Elite Sports NY's Brooklyn Nets Season Preview: The Rebuild Begins
Noah K. Murray, USATSI

As the 2016-17 season approaches, the Brooklyn Nets have very low expectations despite a solid offseason and staff overhaul.

Last season was one to forget for the Brooklyn Nets and their fanbase. Finishing at a meager 21-61 gave them the third-worst record in the NBA, with only the Lakers and Sixers finishing worse than them. In most cases, teams tanking like that is rewarded with a high draft pick, but not this year.

The Celtics were the recipients of Brooklyn’s third overall pick and used it on Jaylen Brown, a 6’7 small forward from Cal, a hyper-athletic small forward with boundless potential.

A much improved Eastern Conference played a big part in their miserable season, as the Nets walked away with 12 victories in 52 matchups against their conference foes. The lack of firepower didn’t help, either, and Brooklyn brought water pistols to gun fights on gameday.

Looking ahead to 2016-17, it’s safe to say the Nets won’t be a playoff team–or a team that’ll crack the top ten in the standings–but an improved record would be a step in the right direction. Vegas has them projected to win 20.5 games this year, so winning somewhere between 25-28 games would shatter expectations.

It all started with Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, who have vehemently preached that their team won’t be judged on their win-loss record, but on how much progress they’re making throughout the year.

Furthermore, Marks and Brooklyn had a respectable offseason. Jeremy Lin earned a three-year, $36 million deal, and the Nets now have a proven leader who can make plays and will compete at a high level. Lin is a tremendous upgrade from Shane Larkin, Jarrett Jack, and Donald Sloan, all of whom split time at the one.

Then, of course, there’s Brook Lopez who has been consistent over the last couple of campaigns and will remain consistent this forthcoming year. Already a handful to defend on the block, Lopez has been extending his range in the preseason attempting to add a new dynamic to the Nets’ offense. The seven-footer has already shot six through three games after only attempting 14 in 73 contests last year.

[graphiq id=”cxpjxiILPPT” title=”Brook Lopez ” width=”600″ height=”547″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/cxpjxiILPPT” link=”http://basketball-players.pointafter.com/l/484/Brook-Lopez” link_text=”Brook Lopez | PointAfter” ]

The young guys will all their untapped potential is where the optimism is drawn.

Last season, then-rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed flashes of a promising career before needing ankle surgery, especially as a perimeter defender. With a tremendous motor, great physical attributes, and athleticism, RHJ can develop into an All-NBA defender and be the heart of Brooklyn’s defense.

However, his offense needs work. A lot of it. There are still a ton of struggles from long-range, and around the basket, but the Nets don’t need him to produce on that end of the floor just yet.

Bojan Bogdanovic, who’s coming off a killer run in the Olympics, and Sean Kilpatrick will provide much of the Nets’ wing scoring this year. Both shot above 36 percent from three last year and combined for 25 points a night. Both guys will see more shots from outside as coach Atkinson looks to implement a pass-heavy system, but they also convert a high percentage of their layups and sprinkle in some mid-range shots.

It’s no question that those guys are going to carry the team offensively, and the good that they bring outweighs the bad, but that remains to be seen for the rest of the roster.

This summer saw the signings of Luis Scola, Trevor Booker, Randy Foye, and Greivis Vasquez, four guys who have turned in decent pro careers but slipped last year.

Booker was the best signing of the four because of his youth, and ability to rebound and defend. At 28, Booker has just six years of experience but has done a fantastic job of protecting the rim for his former teams. Last year, in 79 games with the Utah Jazz, opponents shot just 41.3 percent when guarded by Booker, according to NBA.com.

Brooklyn will rely on him heavily to help protect the paint, and even more heavily on the glass.

It was difficult for him to crack the starting lineup in Salt Lake City, but Booker consistently saw 20 minutes of action per night and averaged a very impressive 5.7 rebounds. Brooklyn has had their issues with rebounding and defending over the past couple of seasons, and Thaddeus Young, their leading rebounder last year, was traded for the pick that turned into Caris LeVert.

https://youtu.be/eteHgcvBPpM

As for Foye, Vasquez, and Scola, they’re lackluster on defense on a good night, but hopefully will be able to contribute something on offense.

Foye carved out a niche as a knockdown three-point shooter (36.9 percent for his career) but last season saw incredible struggles from deep which led to a career-low 30 percent. The other guard, Vasquez, played in just 23 games last year because of injury, and he’s had his share of struggles as well. He can, however, make plays and he’s always handed out a bunch of assists during his time on the court.

The addition of Scola is a very peculiar one, and it wouldn’t be a shock if the Nets brought him on strictly for veteran leadership purposes. He can still knock down shots if left open, but he gets closer and closer to being a total defensive liability as he gets older.

Making up the remainder of the roster are more young guys: Chris McCullough, Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, Anthony Bennett, Justin Hamilton, Joe Harris.

Any minutes left over in the rotation will be distributed appropriately amongst the six guys listed above, with McCollough, Whitehead, and LeVert being in the best positions to get them. McCollough showed flashes of his potential last season, but Whitehead and LeVert are two intriguing and explosive prospects who will be hard to ignore.

LeVert is out indefinitely because he’s recovering from foot surgery, but, upon his return, the Nets will have yet another shooter to space the floor and someone who can create their own offense.

Whitehead is expected to see some time at the point, and that’ll be interesting. He’s a wild scoring guard and a Brooklyn native, and he impressed at Seton Hall despite decision-making issues and inefficiency.

Bennett and Hamilton also have NBA experience but haven’t been able to impact the teams that they’ve played for.

Hamilton’s shooting ability is where he’ll have his biggest impact, along with former Cleveland Cavalier Joe Harris. Both of their outside shots have looked stellar, and Harris’ especially. He’s struggled since transitioning to the NBA, and through four preseason games, he’s knocked in a staggering 7/13 (53.8 percent) shots from deep.

Bennett is still in the midst of trying to revive his NBA career. He hasn’t impressed so far, but it’s only preseason, and it’ll be interesting to see how Atkinson uses him rotationally. One thing he’s done well so far is drawing fouls and shooting free throws, so maybe Atkinson will try to get out and run more with him on the court to try and get some easy buckets.

It’ll be another rough season in Brooklyn with winning 30 games being a stretch. This is the first season of the proper rebuild, and the future looks promising. Despite the mix of young guys and veterans, Brooklyn doesn’t yet have the talent to compete with the East’s top dogs, and a few years are between them and relevancy.

The evolution of the team, though, is going to be exciting, and the struggles will be overlooked as the core develop their bond and skill.

Staff Picks

Chip Murphy

The Nets return just five players from last season’s 21-win team and begin 2016-17 with a new front office, head coach, and point guard. The preseason has been what you should expect to see from the Nets this season.

A lot of losing, they’re 1-5, but impressive individual play and improvement. That’s how the season will be measured. Jeremy Lin (15.2 PTS, 5.6 AST) is in complete control of the offense and other new acquisitions Trevor Booker and Joe Harris have stood out. Particularly Harris who’s been incredible from beyond the arc knocking down 10-of-16 for 62.5 percent.

Perhaps the most notable element to come out of the Nets preseason so far is how three-point happy they are obviously going to be during the season. Last season’s squad was 27th in 3-pointers attempted with just 18.4 per game. Through six preseason games, they’ve averaged 33.6 attempts from beyond the arc. For perspective, last season’s Warriors led the league with 31.6 attempts from downtown per game.

So the Nets may be awful, but they won’t be boring.

Prediction: 27-55

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