It’s that time of the year! The NetsDaily crew has assembled for their annual preseason roundtable. Happy basketball season!
1. Following the biggest summer in franchise history, who are you most excited to watch this upcoming season?
Net Income: I would say Kyrie Irving is probably the most fascinating player on the Nets. He is as cerebral as any Nets player in recent memory. He may also be the best Nets player (putting aside Kevin Durant) since the early days of Deron Williams, maybe even Jason Kidd. I think that gets lost on people ... just how good he can be in this offense at this moment. .Of course, he has baggage that hopefully he left behind at Logan Airport. I want to see what he can do as he enters the prime of his career.
Anthony Puccio: The star, the intriguing storyline is obviously Kyrie Irving. A friend said to me, “I can’t wait to see Kyrie go off in his first game as a Net.” While I agreed, the guy I’m most interested to watch, and believe will assert himself from the jump, is Caris LeVert. I think he’s going to come out from Game No. 1 and carry the momentum from the playoff series against Philadelphia when he showed that he was clearly Brooklyn’s best player. It’s year four — and he’s shown what he’s capable of when he’s healthy. Now with a little playoff experience, the spotlight on Brooklyn, and buddy/mentor Kevin Durant in his corner, I’m fully expecting a breakout season.
Tom Lorenzo: I’ll avoid the obvious answers - Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert - since everyone, Nets fans and non-Nets fans alike are all excited to watch them this season. I’m going to go with Jarrett Allen. Pretty simple, I think we learn a lot about Allen this year. “Who is he.” “What is he.” By bringing in DeAndre Jordan you wonder if/hope that it turns on a light for him. Muscle watch. ‘Fro watch. I’m here for it, and looking forward to seeing what step he takes this season and if he trends more toward franchise player than a nice-to-have.
Brian Fleurantin: I think I’m most excited to watch Kyrie Irving. Irving’s game is so fun to watch and in the times I’ve been at Barclays when he’s played as an opponent, the crowds were always enthralled by his handles and bucket getting abilities. I think his style is really fun to watch and seeing Irving lead an offense like this will be fun to witness every night
And just to expand on Irving a little more, I’m really fascinated to see how he plays when he’s fully in charge. He was in process of getting to that in Cleveland, but LeBron James decided to go back. It seemed like that would happen in Boston, but Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge got most of the praise up there. He chose Brooklyn, will be the focal point of the offense in ways he hasn’t been in a while, and will have to take the experience of what went wrong at the end in Boston and try to avoid repeating them here. He’ll be the boss in ways he hasn’t had to or had the chance at in his career.
Billy Reinhardt: Kyrie Irving is the only answer. Irving, an NJ native and Nets fan growing up, is back home and ready to put on a show. Irving is probably the best player to put on a Nets uniform since Jason Kidd – with Vince Carter and peak Deron Williams having cases. Aside from last season’s disappointing playoff run with Boston, Irving has proven over his career that he’s a big game player capable of hitting the big shot – look no further than his miraculous three over Stephen Curry to win the 2016 NBA Finals. Despite being in the midst of building a Hall of Fame resume, Irving has a lot to prove this season. It will be interesting to see if he could put his Boston tenure in the past and remind people of the ball-handling wizard and All-NBA talent that he is, not the locker room disrupter that he got a reputation for in Boston. With Irving choosing his team for the first time in his NBA career, I expect him to be all-in and a good leader in the locker room. Early signs point towards it.
Bonus Analysis: I expect Kyrie Irving to finish top-7 in MVP voting, having his best season as a pro, potentially reaching the 50-40-90 club for the first time in his brilliant career.
Chris Milholen: After the Brooklyn Nets has their most successful offseason, I am most excited to watch Kyrie Irving be a main leader on this team and the development of the young guys. Some of the young guys I am excited to watch are Dzanan Musa, Theo Pinson, Nic Claxton, and Rodions Kurucs.
Brian Egan: Caris Levert, and it isn’t close. I’m excited to watch Kyrie Irving, of course, but in the same way that I’m excited to watch a solar eclipse, meaning, I have good reason to believe it will look cool and arrive as expected, lest something is terribly, terribly wrong in the universe. But all of our collective hopes and dreams of being truly competitive in the short term rest firmly in the hands of Caris. You can practically see the glowing aura of a young man trying to ratify his will for greatness every time he touches the court, on both sides of the ball. To say that I am rooting for Caris would be an understatement, it’s more accurate to say my spirit is astrally projected out of my body and onto the ceiling whenever he drives to the hoop. I want him to stay safe, but I also want him to want to put his body on the line in the way that’s required to attain higher basketball transcendence. It’s a complicated feeling, for sure.
