With the NFL gearing up to sing its swan song this evening, the ever-bright national sports spotlight will soon move solely onto basketball. For the Brooklyn Nets, most evidence suggests they should duck out under the curtain rather than assume center stage once this shift occurs.
After all, Brooklyn’s been a punchline for “mid” jokes almost all season. But in all honestly, they’ve been worse than that, stumbling into the weekend with a 20-31 record and outside the play-in threshold.
But last night, Brooklyn’s rag-tag group of performers put on a Broadway-level act. The Nets proved that the baguette is not mightier than the bagel, taking down Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs en route to a much-needed home victory.
As Brooklyn rolled to a 123-108 finish, here’s what we learned.
Fans are Going to Love Schröder
With Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Seth Curry, and Goran Dragic coming to mind, the Nets have recently experienced an abundance of mid-season, veteran, role-player debuts. After coming over from the Toronto Raptors, Dennis the Menace may have topped all of them last night.
Getting downhill, making plays, and just showing some aggressiveness at the offensive end — it didn’t take long at all for Schröder to give the Nets what Spencer Dinwiddie would not almost all season.
By filling such a visible hole, the German-born (from Braunschweig to Brooklyn!) guard will find skyrocketing appreciation here. When you’re starving, you’re going to look at the person who gives you a hot bowl of soup like your best friend in the world, and that’s essentially what I see unfolding here.
The journeyman point guard logged 27 minutes off the bench, yesterday adding 15 points while shooting 6-1of-3 from the field and 3-of-5 from downtown. He also dished out 12 assists, the fourth ever in a Nets debut and double his season average. You’ve likely watched one of them on a loop 30 times this morning. Why not do so again?
Dennis Schröder's 10th assist of the night is his best, a perfect lob to Claxton with 0.4 on the game-clock! pic.twitter.com/40Mao45KyS— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) February 11, 2024
It helps that Schröder gave Brooklyn this production right from the jump. Understandably, the Nets do not a have patient fanbase right now, so Schröder kicking down the door had to please them. Him shouting them out after the game and on Twitter was icing on the cake — appealing to the fans in the building and those just following online.
Dennis Schröder: Amazing fans. Shoutout to them. pic.twitter.com/xHXKCeFwao— YES Network (@YESNetwork) February 11, 2024
Stale as they are, it’s been a banner year for “Nets have no fans” jokes, so Schröder giving them some love had to feel good. With Schröder also now playing on his seventh team in 11 years, fifth team in three years, it’s fair to say the NBA world hasn’t been too kind to him either lately.
Strangely enough, he and the Nets seem to need each other more than anyone initially realized. They have all the makings of an odd couple, but a successful one nonetheless.
Nic Claxton Loves All Kinds of Challenges
Nic Claxton reminded us of his fearlessness yet again last night. A veteran of this league should never let a 20-year-old rookie intimidate them, but as we all know, Victor Wembanyama is more than that.
As the NBA’s prince who was promised, the versatile big man already resembles one of the game’s most exciting and well-known figures. Naturally, Claxton went at him as if he were just some kid off the block.
Clax finished with a casual 20-point, 11-rebound, two-block, and one-steal stat line, compiling much of it directly against the No. 1 overall pick. The pick-and-roll with his and Schröder’s speed also looked deadly at times.
Claxton’s spoken to us before about how opportunities to play against any of the league’s consensus top centers motivate him. With an excess of hype from all across the globe following Wemby’s every step this year, yesterday’s affair was one Clax surely had circled on his calendar.
We’ve seen Claxton battle more traditional bigs before, but this was his first test in some time against another lean, versatile center such as himself. Although Wembanyama experienced a heater in the third that was something to behold, Claxton more than held up against him.
Jacque Vaughn Has More Homework
Schröder wasn’t the only Net looking to find his bearings out with the team last night. Lonnie Walker IV played for the first time in five days after tweaking his hamstring. Dorian Finney-Smith also suited up for the first time in exactly two weeks. Then there’s Jalen Wilson, who played significant minutes with the Nets shorthanded earlier this week, but now seems likely to stay on as a full-time cast member after logging 30 last night.
Brooklyn coasting to a win left Vaughn with some room to experiment with all these new tools. But going forward with many contests against non-lottery teams, tightening things up will be crucial to sustained success than any experiment ... if you’re still looking at the post-season as your goal. (The Nets, it should be noted, are one of only five teams to make the post-season five years in a row.)
Walker IV only played six minutes, missing his only shot attempt of the night. With him being an ex-Spur, literally everyone in the Barclays Center last night knew he’s capable of much more than that. Finney-Smith started and played 20 minutes, but never really looked right, grabbing three points and three rebounds on 1-4 shooting.
There were always going to be a lot of rusty cogs in this machine for Brooklyn given their roster construction. But it’s also now February, a point in the season where you’d expect the team to have things figured out. It’s not all Vaughn’s fault with him having zero control over injuries and trades, but at the end of the day, it’s a coach’s job to get the best out of his players. There lies something to improve upon in what was all-in-all a positive night for Brooklyn.