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NetsDaily’s 2018 preseason roundtable

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Q&A with your favorite ND writers, podcasters and moderators!

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year! The NetsDaily crew has assembled for their annual preseason roundtable. Happy basketball season!

1. After hearing the chatter of the summer and then watching preseason, who are you most excited to watch this upcoming season?

Net Income: I would have to say D’Angelo Russell. He had a very good preseason, playing with confidence, hitting three’s and with the exception of the Toronto game valuing the ball. I have faith in him and believe that he understands this is his year. (Hoping as well for his good health.)

Anthony Puccio: There are so many guys I want to name but... I’m going with D’Angelo Russell. We didn’t get to see a healthy season from him last season, but when he was healthy he looked like the real deal. Moreover, this is the first time since high school (YES HIGH SCHOOL!) that Russell has the same coach for two consecutive years. Things start coming easy for players when there’s a sense of comfortability and continuity especially for a point guard. Do I even need to mention he’s playing on a contract year?

Tom Lorenzo: I mean, I think it’s Caris LeVert - mostly because it feels like this is the turning point season. D’Angelo Russell, if he takes off it wouldn’t surprise me; Jarrett Allen could have a monster year, but if he doesn’t, well, he’s still just 20 years old. LeVert at 24 I think we need to see something from him this year, and based on some of the early returns in preseason I’m excited to see what he can do this year.

Bryan Fonseca: I’m most excited to see if Caris LeVert is actually going to live up to the standards set by his teammates saying he will have a breakout season. As I’ve said in the past, he is more than capable of becoming a borderline all-star type who averages 18 points and about 5 or 6 assists per game, with terrific defense. Additionally, the D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie situation at point guard greatly has my attention. LeVert and Dinwiddie are also on my fantasy team ... so we out chea.

Mike Smeltz: Honestly from watching the preseason I’m most excited to see the development of Rodions Kurucs. I get that D’Angelo Russell’s ascent matters more but Kurucs is the first Net in awhile that is irrationally entertaining. He’s like a deer on ice skates out on the court but in a good way. Active defensively. He’s not a 3pt-line-stander on offense, meaning he actually moves without the ball. He did this. I hope and pray that he isn’t banished to Uniondale. I want him out there doing weird and athletic things for the Brooklyn Nets. And beyond enjoyment factor - if he’s actually good at basketball, it’s another huge win for Sean Marks as a drafter.

Reed Wallach: Jarrett Allen. Allen finished his rookie campaign on tear and pundits believe that he could take a leap in just his second season, and that was just in the summer. Through the preseason, we saw Allen showcase an increased awareness on both sides of the ball and more comfortability shooting the three. After watching the league grow behind the three-point line and centers being molded into perimeter shooters but also shot blockers, Allen seems to be on the right trajectory and hopefully this season he becomes a household name.

Richard Denton: If anxious is a fine synonym for exciting, I suppose D’Angelo will be the one that qualifies. However, I’m anticipating Jarrett Allen’s campaign with far more joy. Big games in the preseason, particularly a big play against Blake Griffin, has inspired me with the confidence I see him play with. I was amazed by how quickly he picked up the game last year, and I’d like to see him develop the same chemistry with DLo and Dinwiddie that he has with Caris. Let’s hope that more consistent depth out of our playmakers leads to consistent performances by Mr. Lobs & Blocks. Oh, and let me be the first Roundtabler to say: “Kawhi Leonard.”

Jason Max Rose: Jarrett Allen is the dude I cannot wait to watch play this season. He’s the most explosive Net and he’s just starting to come into his own as an offensive force. Most big men are boring dunkers due to their proximity to the basket but Allen soars while others jump. He’s going to have some big moments and some big games, and I’m so excited to watch it happen.

Chris Milholen: I am most excited to watch D’Angelo Russell for the 2018-19 season. Going into the season, he has been challenged to be the main leader of this Nets team. His preseason play has been very good and he is playing with confidence especially shooting the ball from all areas. Russell is not entering a make or break year in my opinion because he is only 22 years old but he acknowledges this is the biggest year of his career. With that said, Russell is playing with a chip on his shoulder and I believe he will fulfill his expectations as long as his health is good.