2. Who is going to be Brooklyn’s “secret weapon” this season?
NI: The early betting here is on Taurean Prince but Prince is somewhat of a known quantity. He has played at reasonably high level his first three years in the league. I like David Nwaba too, but he’s not going to get that many minutes. So, I think the “secret weapon” could very well be Dzanan Musa who remains the youngest player on the team. With Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert down in the Shanghai game --and with all the political drama going on-- he rose to the occasion and took over the scoring load. Never underestimate his desire. He wants it more than you know. Maybe more than anyone on the team. I just hope that if he doesn’t get into the rotation early, he will retain that confidence.
AP: The obvious answer here is Taurean Prince, but it doesn’t seem like he’s so much of a “secret”. I think the guy people aren’t talking enough about is Garrett Temple. He was one of the first players Kyrie wanted to bring along with him in Brooklyn. From a Nets side — coaches and players think very highly of him. He might sneak in as the 3-and-D the Nets have sought for a very long time.
TL: Spencer Dinwiddie. He’s not secret, really, but he continues to just be a “forgotten” man. Be it last season with D-Lo and LeVert getting all the praise (and rightfully so) and Joe Harris playing himself into his Team USA role, Dinwiddie just continues to fly under the radar and it almost seems as if people forget that they have arguably the (one of the...) best Sixth Man in the NBA.
BF: I think it’ll be Joe Harris. Granted it’s hard to be a “secret” when you won the three point contest and played for Team USA over the summer, but I think he’ll be a forgotten man of sorts when we think about the options in Brooklyn.
BR: The easy answer here is Taurean Prince. As a career near 40% three-point shooter, he should be deadly playing off guards like Irving, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie. However, with all the hype we’ve heard around Prince this preseason, I don’t think he’s flying under the radar anymore.
I’m going to go with Dzanan Musa. Momentum is building for the Nets’ 2018 first rounder as Kenny Atkinson, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and others in the organization have gone out of their way recently to praise the Bosnian for the leap he has made this summer. After spending much of last season developing with the Long Island Nets, Musa seems poised to secure a rotation spot to open up the season, especially with Wilson Chandler out. Musa should be able to provide the Nets with a scoring boost as a secondary playmaker off the bench this season.
CM: The Brooklyn Nets secret weapon this upcoming season will be Taurean Prince. Prince has performed in the preseason so far on both ends of the floor and I think he will be a great 3-D player for the Nets. Don’t be surprised if he gets an extension soon.
BE: This might be a perilously broad interpretation of “weapon,” but I’ve been really impressed with what Deandre Jordan has shown offensively thus far this preseason. I love Jarrett Allen, deeply, profoundly, but as we’ve seen from many of the most competitive teams, having a wily, flat-footed passer at the 5 is incredibly useful for running half-court sets, and Jarret is a couple year’s worth of film sessions shy of possessing those skills, as yet. Horford, Jokic, Gasol, Draymond (in a modified sense), among others, are highly coveted for this pinch-post passing. And while Deandre is not quite among that ilk, his assists have been steadily rising over the years in a way that makes me think he’s consciously tailoring his game with this role in mind. With the way he’s improved his passing and free-throw shooting recently, I’d be willing to bet he’s taken a good look around at his peers and figured out that time sneaks up on you like a thief in the night when you’re an athletic big, and it seems he’s figured out how he wants to fortify himself against that.
3. What’s your biggest concern with this Nets team (without KD)?
NI: The conventional wisdom is the Nets need more rebounding. Taurean Prince is a nice stretch 4, but he’s not going to grab a lot of rebounds. He’s done reasonably well in preseason but that’s not his role. His role is putting up numbers and stretching the floor while playing good D. The Nets do have one of the NBA’s best rebounders over the last decade in DeAndre Jordan. Even playing with the tank train last year, he averaged 11 a game in 26 minutes. Now, he appears motivated, certainly more motivated when he was across the river. Kenny Atkinson may tag team Jordan and Jarrett Allen, who I suspect will start at the 5. I expect Jordan will play more than Ed Davis did last year for a number of reasons. More importantly, how much has Allen improved under the boards. If he comes out and shows he can be a solid rebounder and Jordan can do what he has done his whole career, then that concern will be lessened.
