The Nets trotted down the court down by five with less than 40 seconds left on the clock. They had cut down a 14-point deficit in the span of 5 minutes and 20 seconds, and looked to stun the Boston Celtics on their home court.
What happened on the ensuing play represented Brooklyn’s identity.
It’s only one play, but it showed a few things we know about the Brooklyn Nets of 2018. These are the type of plays that don’t show up in the box score, nor does it mean much if they don’t get the win.
But it represents much more.
I. Teamwork & Hardwork
The Nets take pride in playing team-oriented basketball. It was established right when Kenny Atkinson took over as head coach that the offense would not run through only one player, rather through a balanced attack. Everybody chips in. Everybody eats.
Take a look at the play. There’s only one Boston player going for the rebound, but two Brooklyn players with Caris LeVert coming up from the perimeter. Allen Crabbe isn’t known for his defense, but he’s getting his hands dirty down low, so much that he was able to poke it loose and make a nifty save. LeVert then saved it again and the ball swung around the perimeter to the wide-open Quincy Acy. It’s the “one for all, all for one” type of attitude that’s made the Nets who they are.
While it’s hard to detect ‘teamwork’ through stats, we have a couple:
Eight Nets have scored 20+ points in a game off the bench this season (the most different 20-point bench scorers in the league): Nik Stauskas (twice), Allen Crabbe (twice), Caris LeVert (twice) and Trevor Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Isaiah Whitehead and Tyler Zeller. This matches a franchise record for the most different 20-point scorers off the bench in a single season, previously done in 1986-87
Furthermore, the Nets rank second in NBA history for most players to have scored 20+ points with 11.
II. Development & Second Chances
The Nets played against the top team in the NBA, perhaps even the best defensive team in the league. They didn’t bow down despite missing two of their top guns in Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. Instead, we saw Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Caris LeVert (16 points, six rebounds, seven assists) take over and bring Brooklyn back. Their defensive effort deserves just as much praise as their offense.
Hollis-Jefferson averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per 36 in the month of December, while LeVert averaged 18 points and seven assists. Both shot the ball much better from 3-point range, Hollis-Jefferson at 37.5 percent and LeVert at 45 percent.
For second-year players in December, Caris LeVert stood out, ranking 2nd in assists per game (5.4), 2nd in steals per game (1.3) and 3rd in 3-point percentage (45.3%). Mocks had him ranked in the mid 40’s on Draft Day.
Since then, he’s become the centerpiece of Brooklyn’s rebuild. All the chatter is around Russell and even Jahlil Okafor because they were the high lottery draft picks that Brooklyn never had.
Still, they have several under-the-radar type of players who have developed from marginal NBA players to legitimate role players in this league, including Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Zeller. Can’t forget Jarrett Allen, who is getting better as he gets more minutes... and he’s only 19-years-old.
Moreover, they’ve revitalized a few veteran player’s careers, DeMarre Carroll and perhaps Nik Stauskas too. Okafor is still a question mark, but he’s another player involved in Brooklyn’s attempt to give players a second chance, which ultimately leads to further commitment to get better with an organization looking for a second chance itself.
Just ask Okafor, who arrived in Brooklyn and immediately told the media, “I have a chip on my shoulder. This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy.”
And, of course, as we noted, Atkinson has mentioned the hard work of both Okafor and Russell in the past week...
Atkinson on @jahlilokafor: “He’s working his tail off. It’s just going to take a little more time.”— NetsDaily.com (@NetsDaily) January 1, 2018
Atkinson on @dloading: “He’s working his tail off. I was watching him in the gym yesterday. It’s an arduous process. He’s putting in a ton of time, he’s putting in full days.”
Remember, the priority this season was development and improvement, not wins and losses.
One of the first things Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson mentioned when they took over was the need for athleticism. They’d still like to improve this aspect of the game but the young guys they’ve brought in are all unique in their own way.
It’s hard to miss RHJ and LeVert’s athleticism in that play - fighting for the loose ball and even diving head-first out of bounds to save the play.
Hollis-Jefferson’s best feat might be his athleticism, which along with his 7’2” wingspan enables him to play the 4 at 6’7”. He’s fast, long and strong and it gives him an advantage, particularly against teams that match Brooklyn and play small ball.
The same can be said for LeVert, who’s naturally gifted with a 7’0” wingspan at 6’7”. Allen, at 6-10, has a 7’6” wingspan and possesses enough quickness to defend smaller guards. Russell is a big guard and he’s quick getting to the spot.
They lost one of their most athletic players in Trevor Booker and make no mistake: it has shown. They miss his energy/athleticism off the bench, but clearly they’re taking steps to find players with similar features, only younger.
It’s only one play. They didn’t get the win, therefore it wasn’t highlighted after the game or talked about very much. At the very least, it represented everything the Brooklyn Nets are about. They work hard, they play as a team, their young players are thriving and they’re proving that they CAN hang with any team on any given night.
Simply stated: Never count these guys out.