First things first
As we note above, we’ve been doing this for 12 years, through thick and (mostly) thin. Some editions will be long, some will be short. Some will be better than others. Some will come out on Saturday, some on Sunday. The Off-Season Report will follow the off-season, right up to October 1, which is the start of the pre-season ... FIVE MONTHS FROM NOW.
This one is pretty basic.
A happier time
It’s hard not to be excited (and maybe a little anxious) if you’re a Nets fan. The Nets were second in the the league in improvement. Maybe that’s not an official stat but the Nets 14-win represented a 50 percent jump, second to the Magic’s 59 percent. And of course, they made the playoffs and even secured the sixth seed, winning six of their last 10 against some tough competition to get there.
The team also produced its first All-Star in five years, D’Angelo Russell, and a league leader in a major category —Joe Harris who shot an astounding 47.4 percent from three. Last time the Nets had a league leader in a big statistical category? Mikki Moore led the NBA in overall shooting percentage (61 percent) in 2007. Harris, of course, also won the Three-Point Shooting Contest at All-Star Weekend with the highest percentage of makes ever in the contest. He is now 11th ALL-TIME in three point percentage at 42.7 percent.
DLo easily broke the Nets record for most three-pointers in a season with 234 and is the current league leader in consecutive games with at least one three pointer, at 61. He also finished 10th in assists, third in assist percentage, sixth in the league in usage rate. Jarrett Allen finished seventh in both overall shooting percentage and dunks as well as 12th in shot blocking.
Brooklyn’s bench featured top producers in points (Spencer Dinwiddie, second at 17.1) and rebounds (Ed Davis, first at 8.6).
And, perhaps best of all, Caris LeVert’s horrific-looking injury on November 12 turned out to be manageable not career-ending as some, including Kenny Atkinson, feared that night.
Even the Long Island Nets did well, winning the Eastern Conference championship, falling to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, two games to one, in the G-League Finals. Their two-way players, Theo Pinson and Alan Williams, made the All-G League team, with Williams finishing second in the MVP race and Pinson second in the Rookie of the Year contest.
Now, of course, comes the off-season. The Nets are is as good a shape as they have ever been. Brooklyn’s playoff roster was the third youngest in the post-season, behind only the Nuggets and Trail Blazers. They have three draft picks in the top 31 —and all their first rounders going forward; around $30 million in cap space and their two home, Barclays Center and the HSS Training Center, have a WOW factor. Mikhail Prokhorov and Joe Tsai are the NBA’s second and third richest owners ... and they’re willing to spend.
On an intangible level, things may actually be better. Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, who ownership extended this season, are now viewed as miracle workers, having turned the team around in three years. Atkinson admits he thought they wouldn’t make the post-season until Year 4 or 5! Their culture-driven strategy seems to have worked and their focus on performance, sports science and sports medicine is now viewed as a model for the league. Moreover, New York fans are reacting. The Nets went out on a high, selling out the last seven home games, the last five in the regular season plus the two playoff dates.
We’re not getting into the free agency speculation this week—- plenty of time left for that, but our hearts are warmed by all the reports of All-Stars wanting to take meetings with Marks and Atkinson.
As of May 1, Good Times!
We did some quick math and it appears Nets average home attendance after All-Star Game (11 home dates). was 16,397. Prior to that (30 home dates), average was 14.407. Big rise, helped by sellouts (17,732) in each of the last five regular season home games. That brought the average home attendance for the season to 14,914.
Where would a season average of 16,397 put the Nets on the 2018-19 NBA attendance chart? The Nets would move up from 30th to 25th, not that big of a leap. But in terms of the percentage of seats sold, the Nets would have been tied for 21st with the Pacers.
Similarly, the Nets local TV ratings were up 11 percent through the All-Star Break but by the end of the regular season, they had jumped 22 percent, year-over-year, meaning Nets programming was attracting much bigger numbers during final few weeks. Winning helps everyone, cures everything.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Nassir Little was seen at the beginning of this season as a top 5 pick. The 6’6” swingman had been a top 5 high school player, and won the MVP in both the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic. But he disappointed at North Carolina, not starting a single game, shooting only 48 percent overall, 27 percent from three and averaging 9.8 points in 18.3 minutes per game. He was also hurt by nagging injuries.
So, despite all that raw potential, Little has slipped in mock drafts, all the way to ... No. 17. Of the nine mocks we follow, Little has been linked to the Nets in three of them. It seems a bit weird that a kid with all that talent would slip so far, but we’ll take it.
Here’s Jonathan Givony’s take on him from a month ago when he declared for the Draft.