Brian Fleurantin: I’ll go with D’Angelo Russell. DLo has a lot riding on this season and if he’s able to play well for 70+ games, he’ll be able to secure himself a nice payday this summer. On the court, his game is aesthetically pleasing to watch and if he starts the season off strong, he might get some consideration for the All Star Game.

2. Who is going to be Brooklyn’s “secret weapon” this season?

NI: Does Ed Davis count as a “secret?” His Portland teammates loved him and both Lillard and McCollum criticized the front office for letting him go. It’s not just his rebounding prowess. Davis has a presence. He walks into a room and you notice him. He’s sort of KG Lite (or that version of KG who played for the Nets,just 10 years younger.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a fan favorite very early on.

AP: The obvious answer here is Ed Davis, but I’m not exactly sure he’s a “secret weapon”. I’m going to say Jared Dudley for one reason and one reason only: He’s the only “big” that can stretch the floor. It won’t show in the box score, but the fact that he helps them spread the floor and hits a couple threes a game is crucial. Don’t forget about the things you can’t see like veteran leadership, too.

TL: I’m going to say that Spencer Dinwiddie is their secret weapon. Why? Because he had a fantastic season last year and still no one is talking about him. Everyone is talking about Russell, LeVert, Allen and even guys like Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, as well as the rookies. Dinwiddie is a huge weapon off the bench for them - and at some point, maybe, he’s a trade chip.

BF: I have a tough read on what the rotation will look like beyond 7, but keep Treveon Graham in your thoughts ... I made that sound somber -- he’s fine from what I understand, so sorry. But anyway, Graham does a lot of what Brooklyn -- in particular, Kenny Atkinson -- likes. He shoots the three, he plays solid defense and he can play multiple positions, possibly three. I’m not sure about “secret weapon”, but pay attention to Graham, who, like many of his teammates, is in a contract season. (His 2019-2020 year is non-guaranteed.)

MS: Ed Davis! The Nets bigs beyond Jarrett Allen were a disaster last season and it killed them. You don’t have to look any further than former Net Dwight Howard’s 32 points-30 rebounds in Brooklyn, in a game where the Nets still only lost by 6. Putting Ed Davis in for those backup big minutes will provide a huge boost. And he allows Atkinson, against the rare teams that have two bigs, to play someone with Allen.

RW: Treveon Graham seems to have caught the eye of the Nets coaching staff for his tough defense and ability to stretch the floor. Graham was signed this past summer and was more of an afterthought signing rather than a player that can compete for a rotational spot. However, after the preseason it seems that Graham is going to get a fair shot at getting reserve minutes in Brooklyn this season. For a Nets team that struggled on defense last season, Graham can help check the perimeter threats of the opponents but also help crash the glass, a spot that was a glaring weakness for Brooklyn last season.

RD: There’s no way I would have said Rodions Kurucs a month ago, but wow has he outplayed his draft position (to be fair, I believe it was Gregg Polinsky that had him as a first rounder). He can immediately offer wing depth, but I wonder if he’ll get burn as a Power Forward against smaller lineups. An unexpected bench player fits the definition of “secret weapon” to me, but I won’t expect that much of an impact unless Faried or Dudley gets traded.

JR: I really think Shabazz Napier is the Nets most underrated new addition. Napier is going to provide some bounce and a steady hand off of the bench as a second unit guard. And here’s an unpopular opinion: He’s better than Spencer Dinwiddie. If the Nets decide to eventually trade a point guard, expect Napier to jump in and fill out those minutes.

