up. He hired Kenny Atkinson away from the Atlanta Hawks and made major plays for some of the younger free agents in the 2016 free agent class. Although he struck out on multiple occasions, he did come away with Trevor Booker and Jeremy Lin.
Coming into the season, we had a feeling the Nets would be bad. Even with the additions of Lin and Booker, the roster was thin and there were major concerns about the defense. Halfway through the year, those concerns have borne themselves out. Brooklyn has been poor on defense, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions on 51.8 effective field goal percentage.
On offense, Atkinson has them playing much a different style than we're used to. New Jersey/Brooklyn has consistently been in the bottom third of the league in pace since the start of 2008, the Nets have played at the fastest tempo in the NBA this season, averaging close to 104 possessions a night. He also has the team expanding its range, as they've taken 32 three pointers a game, fourth most in the league. Although they're shooting 34 percent on those shots (fourth worst in the league), there might be some room for improvement.
Of their 32 threes a night, half are what can be classified as wide open. Unfortunately for Atkinson, his team has only made 34 percent of those shots, fourth worst mark in the league. Even if you consider that certain players are taking more three pointers than they should, that number should improve some in the second half.
As the team's best player, a lot falls on Brook Lopez's shoulders. And with Atkinson changing the offense, he's made the changes to fit the new coach's plans. After taking only 31 three pointers in his first eight seasons, he's already taken 262 this season (second only to DeMarcus Cousins among big men). I mentioned certain players taking more threes than they should, and Lopez is the person I was thinking about. While 34.4 percent is incredibly impressive for a player brand new to three point shooting, he's been much more effective closer to the rim. The team has nd trouble keeping him involved in the offense late in games and it's something they need to get better at.
With his (restricted) free agency coming up this summer, Bojan Bogdanovic needed to put a big season together to impress potential suitors. Unfortunately for him and the Nets, he hasn't been able to carry over the success he had in Rio during the Olympics back to the NBA. While he's been more involved in the offense and is getting to the free throw line more often, he hasn't done enough to carry the Nets offense. Add that to his traditionally poor defense and you've got a replay of his first two seasons. His name is back in the rumor mill and the Nets will have to decide if they will devote a lot of resources into keeping Bogie or move on.
Even with all of the losing, there's still plenty to work for this season. As Joe Harris explained to Shlomo Sprung of The Comeback:
This is going to be a multiyear rebuilding effort, so even if the ganes are ugly, there's still plenty to watch for.
Best development: Caris Levert’s rise
With the draft pick situation, the Nets need to make the most out of every available asset they have. The Nets were able to pick up Levert after trading Thad Young to the Pacers for the 20th pick and then drafting Levert with said pick. Levert was a very good college player, but repeated foot injuries caused his stock to fall. With Brooklyn not emphasizing results this year, taking Levert was an easy decision as was waiting for him to fully heal.
Levert made his NBA debut on December seventh and has been one of the team's best reserves. He's averaged close to seven points, three rebounds, and two assists on 41 percent shooting in 20 minutes a night. He's shown that he's up for any challenge, and I'd look for Atkinson to have him spend more guarding the opposing team's best perimeter player. Opponents are shooting 46 percent when being guarded by Levert and he has room to grow on that end.
For as well as he's played, we have to remember that he's still a rookie coming off of a serious injury. He played over 26 minutes in four straight games from late January to early February, but then had to miss two games due to knee soreness. Managing his minutes and protecting him from injury will be one of the most important things the Nets do the rest of the way.
Worst development: Jeremy Lin’s injury woes
Lin being out has affected the Nets in two ways. For one, we haven't been able to get a real opportunity to see how he and Lopez fit next to one another. The Brook-Lin pairing has only been on the court together for 179 minutes this season and that's not nearly enough time to determine how they for next to each other. Those two are the team's drawing cards and how they mesh will determine how Marks goes about building the roster. The other way it's hurt the Nets is that it forced their young point guards into roles they weren't ready for.
With Lin out and Greivis Vasquez being unable to regain his previous form, the Nets have had to rely on the duo of Isaiah Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie. To their credit, they've gotten better after initially struggling. Dinwiddie in particular has started to blossom and has a chance to make himself into a solid rotation player.
Highlight of the half
Buzzer beaters are always fun.
What to watch for in the second half
- Who will emerge as the backup point guard?
Now that Lin is back, Whitehead and Dinwiddie will move to the bench. Dinwiddie has started the last five games and figures to be the first PG off the bench. These two will have to make the most out of the opportunities they get when Lin is not on the floor.
And, will there be a new one added to the mix this week?
- RHJ at the four?
At first, I didn't think playing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the power forward position was the best move. However, I might have been mistaken. His skills happen to fit the position incredibly well and getting him more experience there will have long term benefits. He's been averaging seven rebounds a night in the month of February, good for second on the team.
- Can they put a few wins together?
When you have the worst record in the league, losing streaks tend to pile up. The Nets have had two double digit streaks and are currently on a 14 game streak. Along with that, they've lost 16 straight at home. When they return on Friday, they'll be in Denver to begin an eight game road trip. They haven't won back to back games all season and it seems unlikely that they'll do so any time soon. It's gonna be ugly, but maybe there's light at the end of the tunnel.