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REPORTERS ROUNDTABLE: It’s the most anticipated season in Nets history!

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Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It’s that time of the year! With an exciting preseason in the books and the highly anticipated 2020-21 season on the horizon, the NetsDaily crew has assembled for their annual preseason roundtable. Happy basketball season!

Let’s get into it!

Now that the Brooklyn Nets team is fully healthy and ready to roll into a championship-contending season, who are you most excited to watch and why?

Net Income: Kevin Durant. Once he steps on the court vs. Golden State he will be the most talented player to ever wear a Nets uniform. Jason Kidd must still be seen as the best player the Nets ever had (in the NBA era) because of his accomplishment in taking the Nets from dog to dawg, but KD is KD. Is he the same player? Can he do the same things?

Tom Lorenzo: I have to go with Kyrie. Don’t get me wrong, Kevin Durant is going to compete for the MVP, but Kyrie is the difference maker. As he goes, so go the Nets. If he’s THE Kyrie then this team is the best in the East. If he’s a little head-y, maybe stirs things up a bit...buckle up. But I’m absolutely excited to see how it all plays out.

Brian Fleurantin: I think I’m most excited for Kyrie Irving. I’m all about fun when watching great scorers, and Irving’s uniqueness always stood out to me, even last year in his abbreviated campaign. As a scorer, he’s one of the most creative ones in the league and now that the roster is fully healthy, it’s gonna be fun to watch how he manages to make all the pieces fit.

Even if we focus outside of the scoring, I think his overall role on the team and how he manages being in charge will be exciting to watch as well. I think the rough endings in Cleveland and Boston have really served as a guide for him in what not to do as one of the faces of a franchise, so with the stakes being as high as they are for Brooklyn, I think he’ll be able to be that guy and lead the team on and off the court.

Billy Reinhardt: I can’t imagine anyone answering with someone other than Kevin Durant, here. Finally, after an agonizingly long eighteen-month wait, KD will don the black and white for the first time – in a real game – in Brooklyn on Tuesday at Barclays Center. Sure, Nets fans have experienced Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Drazen Petrovic, and – going way back to the ABA days – Julius Erving, but KD is a whole different level. Durant’s a fringe top-10 player of all-time, a multi-time NBA champion, and former MVP that with a title (or two) in Brooklyn could make a case for the top-5. Durant’s an offensive marvel – arguably the most devastating scorer in the league’s history – as well as a rangy and versatile defensive weapon that should help transform Brooklyn’s defense. It’s not every day you get to watch an all-time great in his prime play for your team – night in, night out. Enjoy it, Nets fans.

Chris Milholen: It is easily Kevin Durant. The moment he steps on the Barclays Center hardwood in the Nets jersey, he will be the most talented player, especially scoring wise, to wear the Nets uniform. I have high expectations for the Nets superstar. Not only do I believe he will prove he is Kevin Durant this season quickly, but I expect him to be an MVP finalist.

Matt Brooks: This is the part where I’m supposed to belabor over random role-players, right? You know, do that whole “remain in character” thing? Maybe a couple of words about Chris Chiozza’s passing. A scribble or two about Jarrett Allen’s top-notch ability at tagging both the roller and ball-handler while defending pick-and-rolls. Perhaps a declaration of commitment to Reggie Perry and his growing stan hive. Some hipster basketball writer B.S. like that, right?

But no, I’m bucking the trend. Sending expectations off the glass like a humiliating chase-down block. Speaking of monster rejections, here’s my pick: It’s Kevin Durant. Duh. C’mon now. 550+ days in the making, and it’s finally here. Dude, I sat through a month of the Musa/Pinson backcourt experience to get to this point. Let me bask in this. We’re talking about getting the opportunity to cover arguably a top-10 player ever, and maybe the greatest scorer to strap ‘em on period, as he competes for a championship in his prime. This shouldn’t be a tricky question to answer.

Nolan Jensen: There really only is one correct answer to such a question: Kevin Durant. As much as I wanted to make some obscure, out-of-left-field response here — it’s glaringly obvious it’s the near 7-foot-tall walking basketball enigma. That’s without mentioning we’ve waited nearly 18 months in anticipation for his maiden campaign in Brooklyn.

The second he walks onto the NBA hardwood, the title window officially opens. I won’t go much more in-depth here, it’s KD.

