Ho Hum. The Nets are not just the betting favorite for the NBA championship. They’re also the power rankers’ choice. With Draft and Summer League done, and according to Sean Marks, free agency is 90 percent done ... or so he says.
All that said, the Nets are the unanimous choice in recent Power Rankings, from the local tabloids to NBA.com to SI and ESPN.
The Nets’ offense is so ridiculous that they can win a championship without improving much on the other end of the floor. They did see the second biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions from the regular season (113.1, 22nd) to the playoffs (109.3, fourth). But more focus and consistency on that end of the floor can lead to more comfortable wins, which can keep the Brooklyn stars fresher for the postseason. Only two teams had more games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Nets (40) last season, and 17 of those 40 came against the 14 teams that finished the season with losing records. Reducing the minutes-per-game averages of Harden (36.6), Irving (34.9) and Durant (33.1) would be nice.
Swapping Green for Johnson and keeping DeAndre Jordan at the bottom of the big-man depth chart should help the defense. A full season of Nicolas Claxton (first in blocks per 36 minutes and fifth in fouls per 36 in the playoffs) would ease the load on Blake Griffin.
The stars will carry them in May and June. But the supporting cast and the defense are critical to getting the stars there will a full tank of gas.
If the Nets’ offseason priority was to simply get healthy, that might’ve been enough to be next season’s Eastern favorite. But with impact additions Patty Mills and James Johnson, Blake Griffin’s re-signing, plus Kevin Durant’s recommitment to their future, the Nets might have had the best offseason in the conference.
Not to rain on Milwaukee’s parade, but in a very plausible alternate universe—one where Kevin Durant wears smaller sneakers—we’re entering the 2021–22 season pondering the potential of a Nets dynasty. Durant has a strong case as the best player alive. We should see a better James Harden in his first full season in Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving is an elite point guard when healthy, and general manager Sean Marks has done an impressive job filling the margins of Brooklyn’s roster with quality contributors. Good health is never a guarantee, though from a talent standpoint, it’s hard to pick anyone but the Nets to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy next summer.
The rich get richer, indeed. The biggest name Brooklyn brought in this offseason is veteran guard Patty Mills, who should fit in perfectly off the bench and as a spot-starter when inevitable injury issues arise. They also added solid, versatile veterans and a couple of promising rookies to fill out their bench while re-signing the resurgent Blake Griffin. With Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving having a year of experience under their belt, the Nets are the unquestioned favorite heading into next season.
They have the arguably the best player in the game — Kevin Durant — and easily the league’s best Big-3 (Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving). Even without two of them, they fell a big toe short of defeating the champions. But this is combustible. Durant’s health and Irving’s focus can send the season in the wrong direction.
They were the favorite going into free agency and got incrementally better. Sure, Jeff Green leaving for a well-deserved raise hurts, but keeping Blake Griffin softens the blow. Besides, it was injuries to Harden and Irving that cost them a title, and incoming Patty Mills provides a perfect backup and championship-proven supporting piece. Adding cheap defensive help on the perimeter just makes the Nets an even bigger favorite.
It doesn’t quite end there. The Nets are getting uniformly high grades for their off-season, from pundits, like from Michael Pina of Sports Illustrated who gave the Nets an A+.
Locking Kevin Durant up through 2026 is quite possibly the single most important agreement this organization has ever made with a player, yet given everything that’s already been mentioned it somehow feels like little more than a cherry on top.
Of course, they haven’t done anything yet. Training camp is five weeks away, Opening Night three weeks after that. Then we’ll see how right — or not —the pundits are.