A six-game winning streak, a 19-5 record over a seven-week period (best in the NBA) and the development of young players is all very well and good, but not enough to get Brooklyn into anyone’s top 10. Close, but not there.
Power ranking pundits like the Nets, though. It’s evident in all their narratives as they put them in the playoff mix.
A six-game winning streak has taken the Nets to a league-best 19-5 over the last 7 1/2 weeks. Over those 24 games, they’ve outscored their opponents by 88 points in the third quarter and have been outscored by five points otherwise. The third-quarter success has mostly been about offense (124.8 points scored per 100 possessions), with D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris combining for a third-quarter effective field goal percentage of 72 percent over that stretch. Spencer Dinwiddie (torn ligament in his right thumb) has been the team’s second-leading scorer, both in those third quarters and overall, and will be missed over the next 3-6 weeks, especially late in close games. Dinwiddie ranks in the top 15 in clutch points, 3-pointers and free throws, and is tied for 11th in clutch assists. Shabazz Napier (who has registered a career-high usage rate of 23 percent and has shot just 37 percent in January) now has a bigger role running the offense and the timing of Caris LeVert’s eventual return becomes a little more important.
The Nets take another licking -- this time, the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie for three to six weeks for thumb surgery -- but keep on ticking. The Nets are winners of six straight after polishing off three non-playoff opponents at home, but now the degree of difficulty becomes a bit more challenging with road dates at Boston and San Antonio. The team hopes to welcome Caris LeVert back next month but will need contributions from undrafted rookie Theo Pinson and Shabazz Napier to compensate for the absences on the perimeter.
Over his last four games, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 10.5 three-point attempts per game and just 1.2 free throw attempts while posting 27 points per game. If he can keep up the scoring production but start putting more pressure on the defense by getting to the line, this team will have enough to stay afloat and remain in a fine place in the East standings as it awaits Spencer Dinwiddie’s return from his thumb surgery.
D’Angelo Russell: All-Star.
Maybe this would have seemed crazy before the season. The Brooklyn Nets guard has some good moments in his first season away from the Lakers and under Kenny Atkinson. But Russell’s shooting was inaccurate and his consistency didn’t exist. It allowed Spencer Dinwiddie to gain the end-of-game trust of Atkinson far more often than Russell could manage. Even parts of this season, Dinwiddie is the trusted guard of choice at the end of most games for Atkinson. And justifiably so. Dinwiddie is really good at managing the team and striking properly in the big moment. With all that said, the Nets are high up enough in the East standings to demand an All-Star reserve selection this season. And Russell should absolutely be that guy.
It helps that the East could struggle to find 12 definite All-Stars, but Russell’s leadership and production on the Nets warrants him one of those spots. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 6.4 assists, and just 2.9 turnovers per game. He’s giving very respectable 43.8/37.6/80.9 shooting splits. Over his last 13 games, those averages have all improved to 23.8 points, 7.0 assists, and 2.6 turnovers with 49.6/41.4/91.7 shooting splits. Those are some serious numbers as the Nets have gone 10-4 in that stretch (Russell missed one game, a loss). Maybe there would have been a case for Dinwiddie over Russell before the injury to Dinwiddie, but even that could have been a stretch. The groundswell of appreciation for the reclamation figure Russell has become in Brooklyn is growing.
Maybe some guys in the East will make the All-Star team by default because of the conference, but Russell should absolutely make it on merit.
Single biggest question: How much will Spencer Dinwiddie’s thumb injury impact the playoff chances for a Nets team that’s already minus Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe in the backcourt? You’d think the Nets’ chance at the playoffs is relatively secure considering the weak competition after the top five teams in the East. But Dinwiddie has been an enormous part of the Nets’ success this year. And only five games separate the sixth-place Nets and the ninth-place Pistons in the standings. It will be a trying month or so in Brooklyn until Dinwiddie returns.
On the morning of December 7th, the Nets were 8-18, ten games below .500. They played the Raptors that night and came back to beat Toronto in thrilling fashion. Since then, the Nets have incredibly won 19 of the 24 games they’ve played. Their 19-5 record is the NBA’s best over that stretch.
D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie continue to propel Brooklyn on one of the season’s most surprising runs. The Nets are a remarkable 18-5 since Dec. 7, and while their peripherals suggest there may be some smoke and mirrors at work (plus-2.7 net rating ranks 11th in the league and should have produced about four fewer wins, according to Cleaning the Glass), you’ve got to appreciate the results.
Brooklyn has won five straight and owns the No. 6 seed in the East. Not bad for a club that was once 10 games under .500.
Here’s hoping Dinwiddie’s right thumb injury won’t keep him shelved for too long.
Just when their sweat starts paying off, Spencer “Siri” Dinwiddie’s thumb starts barking. Please do not let this be serious.