Ajayi Browne: As much as I want to say Kevin Durant, I have to go with Kyrie Irving on this one. The way Irving plays this game is just art. He’s box office. He can get anybody out of their seat with his bag of moves that seems to never run out. There’s this narrative going around that he’s a “drama queen” and he’s too “injury prone” but that’s only fueling the 28 year old to prove them wrong. If I would have told you in 2016 that 5 years from now the media had to use this narrative to try and put down prime Kyrie Irving, you would think I was crazy. It’s funny how fast people change their views nowadays but it’s ok. Uncle Drew hears the noise. He hears the chatter. What a lot of people forget is that it was Irving who had his best scoring season with the Nets last year, averaging 27.4 PPG. What a lot of people forget is that it was Irving who scored 50 points in his Brooklyn Nets debut last season. What a lot of people forget is that it was Irving who hit the shot of the century against the 73-9 Warriors with the game tied at 89 a piece in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Not to mention there was less than a minute left in the game. Many say that he isn’t the same guy anymore and they’re right. He’s actually better. His stint with Boston just wasn’t it. Irving was injured in his first postseason with them and missed the playoffs and the following year he was dealing with depression because of the passing of his grandfather. This year we will see the best version of Kyrie Irving with a chip on his shoulder. Maybe even an MVP season.

Who is going to be Brooklyn’s “secret weapon” this season?

NI: Spencer Dinwiddie. Never in my Nets fandom has anyone been as underrated as Dinwiddie. He averaged 21 and 7 and singlehandedly won games against the Lakers and Rockets while mostly starting on the bench and is still seen as a trade chip by some, a nice piece by others. Moreover, he has quite a bit of pride that often translates into clutch performances.

Tom: Jarret Allen is. I think he’s ready to take his game to the next level. Make a statement as one of the league’s best defenders. The anchor in the middle for this team. I think this is the season he becomes a household name.

Brian: I’ll go with Caris Levert. Last year I wrote that he had the potential to be an All Star caliber player, and I still think that. Now that he’s the sixth man and coming off his star turn in the bubble, I think that he’ll be able to feast on second units and be able to carry things when the big two take games off.

Billy: Given that the Nets roster is a group expected to contend, the team is made up of largely known commodities. That being said, I’ll look towards the few young and/or unproven players on the roster to find a ‘secret weapon’ for this group. Nicolas Claxton is the wild card. The Nets second year big man showed plenty of promise in his limited opportunities with the big club last season. On Long Island on G-League assignment last season, Claxton dominated and displayed the handle, shooting range, and athleticism that could make him the perfect fit in today’s NBA where versatility from all five positions is at a premium. The Nets are quite high on last year’s second round pick – ‘Clax’ was much higher on their internal board – comparing the young big’s skillset to that of multi-time All-Star and potential future Hall-of-Famer, Chris Bosh’s. However, as previously mentioned, Claxton has not proven himself as a rotation player in the league yet. Most of that is because of the lack of opportunity afforded to him last season with Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan both ahead of him in the center rotation. However, Claxton has also struggled with injuries. First, a season ending shoulder injury prevented him from going to the NBA Bubble in Orlando where real minutes would’ve been available with Jordan not there. The injury bug has bitten Claxton again this season as he has been limited in camp and inactive for the preseason games with a knee injury. The injury this preseason afforded rookie Reggie Perry with minutes instead. In a crowded center group, Claxton needs to stay healthy to be able to take advantage of the minutes that come available and prove himself to be Brooklyn’s secret weapon.

From less of an individual player aspect and more as a wrinkle the Nets throw at teams, I think Brooklyn going small with Jeff Green at the 5 will be an often used ‘secret weapon’ this season. We got a small taste of it in the closing minutes of the first half against Boston in the second preseason game and it did not disappoint. The Nets were switching and versatile defensively with a KD/Green frontcourt tandem. The ball had energy as it swung around the perimeter in a 5-out offense. This aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball punctuated with a mammoth posterization of the Celtics by Green as a rolling 5 man. This ‘secret weapon’ wrinkle to Brooklyn’s attack could be pivotal to their success this season.

Chris: Can I choose depth as a whole? Well, I’ll go with Caris LeVert. I believe LeVert will be an excellent leader of the second unit for Brooklyn. Not many teams have a player as skilled and talented as LeVert that will embrace coming off the bench. In that second unit leader role, LeVert will not only score but will create opportunities for others as well at the same success rate. Also … if he can hit those pull three’s with confidence, better watch out.

Matt: Oh boy, this sure sounds like my big opportunity to dwell on some role-players. *Stops typing, yells stage left* “Guys? Have I got this right? Is it my time to shine?”

*Cracks knuckles* Okay, SO. My secret weapon, Brooklyn’s hidden assassin, is… (drumroll please)

Spencer Dinwiddie.

