If ever there was an appropriate time to acknowledge the Nets’ “Next Man Up” mantra, this is it. With a makeshift roster assembled in the span of a few weeks, expectations for the “Bubble Nets” weren’t exactly astronomical—if even existent, at all. Yet here we are, a team that didn’t have the luxury of continuity, commanded by an interim head coach, is running through teams either fighting for their playoff lives or favorable seeding (rest or no rest, that’s impressive).
You see, the Nets have adopted this mentality that they can compete with anyone—and I do mean anyone, shout out to title favorites Milwaukee and Los Angeles. They’re a cohesive unit; you can visibly tell that they enjoy each other’s company, which has transitioned to the hardwood seamlessly.
“We were supposed to go 0-8 or whatever it was. We come to work each and every game and take pride in what we do. We go out there and make winning plays,” said Caris LeVert after that last game vs. Portland.
That togetherness has been embodied through their guard play. With every passing game, another Nets guard impresses. Next Man Up.
Jeremiah Martin, a little-known two-way player who spent his 2019-20 season in the G League with Sioux Falls and eventually Long Island, came up with a 24-point, six-assist (both career highs) performance against the Orlando Magic. He surpassed his previous career-high of 20 points...set a mere six nights prior. In the “bubble,” if you take away the two games where he played minimal minutes, Martin averaged 10.3 points per game in his 14.1 minutes of action per night, but his calling card could easily be on the other end of the floor. Defensively, he’s a hound, he gets at it, he plays with an infectious passion that likely resonates with the coaching staff and his teammates. It also gets under the skin of the opposition, just ask Wes Iwundu.
It’s not far-fetched to say Martin is playing with a chip on his shoulder, something to prove. He understands the circumstances, what people were saying about the Nets entering Orlando, but he—and the rest of his teammates—are ready to prove the doubters wrong.
“Everybody was laughing at us saying like the Nets were gonna look like this and seeing things all over the internet saying that we weren’t gonna do this,” said Martin. “So we just take that every day, every practice, keeping that chip on our shoulder, proving everybody wrong and showing everybody who we are.”
After an interregnum of 143 days, fellow two-way player, Chris Chiozza, retook his throne as Nets fans favorite pass-first guard on July 31—the first regular-season game played for Brooklyn since the fateful night at Staples Center on March 10. Though he’s struggled with consistency from the field (he’s shooting 36.6 percent from the field in the “bubble”), Chiozza knows what his role is, which is to find his teammates in rhythm with high-quality passes. And yeah, he’s quite adept at his craft—to the tune of 5.6 assists per game (assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7:1).
Chiozza initially started games for Jacque Vaughn’s squad when play resumed, but now he’s been relegated to a bench role as the Nets coach has gone with a big line-up to open things up. However, with less than 300 minutes worth of NBA experience before the Nets traveled down to Disney World, his new-found role suits where he currently resides in his maturation process. In fact, with Chiozza and Tyler Johnson coming off the bench as a one-two punch in the backcourt— Vaughn has something intriguing to work with.
In the 75 minutes, Chiozza and Johnson have played together, the Nets had a net rating of +21 (per NBA Stats); they push the pace, and the two-man combo has the Nets’ highest effective field goal percentage (58.1 percent) of any tandem that has played more than 72 minutes together.
“I think it’s a great combination; two guards that can pass and shoot pretty well,” said Chiozza. “He’s a smart player so it’s easy to play with him. He knows how to move when I’ve got the ball and I feel like we get each other a lot of open shots.”
Speaking of Tyler Johnson, Sean Marks finally got his guy (and as of late, the correct iteration of what he envisioned TJ to be all those years ago). After offering Johnson a four-year, $50 million contract back in the summer of 2016, just to see Pat Riley and the Miami Heat match, Marks finally got Johnson to don the black-and-white. And after a rocky start in the “bubble,” TJ is now averaging 16.3 points and 2.5 assists on 53.5/53.1/100.0 splits in his last four contests—with just a single turnover.
They haven’t been the only point guards to impress, either. Caris LeVert, who has started multiple games for Vaughn at the point, is shining in his role as a creator for himself, and others. His 20.3 drives per game in the “bubble” ranks fourth in the league, but no one has been more efficient in scoring off of drives at his volume (60.3 percent shooting). Likewise, his 2.8:1 assist to turnover ratio on drives has been notable as well.
He’s currently averaging 25.0 points and 6.7 assists per game on 47.5 percent shooting in the bubble with highs of 37 points vs. Portland and 13 assists vs. the Clippers.
High-usage, green-light Caris LeVert has impressed (nothing new here). Now how the Nets choose to utilize him next season, be it among the starters and two high-usage profiles or perhaps off the bench with someone like Spencer Dinwiddie—yet another Brooklyn point guard—is still up for discussion.
Sean Marks has depth at the point guard position. He has alluring trade assets at the point guard position, which means, yeah, as much as each player has impressed and compiled their own respective cases for minutes, Marks has tough decisions to make at, guess what, the point guard position moving forward. For the record, LeVert starts his three-year, $52.5 million deal next season, Chiozza is a restricted free agent, Martin in on the second year of a two-year two-way deal and Johnson is an unrestricted free agent with Non-Bird rights.
However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing—in fact, quite the contrary, this is a problem most executives around the NBA would love to have. Now, or in the off-season.