Measured at 6-foot-6 with a 7-1 wingspan, Little piqued the interest of NBA scouts starting in the summer of 2017 with his explosive athletic ability, defensive versatility and aggressive style of play. Playing behind All-America candidates Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye, while battling nagging injuries, Little came off the bench for UNC and ended up playing just 18 minutes per game, the lowest figure of any collegiate player projected to be drafted, which ultimately caused his stock to drop.
Little, who averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line, is ranked No. 16 in the ESPN 100 draft rankings.
And here’s David Green of NBADraft.net’s take...
Little is a bit of a boom or bust type of prospect as he is likely to be drafted on his potential and still has a long ways to go to realize it ... He’s been compared to Kawhi Leonard by media outlets, which sets the bar extremely high and also helps his stock, but is probably an unrealistic comparison ... He may struggle in his first season or two in the league ... With the physical tools and size for his position, there is plenty of room for Little to improve … While he struggled to live up to expectations scoring just 10 ppg, coming off the bench for the Tar Heels, apologists note that many talented players struggle in their freshman seasons in Roy Williams UNC system.
Had to sit behind senior Cameron Johnson and still showed how much potential he has playing just 18.3 minutes per game in his freshman year … Physically, he’s NBA ready now at 220 lbs, with his athleticism combination ...
Here’s some video of his time at UNC...
Of course, we don’t know how many picks the Nets will actually make on June 20. Here’s Sean Marks talking about the possibilities.
“Obviously if the right guys are there and the guys that we’re targeting in the draft, we’ll welcome him, we’ll develop him, we’ll love him, and care for him like we do everybody else,” said Marks at the postseason press conference. “And if we feel that maybe, strategically, it’s more in line with what we’re trying to do is to move one, two, or all, we’ll go from there and see where it goes.”
Also, the only mock draft that matters is the Nets. Last year, for example, the Nets had both Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs in their top 20.
Welcome, New York Liberty
Joe Tsai’s acquisition of the New York Liberty from James Dolan and MSG Companies in January, was quite the surprise, but what’s happened since shouldn’t be. Tsai has used his financial resources to improve the Liberty’s basketball operations, hiring a new GM and filling out the roster here and there.
He’s put a trusted aide, American Oliver Weisberg, in charge of his basketball investments. Officially, Weisberg is “Alternate Governor” of the Liberty, the team’s WNBA rep when Tsai isn’t around. Word is that he will also fill that role with the Nets when Tsai ultimately takes control sometime between now and 2021-22 season.
The next step will be finding the Liberty a new home. They’re playing all but one of their home games this season at Westchester County Center in White Plains. Dolan moved the team from the Garden to Westchester last season as he tried to staunch the Liberty’s losses. The remaining home game will be played at Barclays Center on August 11 vs. the Seattle Storm. The Liberty are also playing the Chinese Women’s National Team in Brooklyn on May 9.
Making the move to Barclays permanent would seem to be the smart move. When they played at the Garden (and they were competitive), the Liberty regularly drew crowds of 10,000, four times what they got in Westchester last season. Moving the Liberty to Nassau Coliseum would require development of a whole new fan base on the Island and although the Nets G League affiliate has made it a priority to attract girls to the Long Island games, there is a ready-made base already in the city ... and getting to Nassau via mass transit is a lot more difficult than getting to Brooklyn or even Westchester.
Tsai’s big investment in the Liberty of course bodes well for the Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov has spent a lot of money on the Nets over the last decade, buying bonds to help complete Barclays Center, paying down the Nets (huge) debt, spending nearly $125 million in luxury taxes and of course making investments in everything from the G League to the HSS Training Center. It looks like Tsai will do the same (starting with the $35,000 fine for supporting Sean Marks’ visit to the refs locker room after Game 4 of the playoffs.)
The other interesting aspect of Tsai’s involvement in the Liberty is the decision to draft a Chinese star — 6’9” Han Xu— the first Chinese national to be drafted by a WNBA team in 22 years. It would seem that Tsai, a member of the board of NBA China, wants the Liberty to have a Chinese presence. Would he like to see a Chinese player on the Nets? Would he like to see the Nets become China’s team?
Last month, in an interview with a Chinese newspaper, Tsai said it all depends on the player. He emphasized that he’s not going to populate either of his teams with Chinese players just for the sake of popularizing the Nets and Liberty in China and Asia.
“If there are good players in China, we will do our best to help them join the NBA and WNBA, but I don’t agree with finding players for the Chinese market. Playing well is the most important thing...
“My most important expectation for both teams is to build a culture of continuous winning.”
Sounds good to us.
The Nets were quite special this season, as we’ve noted, but ownership, the front office and even the players expect that there will be big changes to the roster in free agency. We’ve been told to expect unpopular decisions as the team reconfigures the roster. We’re hoping not too many changes. We want to root for a team of players, not laundry.