clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BUBBLE PREVIEW: Nets basketball is back at last!

New, comment

Billy Reinhardt provides a recap of the past and rundown of what to watch for with the Nets in Orlando.

After a near five month wait, 142 days to be exact, Nets basketball is back — for real this time. No more scrimmages. The team will play at least eight seeding games, then possibly a play-in tournament with the Wizards and if that goes well, the playoffs. The whole experience, of course, will be fan-free other than those who will cheer virtually from their living rooms and kitchens.

Before we move forward, let’s take a look back and remind ourselves of where the Nets were the last time we saw them.

THE STOPPAGE

On March 11, the NBA announced the suspension of play following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirius. The stoppage came at the wrong time for Brooklyn; the Nets were playing some of their best basketball of the season. Behind new coach Jacque Vaughn, the Nets pulled off an impressive road upset, taking down LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers, 104-102, behind a game-winning left-elbow jumper from Spencer Dinwiddie. It wasn’t until the Nets landed in San Francisco for a game against the Warriors that they found out they’d be heading back east — nobody knew just how long it would be. At 30-34, the Nets returned to Brooklyn — where some stayed, some returned to their home cities — to quarantine like the rest of us.

THE RETURN

Finally, on June 26th, after much deliberation, scientific study, and input from the league office, teams, as well as the NBPA, the NBA announced a plan to return. Inspired by everyone’s Twitter friend Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and SB Nation’s Celtics Blog, the NBA decided a “bubble” experience at Walt Disney World properties in Orlando was the best bet to combat the pandemic.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, on behalf of the league, said in a statement:

“We have worked together with the Players Association to establish a restart plan that prioritizes health and safety, preserves competitive fairness and provides a platform to address social justice issues. We are grateful to our longtime collaborator Disney for its role in playing host and making this return to play possible, and we also thank the public health officials and infectious disease specialists who helped guide the creation of comprehensive medical protocols and protections.”

NBPA Executive Director Michelle Roberts, on behalf of the players, added:

“It is very exciting to officially announce the restart of the 2019-2020 season. It has taken true collaboration between the League and the Union – special kudos to our Executive Committee and several other team reps – along with the continued support and assistance from medical experts, public health officials and many others. Additionally, our platform in Orlando presents a unique opportunity to extend the ongoing fight against systemic racism and police brutality in this country. We will continue to work with our players and the League to develop specific plans in Orlando as well as long-term initiatives to bring about real change on these issues.”

And the format? To make it simple from a Nets perspective, the team will have to keep the Wizards, six games back and reeling from its own issues, at bay. If the Nets, now a half game in seventh, fall into eighth and the Wizards get within four games, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern conference playoffs. The Nets would only have to win one game, the Wizards two. And if they fail, the next important date for Nets fans will be August 20, the Draft Lottery.

And the Nets’ schedule? It won’t be easy. They’ll open against their two nearest rivals, the Magic and Wizards, play two games vs. the Clippers and finish up the Blazers who have their tenuous hold on a playoff spot ... but with the kind of reinforcements the Nets could only wish for.

The Call For Justice

Aside from concern about a virus that has taken the lives of so many, there are social justice issues — mainly the Black Lives Matter movement — at the forefront of so many people’s minds.

There’s been so much discussion about the proper way to execute a league restart — even if a restart was a good idea in the first place. Finding a way to highlight and enhance the call for justice was not just a priority, but a must. Newly elected NBPA Vice President and Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving was among the most vocal leaders in all of this. According to multiple reports, Irving was a key enhancer — not disruptor — for the players’ discussions on how to best bring light to the pressing issues of the day. Following many Zoom calls, text chains, emails, and social media posts, the NBPA and NBA agreed to make certain the message of Black Lives Matter and the call for social justice would not, indeed could not, be lost to the possible “distraction” known as NBA basketball.

The NBA and its players association agreed to grace the court with “Black Lives Matter” and to include social justice messages on the back of team jerseys. The options for players included 29 phrases. All 14 Nets chose to wear one or another. (Perhaps the most moving: Jeremiah Martin chose to pair his number, “0”, with “How Many More.”)

