The Brooklyn Nets record — ten wins, nine losses — isn’t much of a surprise with most fans and pundits believing the black-and-white would finish around .500.
But, as Zach Braziller of the Post writes Tuesday, the Nets have surprised in oh so many ways. Let’s go through the checklist:
- The Nets are likely to be challenged offensively. They lost KD and Kyrie after all and in the 27-game run the new guys had, the Nets were not very productive. Moreover, the Nets had lost Joe Harris, Seth Curry and Patty Mills, three of the top 3-point shooters of all-time. Could Mikal Bridges improve his play-making while keeping up his newly found offensive skills?
— Shockingly, as Braziller writes, Brooklyn is sixth in the NBA in offense.
With an explosive attack that is sixth in the league in offensive rating (117.5), second in 3-point percentage (39.0) and top 10 in turnovers committed per game (13.5), assists to turnover ratio (1.93), offensive rebounding percentage (31.0) and scoring (116.7).
Seven different Nets — surprising leading-scorer Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Lonnie Walker IV, Nic Claxton and Dorian Finney-Smith — are averaging in double figures.
- On the other hand, the Nets are likely to be a defensive juggernaut led by All-Defensive team members Ben Simmons and Mikal Bridges as well as Nic Claxton, Dennis Smith Jr., etc.
— Almost as shockingly, the Nets have been one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams.
They are 20th in the league in defensive rating (115.0), 25th in made 3-pointers allowed per game (13.8) and 27th in 3-pointers attempted by the opposition (38.4).
The wing-heavy Nets were supposed to be a strong defensive team.
One major issue has been allowing too many second-chance points — they are 27th, giving up 15.9 per game.
“That’s definitely a big problem right now,” Claxton said recently. “We have a lot of individual good defenders, but I think it just comes down to trust in our system in what we’re trying to do here, and also just taking the pride of keeping whoever you’re guarding in front of you.”
- Everyone wondered if Jacque Vaughn would have enough faith in Cam Thomas to let him ride, take over games. The consensus view, at least among fans, was that the head coach would not.
—Again, a shocker, as Braziller notes.
The season started with a 36-point scoring outburst from Cam Thomas in a loss to the Cavaliers, and the third-year shooting guard’s play hasn’t tailed off.
He is averaging 26.1 points on career-high 46.1 percent shooting from the floor in 32.2 minutes, almost double his output of a season ago.
Most impressively, Thomas missed nine games due to a sprained left ankle and didn’t lose anything, scoring 26 points in a narrow loss to the Hornets in his return.
He started the season as a spark off the bench, and joined the starting lineup when injuries struck. An argument can be made that the former first-round pick has been the biggest positive so far for the Nets.
- Not to mention that everyone thought the Nets (well, other than Sean Marks and Jacque Vaughn) would again be near the bottom of the NBA pile in rebounding. They were 29th last season following the superstar trades.
—Your Brooklyn Nets are the best rebounding team in the NBA, despite missing Claxton and Ben Simmons. Really!
They are currently tops in rebounds at 48.2 per game, third in rebound percentage in the league at 52.3% after finishing dead last in that category last season. They’re even top 10 in offensive rebounds (12.2), a 50% increase over last season (8.1.)
There have been other positives in the somewhat surprising category.
After a slow start, Mikal Bridges is proving that he can still be counted on a scoring leader (two 40+ point games in the last six) and a playmaker, according to both an eye test and his rising assist totals, going from 2.7 in the 27 games he played last year to 3.9 so far this season. His rebounding is up too, from 4.5 to 6.2.
Day’Ron Sharpe has looked increasingly comfortable in backing up Claxton who’s missed six games this year. Sharpe who started out slowly last season is doing what is being asked of him this season. His minutes are up, from 11.5 to 15.7 as are his other numbers.
- However ...One big question that’s been answered in the negative is Ben Simmons. As Braziller writes:
Simmons has appeared in just six games, injured again and not necessarily close to returning. Simmons is dealing with a lower-back impingement and is weeks away from returning after receiving an epidural injection early last week.
He did average 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists across 31.8 minutes in those games, improvements on his numbers from last year, though his offense remained a work in progress.
He has attempted only six shots per game, shooting a career-worst 52.8 percent from the field.
The Nets weren’t cohesive or productive when he was on the floor, outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions — the worst of any rotation player — and allowed a woeful 118.6 points per 100 possessions.
Will that change? It doesn’t look good at this point and the Nets have to concerned about his status. He’s being paid $37.9 million this season and $40.3 million next. Then, maybe again, he’ll surprise. It would fit with the Nets season so far.
- Explosive offense a key Nets surprise at quarter mark - Zach Braziller - New York Post