From a near-All-Star just a season ago, to a Draymond Green-like glue guy this year, Spencer Dinwiddie is more than happy to put his ego aside and do what’s best for the team. That’s commendable. It’s integral to Brooklyn’s success. And it may actually necessitate his usage in Steve Nash’s rotation (Steve adores Spence already).

Din can play off-ball adequately (a 36.5% or better catch-and-shoot guy for his last 4 seasons). He rebounds pretty well for his position. He’s a great facilitator, and I could really see him excelling in a role as Brooklyn’s connector, building basketball bridges with skip passes and hockey assists with his many new teammates, conjuring a sense of kinship on the court by leading by example. I’d also be curious to see him defend away from pick-and-roll possessions––more as an off-ball defender. We’re well aware of how Dinwiddie looks as the guy, but I’m really curious to see how he adjusts to becoming a supportive backdrop.

Nolan: Is calling Landry Shamet a disservice to what he is as an NBA player? It almost feels as if it is. However, given this team’s depth, he’s on the Nets’ second unit as a near eighth or ninth man, which, I mean, meets the threshold of a “secret weapon.” The man is aggressive in looking for his shots, be it off pin downs, curling off screens, or just hoisting out in transition with temerity. Also, small sample size alert, aka two preseason games, but he’s going all-out on defense every single possession.

It’s likely he closes games out in some capacity this season; his skillset complements the stars well. It could be a huge season for the 23-year-old.

Ajayi: Brooklyn’s secret weapon is most definitely Caris LeVert, although he’s not much of a secret after his performance in the bubble last season and or even his 51 point performance against the Celtics. I say he is the secret weapon because still to this day NBA fans are unaware of how talented he actually is. Prior to last season he was a problem for defenses to contain, but once he started training with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant more I’ve noticed him add more moves to his arsenal that I didn’t see before. If he is the 6th man, no team will have an answer for him off the bench. What makes things scarier is that he’s 26 years old.

What is your biggest concern with this Nets team?

NI: Defense. I know it’s a priority and there are plus defenders on this team starting with Durant but a short camp and preseason plus a relatively new roster is not conducive to defensive success. It’s a worry.

Tom: I guess size? They can shoot. They can score. Really, just thinking back to watching Joel Embiid push around the Nets - and what about Anthony Davis in the NBA Finals? I love Allen, but it would be nice to have some additional big bodies. Right?

Brian: I feel like I say it every year, but health. Even with the roster depth, one injury can throw everything off kilter and with the pandemic still running wild, the effects will multiply.

Billy: I have two biggest concerns with this Nets team this season – the latter of which shouldn’t really affect them until deep into the playoffs.

For one, how will the Nets incorporate the many backcourt pieces and small wings on their roster? I’m a believer that teams should build their rosters so that their best five players could all be on the floor together to close. If a small lineup of Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Kevin Durant proves incapable of closing most games, then I think the Nets may have to consider trades to break up the glut of starting and closing caliber guards and small wings they possess. From an asset allocation standpoint, I’d have trouble justifying sitting one of LeVert, Dinwiddie, or Harris every night to close games.

If the Nets had zero holes as a team, the first issue wouldn’t really be a problem at all. However, if the pieces don’t exactly fit, the Nets should consider solidifying the frontcourt to make sure they don’t run into the second issue that I fear they might come playoff time. As is, I think Brooklyn will be able to have their way with most teams in the NBA. However, there are three specific teams I worry about on the Nets path to a title and they all share the commonality of being ‘big’ teams. How will the Nets handle the Sixers, Bucks, and Lakers? They could potentially see all three during their journey. How the Nets deal with powerful frontcourt pieces like Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid remains to be seen. The Nets might be able to simply ‘out-talent’ Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but do they have enough to take down the Lakers while playing undersized? Time will tell.

Chris: Got to go with defense on this one. Following a shortened training camp, only two preseason games, and .. oh yes - lots of new faces on this team, its defense for me. It is not a huge worry for me since Steve Nash has put great focus on that end, calling it his number one priority for so long now but, it will certainly take time and patience. I believe after 15-20 games, things will start to fall into place on the defensive end.

Matt: I’m concerned about the scoring with this Brooklyn Nets team. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving… do we really trust these guys to put up big point totals? With Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris as a supporting cast? Can these guys even break 100 points on a night-to-night basis? Hello, someone? Where’d you all go???

(Bad) jokes aside, I’m assuming we’re all going to have the same answer here. It’s gotta be the defense. I’m going to do the classic thing you’re not supposed to do when getting interviewed and turn this question around on YOU, roundtable questionnaire. Can YOU name more than 3 plus defenders on this roster? Huh? Can you??

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Steve Nash has got his work cut out devising a scheme that will hide some of Brooklyn’s weaker links on defense, while pushing his stronger lockdown options to the forefront.