Others chose “Equality,” “Peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Peace.” “Education Reform” as well as “Si Se Puede” (“Yes, You Can”), and “Liberte’” (“Freedom”)

“The league and the players are uniquely positioned to have a direct impact on combating systemic racism in our country, and we are committed to collective action to build a more equal and just society,” Silver said. “A shared goal of our season restart will be to use our platform in Orlando to bring attention to these important issues of social justice.”

Expect the Nets to make a statement before their game with the Magic on Friday as the Jazz, Pelicans, Lakers, and Clippers did on Thursday.

“Whatever we do, we’re going to do it as a team and make sure everybody is OK with what we do,” Garrett Temple said. “We will do something, and you all will see it when it happens.”

The four teams that played Thursday all knelt for the anthem, arms linked, many of which with their eyes closed and heads down. Expect the Nets to do something similar.

—————————————————-

Now that we’re all caught up on what happened, let’s breakdown the Nets and what we expect. It’s easy to suggest that this will be an exercise in futility. The Nets at best will face the Raptors, at worst the Bucks, in the first round of the playoffs. With so many players out, more than any of the “bubble” teams; so few players active, less than any of the “bubble” teams, what can we expect from those who’ll wear the black-and-white, knowing next year’s roster will surely be different, next year’s coach may be different and the style of play uncertain.

Caris LeVert & Jarrett Allen

Can these two pillars of the Nets rebuild prove they’re worthy and ready to take the next step with the franchise?

That’s a question on all Nets fans’ mind headed into the bubble. With next season’s possibilities at the forefront of fans’ minds — on top of a lackluster current roster, the Nets possess — LeVert and Allen’s performance in the “bubble” will be analyzed and magnified unlike before.

The Nets have some flexibility this summer. Despite being capped out without any real avenue to create cap space, Brooklyn boasts nearly all of its future draft picks — including a boatload of potential 2021 second round picks — and a roster filled with attractive young(ish) pieces on largely attractive contracts.

As a contender in waiting, Brooklyn is sure to explore every possibility this offseason in effort to improve the roster. Aside from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and probably DeAndre Jordan, no man’s roster spot is guaranteed, depending on what’s offered in return. The pressure is on LeVert and Allen to perform and help lead the young Nets in Orlando.

The early showings in scrimmages have been promising. After a mediocre first showing, LeVert rebounded to average 20 points across the three scrimmage games while Allen was his usual sturdy self, posting a 77.3 percent (17-of-22) shooting average with a double-double in every game.

Chris Chiozza & Tyler Johnson

Outside of LeVert, Allen, Joe Harris, and Garrett Temple, the rest of the roster is trying to prove themselves — to the Nets and perhaps the rest of the league.

Brooklyn is set to have a competitive, veteran laden roster in effort to contend next season. Depth should be improved, roster spots should be harder to come by. Chiozza and Johnson will be looking to show off their talents enough to garner a back end roster spots on a potential juggernaut next season.

Chiozza might have a leg up. After all, his Nets tenure goes way back to the Kenny Atkinson days. Nets fans remember Chiozza’s breakout — it came during the Nets impressive road comeback in Boston where LeVert buried the Celtics for 51 points and a win. In Boston, Chiozza gave fans a glimpse of what he can provide — energy and high IQ point guard play, capable of playing off the ball with a shooting stroke much smoother than you’d think. Quickly becoming a fan favorite, ‘Cheese’ now has a little bit to live up to — expectations. It will be interesting to see if he can carry over his small sample size of pleasant play pre-stoppage to the bubble in Orlando.

Johnson’s story is intriguing and he’s perhaps the Net I’m most excited to watch during the Disney experience.

After a injury riddled tenure in Phoenix, the former Heat guard finds himself fighting for his NBA livelihood. Johnson has been impressive thus far with the Nets, getting praise from his coaches and teammates for his versatility and overall feel of the game, what some call BBIQ, basketball I.Q.

