It’s hard not to be optimistic after the Nets’ last two games, two 20+ point wins, their first such “streak” in SIX years since the team moved from Jersey to Brooklyn. Not to mention 1) the defensive turnaround, going from five straight games giving up 115 or more points to two games where they gave up an average of 89.5; 2) the turnover disparity in their favor by a 2.5-to-1 margin over two games, and 3) the maturity they’ve started to show.
Plus at this very moment, they are the 7th seed in the East, one game out of fifth.
Yeah, yeah, it’s a small sample, but it’s a sample and power ranking pundits are starting to notice. Here’s a compilation that includes rankings from Friday through Wednesday morning. (The most recent, from NBC Sports, takes the two wins into account and puts the Nets at No. 19, ahead of the Rockets, Lakers, Timberwolves, etc., etc. Sports Illustrated has them at 16!)
The Nets are a plus-38 in the first six minutes of the first quarter and a minus-52 otherwise. Not coincidentally, they’re also the team that got drilled by the Knicks and beat the Sixers by 25 in the same week. In between the Jekyll and Hyde act was a loss to the Rockets (in which they had a 14-point lead in the first half) and a Spencer Dinwiddie Special, with the back-up point guard making four threes in the final 8:02 of their overtime win over his old team on Wednesday. Dinwiddie finished third in Kia Most Improved Player voting last season and has seen one of the league’s biggest increases in effective field goal percentage (from 47.1 percent to 57.2 percent) thus far this year, though his assist rate is way down (in a contract year, coincidentally or not). The Nets will play seven of their next nine games on the road, where they’re currently 1-4.
Many predicted the Nets to have a serious shot to qualify for a playoff spot in the new-look East and that holds true through 10 games. Brooklyn has not exactly inspired by winning only 40 percent of their games so far, but the development of Caris LeVert is all that matters right now. LeVert is scoring 20 ppg on 47.8 percent shooting and has shown enough to be a part of the Nets long-term core.
Brooklyn has allowed at least 115 points to opponents in four of its past five games while ranking 20th in the NBA in defensive rating (111.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Nets are relying on sophomore Jarrett Allen to grow into their defensive anchor in the middle, and despite the team’s struggles, he is showing positive signs early with increased averages of 10.2 defensive rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per 100 possessions.
Jarrett Allen is continuing to come into his own. His presence at the center of Brooklyn’s defense isn’t at the level of Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert, but he could be on his way there if he can continue to deal with switches and guard on the perimeter when forced out there. D’Angelo Russell’s emergence as a three-point threat will be crucial if he’s going to elevate to the next level as a lead guard.
Blown out by the Knicks was embarrassing this week. Rallying for an overtime win thanks to Spencer Dinwiddie over the Detroit Pistons was a great recovery. But then the Nets let one get away at home against a struggling Rockets team. That’s when it starts to feel like the same old Nets again. The lack of top talent becomes pretty glaring in these moments and you understand the plight and the frustration of this Nets existence. And then…
They blow out the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. Everybody played for the Sixers and the Nets demolished them. That’s where they don’t feel like the same old Nets. That’s where you can see them turning the corner. Young guys like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen keep contributing to winning basketball. Also watch the Nets’ stellar broadcast whenever you get a chance. When Joe Harris starts going off, he’s referred to as Lumberjack Joe and they make references to him chopping down trees with every 3-pointer. It’s delight
Hey! The Nets blew out the Sixers! Joe Harris has quietly become one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA; he’s shooting 58.7 percent from three on 5.1 attempts per game.
Spencer Dinwiddie’s game-tying and game-winning threes gave the Nets a 120-119 overtime win against the Pistons, saving them from a 0-4 week. The point guard averaged 16.3 points on lights-out shooting (53.7 percent from the field, 51.9 percent from deep) in our latest rankings session, and he’s looking like a good candidate to get paid in free agency this summer.
It’s a good sign that, despite the early struggles, five of Brooklyn’s first eight games have been decided by two possessions or fewer. They’re 2-3 in those games.
The Nets are the best of the sure-fire lottery teams, at least in my view. Brooklyn is competitive nightly, well-coached and able to jump up and catch good teams if they aren’t focused. That was on display in a 25-point drubbing of the Sixers and it will be a theme all season.