CM: The Nets have a good amount of “secret weapon” candidates on the team but I would have to go with Spencer Dinwiddie. Entering the season, Kenny Atkinson will have some decision making to do with minutes at the point guard position. D’Angelo Russell is the clear starter for the Brooklyn Nets but it will be interesting to see what he does with Shabazz Napier but Dinwiddie will fill as the primary backup starting the season. Dinwiddie wants to prove that last season was not a one hit wonder type of season. He played great this preseason and I believe he will play a huge role with the second unit squad. Dinwiddie will have another good year but he wants to prove his worth despite saying he will re-sign if Marks offers him a deal. We can also count on him being on the floor in late close game situations.

BF: He’s not that much of a secret these days, but I’ll go with Caris Levert. With Carroll and Crabbe dealing with injuries, he’ll have a great chance to make a big impact right out the gate. He can do a bunch of things well and the more you put on his plate, the more he’ll be able to develop.

3. Who is ready to take that “next step”?

NI: Caris, Caris, Caris. LeVert NEEDS to take a step forward, not just for the team’s sake but for his. He has shown his potential in many ways, as a point guard, as a deep shooter, as a defender, but hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant stardom. Just like this is DLo’s year, it’s CLV’s as well.

AP: To me, the “next step” for D’Angelo Russell is being a lead guard on a winning team. He’s already shown what he can do. Whereas Caris LeVert, we still haven’t seen much. The Nets view him more as a sophomore after missing 30 games his rookie season, including training camp and preseason. When Kenny Atkinson gets excited over a player the way he did with Caris this summer, you ought to believe it. I’ll take his word (among others).

TL: I’ll refer to my first answer and say Caris LeVert - this is it, the season. This is the season we find out what LeVert is. I think he’s ready - I guess it’s a question of whether his body is ready.

BF: I don’t want to say the obvious, i.e. LeVert, Russell or Allen, so you know what, how about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? He might be the least talked about Net of the off-season and pre-season. This is a huge year for The Hyphen. He’s going to be a restricted free agent this year, along with Russell and Dinwiddie. Kenny Atkinson seems committed to him in the short-term, so it appears that he’ll start at the four for much of the season. Unpopular opinion, but I think heading into another season at the four, he can improve. Russell aside, he was the Nets’ leading scorer last season. If he can build on the improved offensive repertoire displayed in 2017-18, he can play his way into a nice long-term deal from somebody.

MS: D’Angelo Russell. It is all there for him this season. Seems healthy (at least he seems like he works out sometimes from his Instagram). And this is really the first year without any awkwardness in his career. Rookie year was the Kobe Retirement Tour. Year 2 was all about who on the Lakers is going to fill the void that Kobe left behind. Year 3 he’s now in Brooklyn, he’s supposed to share the ball with Jeremy Lin, Lin gets hurt, D’Angelo gets hurt, Spencer Dinwiddie takes over and then D’Angelo has to come back and fit himself in with what the Nets had going on. All D’Angelo really has to do is stay healthy and slightly improve his decision making. If he does that, his numbers are going to look great by the end of the year.

RW: D’Angelo Russell. It was a small sample, but last season before his knee injury sidelined him for 31 games, Russell averaged nearly 21 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game. Those are big numbers and if he can put up similar numbers while remaining healthy, the Nets will be getting the production they expected from Russell. Russell showed a commitment to his body this past summer and in preseason he showed that his ability to score is getting better and better. I also think that Russell will benefit from more ball handlers on the roster as well. A full season with Spencer Dinwiddie, the signing of Shabazz Napier, and the growth of Caris LeVert can help Brooklyn utilize Russell as a scorer, which I believe he is most comfortable doing. People forget that the former No. 2 pick is just 22 years old and is playing for a new (and what he hopes is a big) contract this summer. Russell needs to show up this season, for his sake and Brooklyn’s sake.

RD: I’ll go with Bryan and give my support to Rondae. I hadn’t expected the offensive improvement he made last year, like anyone else. Let’s hope we’re all equally as surprised by the development of a three point shot. If he’s not going to get taller or switch to the “Icarus diet plan,” the best way he can carve out a role is as a three point shooter, essentially making him a proper SF. True NetsDaily Zealots, who dive deep into the comments every day, have seen the NI intel that Rondae’s value isn’t too high. It’s all on you, Chap!