“His play has been pretty good for us.” Jacque Vaughn said. “He gives you someone who’s pretty steady out there on the floor and has the ability to get to the rim, break down the defense, play with the basketball in his hands, and be a recipient of the basketball.”

Operating as a scorer off the bench, providing defense and toughness — Johnson’s starting to look like the player that he was in Miami. The one that earned the big offer sheet with the Nets just four years ago.

The Nets just need to keep him healthy now and on the floor because the skill-set Johnson brings is valuable. A combo guard, capable of playing on or off the ball. He can play pick-and-roll, initiate offense, and score from all three levels of the floor.

He’s Brooklyn’s latest reclamation piece and the early returns look promising. And keep in mind, he’s only 28.

Rodions Kurucs

After an sophomore campaign of inconsistent play and inconsistent playing time, Kurucs is off to a strong start in the “bubble.”

Across three scrimmages, the Latvian forward shot a scorching hot 8-of-12 from downtown playing as the Nets — wait for it — backup stretch... 5!

Kurucs has been looking like a sniper in his limited opportunities this season. In 39 games before the league’s suspension, Kurucs shot 39 percent from behind the arc. If the shooting is for real, on top of everything else Kurucs brings, he can be a very valuable player for Brooklyn — both in the “bubble” and beyond.

In the three scrimmages, Kurucs averaged 22 minutes where he put up 13.3 points and 5 rebounds on 58.3 percent shooting. A pleasant surprise thus far; he needs to keep it up.

Jamal Crawford

A 20-year NBA veteran on a squad of young’uns, Crawford is ready to prove he still belongs.

With so many moving parts and a roster not only depleted of talent, but experience, the Nets pulled the trigger on the 40-year-old, bringing in one of the NBA’s best sixth men of all-time.

Crawford famously dropped 51 points at 39 years old in his final NBA game of the 2018-2019 season, yet remained unsigned for the entirety of this season pre-bubble. While Crawford’s efficiency and defensive ability may have waned a bit with age, he’s still a microwave scorer capable of exploding on any given night. He’s also quite possibly the most liked player in the NBA.

For an unprecedented “bubble” experience with a young group, the latter is perhaps even more important to the Nets right now. Crawford can hold the group together while giving adequate production when given the opportunity.

“I just want to enjoy the moment,” he told Howard Beck’s “Full 48” podcast last week. “Whatever it calls for, I don’t want to come in with an agenda and say I’m going to score 40 every night and I don’t want to come in just do the leadership thing either. I want to do whatever is called upon, whatever’s needed in these next however many months we’re together.”

Still, here’s an interesting nugget. Crawford has also said that KD and Kyrie are among his best friends in the league. He even has been doing “bubble” segments for Durant’s “The Boardroom” in Orlando. Young teams and championship teams alike need veteran stabilizers in the locker room. Crawford’s value there is apparent. Now he just has to prove he still has it on the court to stick in the league — with the Nets or someone else next season. We like his chances.

After over a year off from NBA basketball, “JCrossover” is still getting his conditioning down and is listed as “doubtful” for the Nets opener, but expect him to get into the mix as soon as possible.

Jacque Vaughn

While Vaughn won’t be judged on wins and losses with a depleted group, according to Sean Marks, the way he empowers his players, makes in-game decisions as well as scheme adjustments will be something to watch. The NBA shut down shortly after Atkinson’s dismissal. So we haven’t seen a ton of Vaughn as head man with the Nets. Ultimately, a coaching decision will have to pass through the Nets stars —and Joe Tsai, but strong performance from Vaughn in Orlando could further ingratiate himself with the Nets organization. He has a better chance to stick around than many believe.

Sit Back & Relax

For as much analyzing as we could do watching these games, try and sit back and relax. We at NetsDaily so appreciate the level of engagement we’ve had during the shutdown. We understand some of the hardships that many of you had to deal with and we couldn’t be more grateful for your support. Take a deep breath. We made it. Over four long months, but Nets basketball is back. Enjoy it, Nets fans.