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Pelton: Nets could ‘regress to mean’ in 2019-20

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ESPN’s post-schedule release win projections are out and Kevin Pelton thinks the Nets may only be as good as last year, nothing more ... assuming Kevin Durant doesn’t play at all.

Pelton projects the Nets at 41 wins —one fewer than last year— and the eighth seed in the East, down two.

Could the Nets take a step back after landing stars Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency? It seems possible, starting with the fact that Durant might not play at all in 2019-20. (He isn’t included in Brooklyn’s projection.) Given the massive leap from 28 wins in 2017-18 to 42 last season, the Nets were perhaps due for some regression to the mean -- and the effect of changing teams means Irving might not be a big upgrade on departed D’Angelo Russell.

Pelton’s prediction falls well below the expectation of fans, but is in line with other recent projections. Nate Silver at 538.com projects the Nets at 38 wins and a 64 percent chance at the playoffs. And Andy Bailey, the stats heavy analyst at Bleacher Report, has them at 43. Like Pelton, Bailey wonders if Kyrie Irving is a big improvement over D’Angelo Russell.

Without Kevin Durant for most, if not all, of 2019-20, Brooklyn may not look significantly different than it did last season when it went 42-40.

Kyrie Irving is an upgrade over D’Angelo Russell, but maybe not a monumental one. The Ringer’s Dan Devine explained:

”The calculus is complicated. Irving is the better player—a six-time All-Star fresh off an All-NBA second team selection, a marksman who’s made better than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in four of the past five seasons, and a half-court locksmith capable of deconstructing virtually any defense. But he comes with some glaring concerns, headlined by those nettlesome chemistry questions. During that same Lowe Post podcast, ESPN salary cap guru/former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks invoked Deron Williams’s dour tenure with the franchise, a point of comparison that likely sent shivers down Nets fans’ spines.”

Kyrie Irving with a bunch of young players who just got a taste of the playoffs? Where have we heard this story before?

If the script plays out in Brooklyn the way it did in Boston, KD could be returning with a sense of urgency in 2020-21 (or whenever that day comes).

Not everyone is down on the Nets season. Nick Shapiro of Sports Illustrated thinks Brooklyn could surprise and get beyond the 45.5 wins SI projected last month. He thinks the big difference is the difference between Irving and Russell.

Chemistry questions aside, Irving is an upgrade over Russell by nearly every conceivable metric, even after D-Lo’s career year in 2018-19. Irving outscored Russell and shot better from three last season. He posted 9.1 win shares to Russell’s 5.0, and Irving sported a lower turnover rate and higher Player Efficiency Rating. This isn’t a slight to Russell, who was electric in spurts and by-all-evidence a delightful teammate despite his previous reputation. But the Ohio State product is a fringe All-Star. Irving is a clear All-NBA talent.

Of course, none of this is written in stone and only one pundit (me!) had them at 42 wins last season. Even Moscow thought the team would win around 37! So we wait ... ANOTHER 10 WEEKS.