JR: Even though I threw a little shade at him earlier, I think Spencer Dinwiddie is ready to solidify himself in that top tier of backup point guards who half the teams in the league wish they had. He shot 38% from the field and 32% from deep last season. Not great. But improvable! If he bumps those percentages up a few points and stays engaged on defense he could end the season either a cornerstone of this franchise going forward or playing 25 minutes a game for the Spurs in the playoffs.

CM: The Nets player who is ready to take that “next step” is clearly Caris LeVert. LeVert has the potential to be a great role player in the NBA and if he plays really well throughout the season, I would not be surprised if he put is name in the Most Improved Player conversation. He has shown he can play multiple positions such as the 1, 2, 3, and possibly 4 due to his defending skills in a small ball lineup. LeVert has made big improvements on his long range shooting but has to hold consistency throughout the season. This is his year to show his potential.

BF: I’ll go with Jarrett Allen. He had a breakout rookie campign and is already a fan favorite. With another season under his belt, I see his game getting better and better. He’ll have a lot of responsibility and will need to help the Nets become a much better rebounding team if they want a chance to make the playoffs.

4. Let’s say a Jimmy Butler trade situation comes up again and Sean Marks really wants to lure him to Brooklyn. They want one of the following three because Butler is hypothetically willing to re-sign: Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell or Jarrett Allen. Who out of the three are you giving up and why?

NI: Can I say none of the above? My problem --or one of them-- with Butler is that he will want five years and $190 million from the Nets next summer. He has too many minutes on his legs, too many missed games --an average of 15 missed games over the last five years-- to warrant being paid $40 million in year 4 and $43 million in year 5 of such a deal. It’s a huge issue for me. He could be a great second option on a championship contender, but his window will close sooner than most 29 year olds.

AP: I’m not trading any. For the sake of argument, I’d say Russell because he’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but I still wouldn’t go there. Not for somebody they might have a shot at in free agency.

TL: Tough question, but I think I give up Russell in this scenario - I just don’t know that you can afford to bring him back if your goal is to get Butler and a second superstar. Re-signing him won’t work under that scenario, so I would say trade him.

BF: None. Not paying a 30-year-old max money for five years unless it’s LeBron James. Next question.

MS: Caris LeVert because D’Angelo and Allen’s ceilings are higher. Love LeVert. If he develops a consistent shot, I will rethink this position but right now he’s an athletic, tall ballhandler that can’t be relied upon to score points on a consistent basis. D’Angelo, despite some flaws, is at least a good-stats-bad-team player. And I can say confidently Allen will be plus at center for the rest of his career.

RW: None. While I am a big Butler fan, the contract he expects is not ideal as I think he may not even make it through that contract with the nagging injuries he has. The three in question are the foundation of this Nets team, hopefully all three grow this season and the Nets can start to build a playoff bound team around them.

RD: Neither. You can make the argument that, at 29 years old, Jimmy is not the same Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett swan song we got before. However, it appears undeniable that he’s a generation beyond our group of ~23 year olds. Alone, he’s not good enough to win us a ring (with a wink to the reports coming out of Timberwolves’ training camp), so we’d have to surround him with pieces. Trading guys with potential away, to go over the cap, achieves the opposite. Let him go to Miami.

JR: Caris Levert and it took me about 8 seconds to decide. It’s not Jarrett Allen, obviously. And then I considered the age (22) and upside (really high) of D’Angelo Russell and realized “oh yeah, Caris Levert is just ok.” I know we all love him as fans, and there is clearly tremendous room for him to improve on the court, but a hypothetical Jimmy Butler for Caris Levert swap puts this team in the playoffs. Plus, Butler has only played just over 15,000 regular season minutes in the NBA at 28 years old. Anthony Davis, for comparison, has played over 14,000 minutes and he’s 25. Levert would be a significantly discounted price to pay for a player as good as Butler who, despite having injury troubles, has been an All-Star four years in a row. I’m not going to overthink this one. I want to win.