AP: Let’s see if the defense will improve. They’ve been historically bad over the past couple of seasons and it’s to be seen if they’ve gotten better in that area, especially given their heavy focus on offense.
Another couple of things: Finding a stretch big and finding the hidden gems off the bench, other than Spencer Dinwiddie.
TL: Power forward. I think Nic Claxton can be really, really good - and I think you can roll with lineups that have Taurean Prince (small) or Jarrett Allen (big) at the four - but the Nets do have a hole at the four; or, they could use another piece there.
BF: I feel like I’m repeating an answer from last year, but injuries. Every year, the team has suffered a major injury that has scuttled their development and evaluation plans. But on the court, I think the power forward position is their biggest issue. We know what their guards can do and the center position is solid, but how well Taurean Prince plays could determine where they stand by the end of the year.
BR: Without KD, my biggest concern with the Nets roster construction is the depth at the four, specifically in regards to frontcourt shooting. Yes, the Nets have Taurean Prince who’s a sniper, Rodions Kurucs who can stretch the floor a little, and David Nwaba who might be able to give some minutes at small ball four, but none of those guys are really capable of sliding to the five to give the Nets a five-out offense down the stretch of games.
At certain times last season, the Nets would put Jared Dudley at the five and could get away with it for points in the game. Without KD, DeAndre Jordan or Jarrett Allen (or Nic Claxton) will likely need to be out there at all times. In games where the Nets are playing a team with top-flight rim protection like Milwaukee, they could potentially struggle to score inside. Atkinson’s usual counter is to go small, five-out to open up driving lanes. Without KD, unless Claxton surprises with his shooting, Atkinson doesn’t really have a counter this season as I’m not sure you can get away with Prince, Kurucs, or Chandler at ‘center’ – it will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
CM: Last season, my biggest concern going into the season was the center position but going into this season, I would have to say my biggest concern is going to have to be Kyrie Irving being the leader of this team. At Media Day, he clarified and spoke out about what went down in Boston, separating the player and person, but with a good mix of young talent and some veterans, Irving’s leadership will be a necessity if the Nets look to make some noise in the East. In the end, I do believe Irving will fit the leadership role as the season progresses.
BE: Even as I’m writing this, I feel #blessed that this team has evolved in the way it has this past year. Gone are the days of answering such questions with platitudes like “player development” or “building chemistry”, things you might invoke because there are too many on-court needs to address any real specifics. So let’s all take a second to be thankful for that. Ok. For me, it’s everything to do with the power-forward position. Prince, Kurucs, and (to a lesser extent) David Nwaba are now duking it out for a job in which none of them feel like a natural fit. Watching Taurean Prince try to guard Pascal Siakam was mildly horrifying, but then I got to thinking, what if he’s just like, a placeholder, and there was like, some other super perfect fit for that position out there. Like, what if it were a, say, 7-foot power forward that was super mobile and could shoot from anywhere, too. That’d be tight.
4. Will Kevin Durant return this year?
NI: DUH! All kidding aside, I think we will know not long after January 1 how he’s doing and whether there’s any chance for his return. There are a lot of concerns, of course, but I believe if the performance team thinks he is physically ready and he thinks he can play, he will sometime after the All Star Break. I know, I know, Sean Marks said what the “expectations” are, but expectations can change.
AP: I believe he will. I think you can expect a similar situation to LeVert last year — come back sometime after All Star Break and slowly integrate him back. And I mean SLOWLY.
TL: Yeah, I think so. At some point. To some degree. But I’m not sure it’s a “hero ball, returns to lead the Nets to the NBA Finals” kind of deal. But I do think we see him on the court this year.
BF: No. This is a free year of sorts for the Nets and they’d be better served letting KD heal up all year so he can get a full camp, preseason, etc in 2020.
BR: I’m a believer. The normal recovery time for players that have suffered Achilles injuries in recent years has been 8-9 months. That timetable would have Kevin Durant set to return by February or March, likely just post All-Star break, potentially in time for March 12th showdown with Golden State in San Francisco.
Just prior to Media Day, there was building optimism around the league that KD would play this season. Marks and KD quickly shut down those rumors at their introductory media availabilities – my guess was to simply avoid distractions throughout the season and circumvent having to answer questions about it on a daily basis. I believe KD and the Nets expect him to be back by March and ready for the stretch run into the playoffs.
