There are questions about the Nets season and then there is THE question: Will a trade for Jimmy Butler upend Brooklyn’s roster? As New York Post headlines the camp preview: “Nets’ biggest potential storyline isn’t even here yet.”
Putting that aside, there are other questions about this season that beat writers Brian Lewis and Greg Logan ask in their looks at the Nets on the eve of Media Day, the prelude to training camp which starts Tuesday.
And as you might expect, most of those questions are about the continuing logjam in the backcourt and how much the frontcourt additions can help.
As Lewis notes in answering the question, who starts at the 2 guard...
The Nets don’t have a lot of starting jobs up for grabs, but shooting guard could be one. They tried playing point guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie together in the second half of last season, to mixed results. Neither is a glove or a knock-down shooter. Allen Crabbe is paid (handsomely) to be the latter, and at least used to be a fair defender in Portland. If he hits shots, he’ll start. If he gets stops, he might actually earn his copious money.
And Logan asks, are there simply too many guards, despite trading Jeremy Lin and Isaiah Whitehead? You know what that means.
Signing of free agent Shabazz Napier gave Nets third quality point guard with Russell and backup Spencer Dinwiddie. But backcourt is crowded with starter Allen Crabbe and backups Joe Harris and Caris LeVert. Trade possibilities abound.
As for the “bigs off the bench” as Lewis calls them, both beat writers think it may be the biggest area of improvement. No more Quincy Acy at the 4 and Dante Cunningham at the 5. Lewis notes.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the incumbent starter at power forward, and the Nets are giddy over Allen. But after having no reliable bigs taller than 6-foot-8 cost them on the boards last season, they now have a glut of reserve forwards and not enough minutes to go around. Who squeezes into the rotation? Ed Davis should be a solid backup at center. But he, Kenneth Faried and Williams are all rebounders who can’t shoot. Jared Dudley (career 39.6 percent from 3) and wing Treveon Graham (43.8) have range, but has Faried shed enough weight to contribute and is the Graham big enough to offer much-needed stretch-four minutes?
Logan likes Davis’ acquisition in particular.
Ed Davis was a key glue guy in Portland and might mentor starting center Jarrett Allen, as well as provide a strong backup presence. Faried is a great rebounder and energy guy, but recent arrest for marijuana possession was a rocky start with Nets.
The two answer other questions as well, Logan wondering if D’Angelo Russell has the leadership skills the team needs. In his answer, he notes that two years with Kenny Atkinson will help.
By all accounts, D’Angelo Russell made significant off-season strength gains and the Jeremy Lin trade cleared the way for the 22-year-old point guard to establish firm control and assert leadership. He benefits from second season under coach Kenny Atkinson.
Indeed, this is the first time in five years, since his junior year of high school in Louisville, that DLo has had the same coach two consecutive years.
Lewis also notes that everyone (outside of HSS Training Center) will get their first look at the two rookies.
Nets fans are used to having to wait to see their rookies. Surgery kept LeVert out until December of his rookie campaign, and a hip injury cost Jarrett Allen summer league. This year, buyout issues kept first-round pick Dzanan Musa and second-rounder Rodions Kurucs from playing in Las Vegas, and Musa suffered an ankle injury playing for Bosnia last weekend. GM Sean Marks insists Musa will be “integrated” into camp. With both European draftees a mystery to most fans, eyes will be on them this preseason.
Lewis also tackles a big question, can the Nets improve on defense? The answer to that one is elusive.
When Atkinson took the reins two years ago, he employed a far more aggressive defensive scheme, but the players’ inability to execute it forced him to scale back to a more conservative approach, one that resulted in notching the fewest steals in the league. After adding length this offseason, Atkinson must boost their activity level.
The Nets can only hope that improved defense lets them avoid some of the heartbreaking losses they suffered last season. They had the second-worst margin (minus-47) in close moments, and lost the second-most close games (31). Figuring ways to get key stops late will have to start in camp.
And camp starts Tuesday...
- Nets defense will determine how far they have come - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ biggest potential storyline isn’t even here yet - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets hope to approach playoff contention this season with 2019 free agency looming - Greg Logan - Newsday