CM: I understand that Jimmy Butler to Brooklyn would be a move most Nets fans want to see but is it worth it in the end? My answer is I would not give up D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, or Caris LeVert in a trade deal. In fact, I would not make a trade deal at this point. Yes, a star has not listed Brooklyn as a destination option since Dwight Howard in 2011 but it is not worth trading for Butler. If the Nets were to pursue Butler in 2019 when he is a free agent, then that is different but here are the three bright red lights; the max deal, his age, and his health. Butler has missed a good amount of games with injuries these past couple of seasons and signing a 29 year-old injury risk player to a max deal can backfire quite quickly. I believe Sean Marks will pursue Butler in 2019 but may not look to sign him to a max deal due to those reasons.

BF: The answer I really wanna go with is “none” since you can just chill a few months and sign Butler as a free agent if you want him that much, but if I HAVE to send someone out, I guess I’ll go with Russell. If you’re unsure of his ability to lead the team over the next couple of years, you have to move him and look into finding that point guard in the draft or free agency. Getting a player like Butler and having him, Levert, and Allen as your franchise cornerstones would be a nice get.

5. The Nets finally have their own pick for the first time in years. Are you an advocate to go full tank mode if the team is 7+ games out by February?

NI: You mean “play the kids” mode, code for describing “tanking?” February is likely to be the critical month for the Nets. I actually think the new lottery rules will work well for the Nets if they wind up having to tank but I hope they won’t. There is also a disincentive to tank THIS year. The 2019 Draft looks historically bad. Do you want to tank for a mediocre player?

AP: If that’s the case then they’re just going to have to “play the kids!” In all seriousness, I just don’t think it’s in Kenny Atkinson’s DNA to tank nor do I think they’re going to have to.

TL: I don’t think it’s going to be up to the Nets whether they “tank” or win enough games to make the playoffs - the talent is what it is; and I am mostly a proponent of them developing another year and proving that when ready (next season?) they have the supporting cast to surround to superstars and make an actual run at it.

BF: I am. I’d sell in a heartbeat. It’s just good business for the Nets to do so if they’re regular season goes on the downside, whether it’s injury-riddled or performance-based. I don’t think that will happen, as I have them winning 38 games and barely getting the eighth seed, but if they’re, say, 18-34 in early February, you’ve got to start putting guys -- who you don’t plan on keeping long-term -- on the block.

MS: If they are close to a bottom 6 record, I’d say yes. In the new lottery odds, the worst record has a 14 percent chance at getting the top pick. The 6th worst record has a 9 percent chance of getting the top pick. Also, lottery teams can now move up to the top 4 spots in the draft, compared to the top 3 spots in previous drafts. The NBA changed the lottery to discourage shameless tanking but for me the odds change only encourages more teams to sneakily tank. So yes, tank if that’s the case. But it won’t be.

RW: Yes. It would be disappointing because the bottom of the East is open for a team like Brooklyn to take advantage of, but if the season gets away from them by February, I’d be fine if they tried to develop other players on the roster. I don’t think that tanking is part of the plan this season and I also think that this “historically” bad draft may be a bit overstated considering a majority of the top prospects haven’t played yet, but I’m not completely against it if the team struggles out of the gate and through the first half. Hopefully, this question means nothing and the team is playing competitive basketball.

RD: At that point, it’s far more important to legitimize the fan base. “But Sean Marks is making smart moves” only goes so far in courting Free Agents. Plus, the honorable tanking strategies: rest days on back-to-backs, etc, don’t leave us with enough time to catch the bottom half of the East anyways. So, what I’m essentially saying is: let’s hope we’re garbage from the start! Woo! Zion 2019!

JR: Yes. At that point, what would the push even be for? Pride? I don’t think Kenny is physically capable of tanking but there’s a scenario where the Nets are that far back and all of a sudden decide it’s a really good idea to get Jared Dudley some more minutes and try out Dzanan at the point for uncomfortably long stretches. Plus there are some guys on this team (Dinwiddie, Hollis-Jefferson) that teams would pay up for at the deadline. Get that pick and run it again next season, but hopefully it won’t have to come to that.