CM: I am going to say Kevin Durant does return this year. It will not happen till ‘very’ late in the regular season. On the other hand, if he does not return I would not be surprised.
BE: Using deeply anti-scientific methodology like witching rods, talismans, tea-leaves, and youtube videos, I’m betting yes. These things have never failed me, especially youtube videos.
5. Give a bold prediction on the Nets and/or a player on the team.
NI: Hmmm. I think that Nicolas Claxton, like Jarrett Allan and Rodions Kurucs before him, will get more time in Brooklyn than anticipated. Claxton has NBA skills, the same type of skills that won Kurcus .minutes last year. Does he have the drive that Kurucs has? TBA.
AP: Kyrie Irving finishes in the top 5 for MVP this season. He’s playing with a clear mind and has a chip on his shoulder. Talent has never been a question.
TL: Brooklyn will finish in the Top 5 in Defensive Rating this season. Last year they were 15th - middle of the pack - but my prediction is that team defense will improve and they’ll be among one of the Top 5 defensive teams in the NBA this year.
BF: Caris Levert will be named to the All Star team.
BR: Spencer Dinwiddie will win Sixth Man of the Year.
With more eyes on the Nets this season, if healthy, Dinwiddie will get more national recognition for the splendid player he is. Just two years ago, Dinwiddie finished third in the sixth man voting. With more eyes on him and the jump I expect from one of the hardest workers in the league, I think Dinwiddie will solidify himself as the Sixth Man of the Year and a borderline All-Star candidate.
CM: My bold prediction for the Nets this season ... I feel that Dzanan Musa will surprise a lot of people. Musa told me he is focused, he wants to be with the Brooklyn Nets primarily this upcoming season, he has showed out so far in the preseason. I expect him to have a solid year.
BE: You want bold? I’ll give you bold! Hold my beer. This is a team that will make it to the conference finals. Obviously a few things need to transpire for that to happen (see question #4), so this would be a risk-intensive parlay bet, of course. But I’m a degenerate gambler, so here we are.
6. Will this Nets team be better than last year? Final record prediction?
NI: I would to remind people that I had the Nets winning 42 games last year and making the playoffs. (Thank you for your applause. Thank you very much. You are too kind!) Even ownership, I was told, wasn’t that optimistic! So, I am going to do the same thing this year: pump my chest and predict 50 wins. I might regret it and indeed the last time (the ONLY time) the Nets won 50 games was when Kyrie Irving was a child at Continental Airlines Arena and he watched his idol and model Jason Kidd shock the world and push the Nets into the NBA Finals. I am getting some vibes from people around the team that we are underestimating how good the Nets can be, how deep the team is. And yes, I am saying 50 whether KD returns or not ... but in the performance team we trust!
AP: Yes. I’m going with 49 wins.
TL: Um, better? I think it will be close, but since I’m in a good mood - I had them winning 27 games last year; I must have been in a really, really bad mood when we did this.... Let’s go with: 44-38.
BF: They won 42 games last year, and with the upgrade at point guard plus a full year of a healthy Levert coming off a great playoff showing, I’ll slot the Nets at 46-36.
BR: While it will probably take a bit of time for the Nets to gain chemistry and incorporate all the new pieces, on paper, it looks as if they’ve upgraded across the board this season. Russell to Irving, Carroll to Prince, Davis to Jordan, Crabbe (mostly injured) to Temple – all could be considered upgrades. That’s not even counting the potential surprise contributions from Musa, Claxton, and Nwaba. Obviously it’s hard to predict health, but having a full season of LeVert should do wonders as well. I’m pegging the Nets for 47-wins, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. Depending on KD, the Nets could be anywhere from a second round out to NBA Champions this season.
CM: Last season, the Nets went 42-40, placing sixth in the East. I am going to have to say Brooklyn will end the 2019-20 season with a 47-35 record, placing fifth in the East.
BE: The consensus going into last year from the gate-keeping coastal media elite was 28 to 32 wins, and I fell victim to their negativity, like a complete rube. Similarly, I see the number 43 popping up this year in all the familiar outlets, which suddenly feels a touch conservative to my eye. Having crunched the numbers using my custom algorithm that accounts for this pervasive anti-nets bias, we should expect exactly 49 wins this season.
Have at it, all.