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Progression is Nonlinear – Brooklyn’s Small Steps and Stumbles

In which Charles compares a chance at young love to the Nets rebuild. (Hear us out. It works.)

NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Press Conference Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been repeated over and over again. The Brooklyn Nets are about progress. It’s been two years since Sean Marks took over as the Nets’ General Manager. The changes to the team’s infrastructure (and building our favorite seven-letter word) became hallmarks of a gutted franchise. While progress hasn’t translated to wins, the small steps could lead to big jumps. The Nets’ infatuation with development and progress is a full-blown love affair.

But progression is nonlinear.

That line is on my mind constantly. It’s on my Twitter bio (@ignisyon). It will be the caption on my next Instagram story (@charleemngo follow me, kthx). It also describes the Nets lately. It’s easy to become optimistic about the Nets after seeing promising signs of hope. They play hard. The on-court product is fun. Sometimes. Kenny Atkinson makes the most of the bargain-bin talent Marks has cobbled together. The Nets’ young pieces show flashes of brilliance and the veterans step up when needed.

This season, the Nets have been buoyed by the emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie, the flashes of Jarrett Allen’s potential and the continued improvement of Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. There’s also the consistency of Joe Harris, the seduction of D’Angelo Russell’s potential and the brief teases of Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas – among others. The sheer competitiveness the Nets displayed throughout the season continues to draw admiration league-wide. They should be improving exponentially right? Or at least logarithmically? Right?

Progression is nonlinear.

So, I’ve had a crush for the past few months. She likes anime, sushi, good rap music, and education. And she’s pretty. (The foregoing is an opinion.) The times we’ve spoken (in loud New York City or Long Island bars – not my strong spots) we’ve clicked - I think. I want to ask her to coffee/bubble tea, but I don’t know how to approach it. At this point, I have to (I’m essentially a teen girl with these things.) I want to shoot my shot, but I’ve been stressing over my shot selection. Do I slide into her DM’s?

Or do I wait until the next time I see her in person, whenever that is? Some days I’m really excited and confident about my prospects with her, ready with the perfect monologue/message. Other days I’m nervous that she wouldn’t be into dudes that like Japanese pro wrestling, deadlifts, and writing about basketball on the Internet. The times we’ve seen each other previously (and the times I’ve talked to her friends), it’s been steps forward and stumbles back.

It’s exhilarating. And frustrating.

I know. I’m extra. The momentum and the slow building of confidence are there sometimes. At other points, the self-doubt precipitates. (Crushes are annoying.) But I’ve learned to see the opportunity in every difficulty.

The Brooklyn Nets are learning that too.

Steps Forward and Steps Back

Shoutout to Paula Abdul. Lately, the Nets have stumbled, rather than making small steps of progress. They are winless in February, while losing 12 of their last 13 games. The Nets have lost in essentially every way possible. They’ve lost big. They’ve lost nailbiters. They’ve erased big deficits only to lose. Sometimes it’s a rebounding issue. Other times turnovers are fatal. The defense remains porous. Despite strong collective performances, the Nets can’t string momentum. You can love the progress, but be heartbroken by the losses.

Ideally, the Nets aim to improve slowly and steadily. In essentially year 2 of a rebuild, many expected the Nets to outpace their 20-win 2016-2017 season. The Nets are now on pace to win 26 games – an improvement, but ...

Brooklyn’s recent stretch hasn’t been promising. But again, progression is nonlinear. After a few exciting stretches, Nets basketball is amidst another rough patch. Despite the losses, do the Nets look better in February than in other portions of the season? The stats say otherwise. Will the Nets make another post-All Star break run? Fingers crossed. Have the Nets regressed? Maybe not.

The Nets have been exhilarating. And frustrating.

Brooklyn’s season-long issues have been amplified in their latest rough stretch. They’ve allowed opponents to snag 47.6 rebounds per game and 11.4 offensive rebounds per game in their past 15, good for 29th and 30th in the league. In the same span, they’ve allowed opponents to shoot 39.2% from three and have forced a league worst 10.7 turnovers per game in that time span as well. The Nets’ offense is lacking efficiency as well – ranked 26th in offensive rating and only converting 22.9% of threes. Brooklyn also is shooting free throws at a low rate (referee issues aside), at 19.3 attempts per game, despite their uptempo pace.

Remember the part where I mentioned the Nets’ bright young pieces? Those players have struggled lately as well. After a memorable run of clutch performances in early January, Spencer Dinwiddie is looking human (or like mere Saiyan.) In the month of February, Dinwiddie is shooting 33.3% from the field. At times, the Nets’ point guard can string together a few big baskets. At other times he seems like a non-factor, lacking in aggressiveness. Jarrett Allen looks like…a rookie. Upon becoming a starter, Allen’s defensive rating ballooned from 107 to 115. He’s looked adroit on offense, but he continues to be outclassed by the physicality of starting NBA bigs.

D’Angelo Russell, finally free of his minutes limit, is searching for his early season form. While he’s dazzled at times, his lack of attention to detail on offense and defense stymies the rhythm he relies on. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have been injured for much of the Nets’ skid. It may be easy to pinpoint the Nets’ recent struggles on the absence of two key rotation players, but the Nets have dealt with injury issues all season. Even Jahlil Okafor may have lost his place in the Nets’ rotation, failing to truly impress.

Seemingly, the only sign of player progress in the last few Nets games is Allen Crabbe, who finally seems to have found his shot. So, it’s been a frigid February for the Brooklyn Nets. (That would be a newspaper back cover page if the Nets actually were covered wholeheartedly in local media.) At times the Nets seem to take two steps forward. But as of late, they’ve taken eight steps back (and counting.) What happened to the progress?

For a visual representation, here’s a look at the Nets’ team performance over the last 15 games…

So what is the bottom line? you ask.

The path to relevancy is more than just a slow, steady ascent to the top. It’s better to fail at something new than constantly rely on the same methods. (Ask her out SOON, Charles.) Dinwiddie and Russell will learn to coexist, hopefully. LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson may need to shake off the rust, but they’ll need to refine their games, the former on his decision-making and the latter on his focus. Allen and Crabbe (two different people) need to continue venturing outside of their comfort zone. The entire Nets roster needs to remain aggressive on both ends. Rather than relying on the three ball, attacking the basket should be a priority. Defensively, Brooklyn could work to force more turnovers and shore up the paint.

If we charted out the Nets’ improvement, it would look like the daily fluctuations of the Dow Jones (I know nothing about the stock market.) It’s largely up to the coaches and the players to respond to adversity. So far, Kenny Atkinson continues to stay positive. The Nets continue fighting. There are stumbles and falls. There’s been plenty of those lately. It’s exhilarating and frustrating. Brooklyn’s progress is a work in…progress.

This is what patience —and opportunity— are all about.