CM: If the Nets were down by more than 7 games in the Eastern Conference by February, they should not consider tanking. If Brooklyn do not make the playoffs, they will still have a lottery pick. Have to also consider the new lottery system rules which will make teams somewhat avoid tanking. Due to those new rule changes, the luck of the draw can be in the Nets favor. Another big factor is the projected 2019 draft class. There are only three to five potential star players but overall, the draft is not a talented looking one. With all the being said, the Nets should avoid tanking this season. It is important to show signs of winning especially with Brooklyn having big hopes in 2019 free agency to attract a star or two with their two max contract spots.

BF: If they’re that far out, I guess tanking would be the way to go. In a perfect world, the young guys would get a taste of playoff level competition (and a possible appearance in the playoffs itself) coming down the stretch, but if they’re that far back by February, it would be best to turn your energy towards the Draft and securing the highest pick possible.

6. Final record prediction and shoot your take on a player’s stat line this year. It can be anyone.

NI: What good is being a fan if you’re not optimistic?! I am going against all logic and instead diving deep into irrational exuberance. So, 42-40 and the playoffs. That is, I know, a 50 percent improvement in wins. So what? Gotta have faith! Rodi Kurucs stat line: 6 points, 5 boards in 60 games. Optimism forever!

AP: I’m going with 37-45. Jarrett Allen: 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. (I think he’s going to finish top-5 in blocks this season).

TL: I’m going to go with 35-47 and say that they stay below the Gadzuric Line. As for a stat line, how about this for Caris LeVert: 16.2 points, 5.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds. Yessir!

BF: 38-44: 8th seed in Eastern Conference Playoffs.

I’ll throw out two stat-line predictions just because.

LeVert: 17.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 spg

Hollis-Jefferson: 16 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.8 apg

MS: Final record will be 38-44, which in this decade three years in a row that was good enough for the 8th seed.

Player’s stat line - Caris LeVert - 13.5ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg, 41 FG%, 32% from 3

RW: Let’s go 37-45, a really nice improvement that has the Nets in the thick of things till the Spring. Of course I’m incredibly biased, but I’m really excited to watch this team play because of the signs they showed last year. Assuming the team can play better in close games this season, their record should improve considerably. The Nets do end their season with a tough stretch—their final 9 games are against teams that plan on being in the playoffs—so I’m not sure if the playoffs are in the cards for them this year, but I think they show enough signs to be players in free agency and have an optimistic outlook going forward.

I think Jarrett Allen averages 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. I really am high on the second-year man from Texas.

RD: 34 wins. My crystal ball can’t see that far, aside with D’Angelo and Jarrett finishing the year on the Pelicans. Don’t @ me.

JR: 39-43 and we’ll all be talking about how they’re ready to make the leap to 40+ wins and compete for the 6th seed next year and it’ll be awesome. I’m not even kidding. This is probably going to end up being that weird bridge year between bad and good and I’m ok with that. The Brooklyn Bridge, baby! I’m all in!! Also let’s go with Rondae putting up 15 points 7 boards and a steal and a block. Can’t wait.

CM: I believe the Nets will improve in the win column and be one of the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference. My prediction is that the Brooklyn Nets will go 36-46 and be the 9th seed. There is a chance that a 36-46 record can indeed slip them into the 8th seed but most likely they will come just shy of the playoffs. Despite not making the playoffs, a 8 game improvement is something the team should be proud of and will be in their favor when the 2019 free agency period arrives to pursue some star players. Caris LeVert stat line: 27.4 minutes, 15.7 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds in a total of 74 games.

BF: Hmm, I said 34 during our roundtable over the summer, but I’ll bump it up to 38 wins for this season. I’ll guess Russell’s line will be 16 points and eight assists a game on a 44/38/77 shooting line.

***

Have at it, all.