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‘No easy buckets’ could be the theme of the 2021-2022 Nets

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After setting countless offensive records a season ago, the Nets could be undergoing a defensive makeover.

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Nets finished 22nd in defensive rating in the 2020-2021 NBA season. That rating ballooned in the postseason all the way to 4th of the 16 playoff teams; but still, it’d be foolish to call last year’s Nets squad a group of defensive-minded grinders.

That could change this upcoming season.

The Nets got busy this off-season, snagging defensive guard Jevon Carter during a draft day trade that sent Landry Shamet to Phoenix while revamping the bench with the likes of James Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry, both of whom provide some intensity as multi-positional deterrents.

“I don’t think it’s going to be any easy buckets, I’ll tell you that,” said a smiling Bruce Brown about Brooklyn’s moves this summer.

On paper, each of Brooklyn’s seek-and-destroy defenders can fill a different role, at least on paper. Jevon Carter and Bruce Brown are your prototypical point-of-attack defensive guards who can make life tough for opposing ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll.

DeAndre’ Bembry is more of a roaming NFL free safety-like threat, filling passing lanes before recovering out to corner shooters with his speed and athleticism. James Johnson is a tough-as-nails big-bodied forward who can moonlight at center in switchy small-ball units. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s the resident tough guy, complete with a black belt in karate.)

While each player can and probably will wear different hats for the Nets, all of them share a rugged mentality that should help them excel as individual defenders.

“Defense is very personal. I just feel like that’s a must,” explained Carter. “You gonna have games where you’re scoring or not scoring but it’s like, you shouldn’t have a game where you’re just bad defensively. Like that should never happen.”

When Carter says that taking plays off defensively should “never happen,” he literally means it. Brown shared a story about how he and his new teammate went head-to-head in pre-draft workouts. That was when Brown became aware of Carter’s dogged mentality.

“We actually had a few draft workouts together and he was picking me up 94 feet up in the draft workouts, which was nuts,” laughed Brown.

Carter went into detail about what makes a great defender — a description that most of Brooklyn’s latest acquisitions can relate to — explaining that ability, but more importantly, “heart” plays a crucial role into constricting opposing offenses.

“Well, you’ve gotta have the ability. You’ve gotta have what you need in order to stop the guy in front of you,” said Carter. “Beyond that, it’s really just heart. Just heart and effort. Just having that feel or having that grit of wanting to stop somebody every time. You’re not gonna do it every time but the more you have that feeling that you’re gonna stop them, you want to stop them, and you’re doing everything you can to stop them, you’re probably going to come out on top more times than not.”

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game One Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Bruce Brown’s free agency: “(I) didn’t want to go anywhere else”

The end of Bruce Brown’s free agency was a surprise. Experts, including The Athletic’s John Hollinger, projected that the 24-year-old could get as high as $15 million annually. When Brown chose to re-up with the Nets for the bargain bin price of $4.6 million (his qualifying offer), well, it opened the door for ample speculation about what happened in his free agency period.

“When free agency started I was actually on the flight back to New York,” said Brown. “I didn’t really talk to anybody until I landed. I’m just happy to be back. I mean, it’s a great fit... I think the best option for me was to take the qualifying offer and run it back.”

One could imagine all that the free agency speculation could be a bit of a distraction for an NBA player preparing for the upcoming season. Yet for Brown, that was not the case.

“I really didn’t pay it any mind,” said Brown about the glitz that is free agency. “I thought everything would just take care of itself. I was really just working out the whole time.”

What’s he working on, you may ask?

“Shooting. Really just shooting.”

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

DeAndre’ Bembry, unsure of his offensive role but ready to compete

When DeAndre’ Bembry first signed with the Nets, many speculated how he would fit in. His role as a defender was obvious, but slotting Bembry into a lineup stuffed with star power immediately became an interesting thought exercise.

Brooklyn had already gotten creative with non-shooters like Bembry, who shot just 26.4 percent with the Raptors, in the past with unique roles. Brown’s successful experiment as a small-ball center comes to mind in this regard, and with Bembry’s unheralded passing (15.1 percent assist percentage, 85th percentile per Cleaning the Glass) and rim finishing (73 percent per CTG), the Nets should have plenty to work with. One could see Bembry excelling while making plays in the short roll in the same vein as Brown, or he could fill space along the baseline as a cutter and flash his athleticism.

Bembry hasn’t thought that far ahead, but he’s more than aware of what he brings to the table.

“I can play off the ball, I have no problem with that,” said Bembry. “I’m pretty good at slashing, getting to the rim, and finding areas. But it’s also my first time playing with KD and Kyrie. I gotta learn the system to be honest.”

2021 NBA Finals - Milwaukee Bucks v Phoenix Suns Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Late Monday, Keith Smith of Spotrac revealed that Bembry’s contract was only partially guaranteed...

Jevon Carter on takeaways from Finals run: ‘Everything counts’

Jevon Carter was a member of the Phoenix Suns team that made a magical run to the NBA Finals. Not only was the young group from Phoenix an underdog in the Western Conference, the Suns weren’t even expected to advance past the first round! Yet thanks to coach Monty Williams’ leadership and buy-in across the roster, guys 1-through-15, the Suns blitzed their way to the NBA Finals, only to fall short thanks to an all-time performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

After such a momentous run on such a young team that grew up fast under the bright lights, Net newcomer Jevon Carter came away from the experience with knowledge of what it takes to get to the grand stage.

“Everything counts,” said Carter about what he learned from the 2021 postseason. “The little stuff throughout the year. The extra work you gotta put in. And then just everybody being on the same page and really being a unit. If one person falls short then that could collapse the whole deal. We really just gotta be on the same page in order to get where we want.”

Granted, Carter participated in the Suns historic run mostly as a spectator on the bench, recording just 22 total minutes during the 2021 postseason while stuck behind a reserve guard rotation of Cameron Payne and E’Twaun Moore. Carter mentioned on his Instagram that he “didn’t play the role I wanted too but I played my role” after the Finals, comments that he addressed during Monday’s availability.

“‘I didn’t play the role I wanted to’ meaning I wasn’t out there, I wasn’t able to help my team on the floor. I wasn’t able to be out there helping basketball-wise,” Carter said. Yet he believed he provided value in other ways. “Mentally, off the court, on the side, in huddles, in practice, I’m very vocal — I’m a vocal leader... I’m saying the same thing as the coach just in a different way. Some guys take that better, hearing it from their peers than hearing it from a coach.”