Normally, we wait until Wednesdays to do power ranking round-ups, but there’s only a couple that don’t post on Monday ... and the news is so good ... we decided to go early.
After three straight wins and a 12-3 run over the last month, second best in the NBA, the Nets have the pundits resspect, moving them up, not to the top rank certainly, but high enough. No one has them lower than 20, none higher than 13, and John Schuhmann, founder of NetsDaily, has them moving up the most ... five places. As we’ve said before, quoting the great Richard Farina, “Been Down So Long, Looks Like Up to Me.”
The Nets are in seventh place in the East, with a three-game winning streak and the league’s fourth best offense (113.4 points scored per 100 possessions) over the last month. D’Angelo Russell has been shooting better (effective field goal percentage of 57 percent over his last four games) and playing more minutes, even with Shabazz Napier (averaging 16.6 points over the last five) back in the rotation and combining with Ed Davis (the league’s leader in rebounding percentage) and DeMarre Carroll (15-for-28 from 3-point range over the last four) to give the Nets a lift off the bench. Their game in Boston on Monday is the second half of their 10th back-to-back. No team has played more, but the Nets are about to get some relief in that regard, with only one back-to-back (with the second game of that one being at home against the Bulls) in the next 7 1/2 weeks. They still have the East’s toughest remaining schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, with 24 of their final 41 games against teams currently at or above .500.
Three consecutive wins last week for the scorching Nets, and three consecutive games in which they posted a true shooting percentage better than 60. In the stretch, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 24.3 points, 9.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. The 22-year-old point guard was a crafty “secondary draft” acquisition for the Nets in 2017, by which they took a flier on a struggling, young player on the cheap. Is Russell now playing his way into the Nets’ long-term future?
The Nets have brushed off that 2-3 stretch they were on entering last week and are back on a winning tear. If they can win in Boston on Monday, they’ll be .500 for the first time since Nov. 9 when they were 6-6 and defeated the Nuggets on the first leg of a road back-to-back.
INSERT SIREN EMOJIS HERE. The Brooklyn Nets are really on the verge of being a success story pretty soon. I’m confident in them making a big splash this summer when they have cap space and are fighting for second tier free agents.
So that begs the next question: Nets fans, would you rather the team signs a second-tier star or drafts a really good prospect in June? It’s been a while since the Nets did both. Granted, I don’t want to sell Jarrett Allen short here. He looks like a nice big man and we’re all digging the way he blocks dunks. He looks to have a nice career in front of him. But I’m talking about the Nets grabbing a Zion Williamson/RJ Barrett level prospect in the draft versus a guy who projects to be a valuable role player. Would that be more important to the future of the Nets than signing a Jimmy Butler-level player this summer? The Nets really could use the player control and the high value rookie deal of a future star. But that future star doesn’t tend to bring in veteran free agents until… well… the future.
The hardest thing to do in the NBA is acquire a group of star players. Everybody is desperate to do it. But you can’t have a group of star players until you get your first star player. I’m just using Butler as the level of player they could sign this summer. Obviously, Kawhi Leonard would be the main target but Butler seems a lot more attainable. If you remove the locker room bickering Butler is sure to bring, does that signing mean more to the Nets and their quest to be good again? I think it might. I think signing that veteran star is a lot more important to the direction of this franchise being resurrected than grabbing a future star to develop.
We should all be inspired with the way Sean Marks has built a promising team in Brooklyn with one hand tied behind his back (that hand being tied by the ill-advised Celtics trade an eon ago that mortgaged the team’s future). This team’s scouting, drafting, trading and player development has been Spurs-esque. Joe Harris is one of the players the Nets took a chance on that other teams didn’t. The former second-round pick (traded away for scraps by the Cleveland Cavaliers, waived by the Orlando Magic) is leading the NBA in 3-point percentage, hitting 49.2 percent of the five 3-pointers he attempts per game.
The Nets have won three in a row and 12 of their last 15 games, which matches the team’s best 15-game stretch since the franchise moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Their win in Chicago on Sunday was their 10th victory on the road in 2018-19. The Nets didn’t win their 10th road game last season until March 28th.
Brooklyn is 3-3 since its seven-game winning streak ended, which is actually encouraging. It may only take .500 ball the rest of the way to make the playoffs in the East.
Yet another right adductor strain has Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the shelf, this time indefinitely, but that may not be as big of a problem as it seems. The Nets have plenty of depth, as evidenced by their bench outscoring New Orleans’ by a margin of 55-5 in Wednesday’s 126-121 win. Spencer Dinwiddie will always be Brooklyn’s best weapon off the pine, but DeMarre Carroll and Shabazz Napier combined for 31 points and helped the Nets torch the Pelicans for 73 first-half points.
RHJ, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert can take their time coming back. Brooklyn’s reserves have things under control.