Nolan: Listen, it’d be nice to have a plug-and-play defensive wing to augment an already incredible roster. Be it through the theatrics of a deadline trade, perhaps playing the buyout market, whatever avenue Marks deems fit. We know defense is a team effort; communication and buying into machinations can and will separate a middle-of-the-pack defense from a robust one. Still, throwing out bodies capable of disrupting the opponents’ star is never a bad thing. As of now, this team’s potential defensive inadequacies don’t scream out at me but that would probably be my primary concern.

Ajayi: My biggest concern is definitely injuries. Back even when the Nets moved to Brooklyn, injuries have always been the obstacle this franchise needed to hurdle over. It’s the reason why this franchise can’t get over the hump. If the players can avoid getting plagued with a season ending injury or just a severe injury in general the sky’s the limit for this squad.

What are your expectations for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving?

NI: I expect 25 and 25 averages. Two years ago, KD averaged 26.4 with Steph and Klay while last year in his abbreviated season, Irving averaged 27. I see no reason, other than minutes restrictions, why they can’t do the same. I also think there may be some chemistry issues early but these guys have commitments to each other.

Tom: Kevin Durant will be one of the top 2-3 MVP candidates this season and Kyrie Irving will start the All-Star game - not too far behind in the MVP conversation.

Brian: I think they’ll both be excellent. KD has looked very good already and the further he’s away from the injury, the better he’ll look. He and Kyrie will be able to mesh well and I think both will finish in the top 15 in scoring.

Billy: My only question with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is health. I expect both to load manage a fair amount as the Nets ultimate goal is to make sure both are ready to go come playoff time. If the Nets stars are healthy, I fully expect them to be the players we’ve always known them to be. For Durant, that’s a player competing to be the best player in basketball, for Irving, that’s a return to top-10 status and being the most creative ball-handler in the league – one that’s capable of doing anything on the offensive end.

Chris: I do expect both Nets stars to rest often (or at least run on a feasible minutes restrictions). Although I expect both to have great seasons. As I mentioned earlier, I expect KD to be heavily mentioned in the MVP conversation and average 26+ points. As for Irving, I have him in a similar PPG range (21-25). Overall, both will certainly be Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Matt: *In my best Nets player voice* They’re going to look like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. How was that for a spot-on impression?

(I’ll answer the question seriously now.)

HOT TAKE ALERT: Kyrie Irving will average more points than his bestie KD on the season. Durant, meanwhile, will pick up the slack as Brooklyn’s all-around option, especially on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, I actually think KD will be key to building something beyond just a league-average defense. Because of his size, quickness, and versatility as a multi-positional defender––and Band-Aid to Brooklyn’s problems, if I may––I bet Durant dictates how high their ceiling goes as a defensive unit.

Nolan: Greatness. What else? I expect them to be Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, essentially. To lead this new era of Nets basketball to the promised land and do what could not be done in the first few years of this millennium. I expect to win. No need to mince words.

I was always a firm believer in KD still being, you know, KD and these opening preseason games have justified that stance. Irving, a mismatch at all times, I expect will emerge (or re-emerge, depending on your view) as a top-10 player and deadly second option, first on some nights, infuriating opposing coaching staffs.

Ajayi: My expectations for Kevin Durant is to just get back into his rhythm by averaging more than 20 PPG this season while also showing off his improved defensive ability. As for Kyrie Irving, my expectation for him is to be more the on court leader for this team. He has the talent and most definitely has the personality. Once he does this, he’ll help amplify the potential of this team.

Give a bold prediction on the Nets and/or a player on this team.

NI: Reggie Perry will get minutes particularly later in the season and leave a lot of people scratching their heads as to how he lasted until No. 57. I also think Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot could surprise.

Tom: The Nets will be HAPPY they didn’t trade for Harden after Caris LeVert wins the 6th Man of the Year award.

Brian: Hmm, a bold prediction for the team? I’ll say they win the Atlantic Division. As for a player? I’ll say Durant finishes top 5 in the MVP voting.

Billy: I’m not sure that you could characterize this as bold, but I predict three to five of the players currently on the team won’t be on the team come playoff time. Whether it’s through buyout acquisitions, trades at the margin, or the big one – a trade for James Harden – the Nets will look a bit different by the time the title journey really begins.

Chris: Well … I got a couple. I’ll explain two of them. First, I will go with Caris LeVert winning the 6th Man of the Year Award. Second, I do believe the Nets will make a trade as the deadline inches closer. I think it will not be a big one or a trade that shakes the league. I believe Sean Marks will look to acquire a key role player or a veteran with postseason experience.

Matt: The Nets make a trade at some point during the season. I don’t know who is involved in the deal. I don’t know who Marks targets. But Brooklyn’s roster, as currently constructed, feels like it’s a ball-handler one too many. And the big wing depth, shoot… the less said, the better. I’m of the mind that Brooklyn’s transactional croupier from down unda’ does a little bit of wheelin’ and dealin’ to shore up that position.

Nolan: I got something for you, I’ll throw it out there: Kevin Durant makes an All-Defensive Team, and I’m not talking about the second one either. He even garners some DPOY consideration. His defensive prowess, over the years, still seems almost underappreciated. Roaming around the court with his length, playing centerfield, or eyeing the ball like a safety a la Ed Reed, is going to be amazing to witness this season.

And if two preseason games have told us anything, shut up about sample size I know, he’s a problem on that end of the floor as well.

Ajayi: I predict Jarrett Allen will make a surprise jump this season in his game. Not only that, but other bigs on opposing teams will struggle against the former Texas Longhorn. People forget he’s still only 22 years old. He was never a horrible defender and for every season he has played, he’s improved. I see him shooting more outside shots this year which will really help in him reaching the next level in his game.

Final record prediction and postseason outcome.

NI: I’m a fan. I’m not going to step outside that role. I want them to win 50 games and the chip. I think it’s entirely possible. I’ve been dead wrong before (62 wins in 2013-14) and dead-on right (42 wins in 2018-19).

Tom: I’m predicting 50-22, and the Nets will win the NBA Finals in 6 games over the Clippers.

Brian: Record - 50-22. Postseason outcome - loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Billy: It’s hard to give a win total prediction in an unprecedented COVID-shortened season, especially considering it’s likely KD and Kyrie will load manage some – an unspecified amount. However, I think Brooklyn ultimately winds up in the mid to upper 40s for regular-season wins, finishing second in the Eastern Conference. With two former champions leading the way, the playoffs are going to be where the Nets are most dangerous. With Giannis Antetokounmpo’s history of playoff struggles, I believe the Nets are the favorites to come out of the East. However, as of now, I believe the Nets – in their first season with this coach and core – are a bit short to ultimately knock off the Lakers. As the rosters currently stand, my prediction is Lakers vs Nets in the NBA Finals.

Chris: I can not stress this enough. This NBA season will be filled with unexpected challenges and road bumps throughout the season. Some of which can have a drastic impact on their final record.

If I had to pick a final record, I would go with 49-23. As for the postseason, I predict the Nets to make the NBA Finals but do not make it past the Los Angeles Lakers to bring home the chip. Hey, I’m very optimistic but the Lakers look really good.

Matt: A quick aside, having to do math to figure out the equivalent of a 51-win season in this condensed 72-game schedule was not easy. So I’d like a round of applause for that.

Record-wise, I’m thinking something along the likes of 45 wins. So 45-27, I guess. I expect the Nets to actually be a pretty prolific regular season team, just because of how potent that offense should be on a night-to-night basis. In general, I find offense to matter a lot more than defense during the 82-(or 72-)game grind, and I think that greatly behooves the Nets.

As for the postseason, well, I’m not shying away from the heat. (Or HEAT, I should say). I have the Nets reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since the 2003 season, beating out Miami in the ECF in six games (matchups will be huge in the postseason, per usual, but I find there to be proof of concept with this Heat squad in the playoffs).

In my fictitious world, Brooklyn’s magical run stops there. In 6 hard-fought games, the Brooklyn Nets fall short against the Los Angeles Lakers, who are, well, just really freaking ridiculously talented. The Nets, without an option to slow down Anthony Davis (much less LeBron James), just can’t match the size, speed, and toughness of the Lakers, and Brooklyn is forced to retool once again for the 2021-2022 season, maybe finally landing that proverbial third-star.

Sorry Nets fans.

Nolan: So much can transpire throughout an NBA season, who knows what happ—okay enough additional context to try and worm my way out of a tough question … 51-21 and a trip to the NBA Finals against the Lakers. From there, your guess is as good as mine.

Ajayi: Final record - 52-20

Postseason prediction - After struggling to maintain a healthy roster for the regular season, I see the Nets still notching a high seed for the playoffs. Entering the postseason, I picture them being fully healthy and giving any team in the East a run for their money. As a result, they’ll make a Finals appearance and take on any team coming out the West in 6 or 7 games. The winner is something that I can’t predict at this time. At that moment, it will depend on which team is more rested and healthier.

***

Have at it, all and while you’re thinking about it, here’s some other analysis, from beat writers and pundits around the NBA. There will be more Tuesday.