After the draft and the surprising trade they made with the Los Angeles Lakers, let’s examine the Brooklyn Nets future heading into the 2018 season.Things have been real bleak for the Brooklyn Nets the last three seasons.
(They finished a league-worst 20-62 in 2017.)
The thought process going into the season the past few years for fans and the media was clear that the Nets were gonna be a non-factor.
Well, it looks like the franchise is trying to create a youth movement within the fabric of their team. Case in point in last week’s draft day trade where the Nets sent all-star caliber center Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the draft to the Los Angeles Lakers for Timofey Mozgov and his egregious 4-year, $64 million contract the Lakers gave to him last offseason, along with the 2015 No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.
Yes, the Nets traded away a big man that put up a 20 ppg and 5 rpg averages last season and has been the focal point offensively for almost his entire nine-year career with the Nets. Lopez proved to be one of the best and most productive players in Nets history and he served New Jersey and the city of Brooklyn well throughout his career, but a change was needed for the franchise moving forward.
The Nets gain a young, two-year player in D’Angelo Russell who the Lakers might have given up on too early and who could possibly turn into a star that the Nets have been craving for since Deron William was traded from Utah in 2011, while still in his prime.
Russell (15.6 ppg, 4 apg, 3.5 rpg, 40 FG%, 35 3P% last season), who has been labeled as an “disappointment” and “immature” in his first two seasons in L.A. (I don’t concur with that criticism of Russell) yet has a chance for a fresh start in Brooklyn, without being under the heavy weight and expectations of playing for the Lakers.
Since the Nets take a backseat in New York to the Knicks in the headlines anyway, D-Lo has a chance to operate under-the-radar and be the centerpiece for a team that desperately needs it.
The 21-year-old point guard has proven to be a pretty good passer (that could be even greater with his excellent vision), owns a strong feel for the game, is savvy and crafty on the offensive end, and is a really effective three-point shooter (he made 135 3’s in 2017).
His size for a point guard at 6’5″ is a plus, as he started to utilize it more by posting up on the low block last season. Another key component to his game that will fit in well with Brooklyn is that Russell is a capable and improving pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop player — which the NBA is all about these days — and he can play both guard spots.
With all the three-point shooting going on and teams using more of the court by spreading players out and spacing the floor, Russell should be able to thrive in that type of offense because of the angles he’s able to make passes in by kicking out to guys on the wings or in corners.
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The issue with his assist numbers being so low with the Lakers (only averaged four a game last season) goes back to him not having the ball in his hands enough (due to players like Nick Young, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Tyler Ennis being the ball-handlers at times) and the paint area being clogged with big men too often in his first two seasons — mainly because of the lack of outside shooting from the center and power forward position that teams had no respect for.
If the big men for the Lakers were threats outside, that could have opened up more assist opportunities for Russell dishing to not only the bigs but to wing players who can stroke it from the outside.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson system is predicated on player off ball action and an emphasis on being aggressive towards the basket, which will allow Russell to get to the rim more (he’s only averaged 2.6 free throw attempts per game in first his two seasons), spot up and knockdown outside shots, and create more open three-point looks for his perimeter teammates.
Problem is, Brooklyn doesn’t shoot the three-ball particular well. They ranked 26th in the league in three-point shooting last season at 33% and they lack quality shooters.
What Brooklyn lacks in their perimeter players is outside shooting but the strength in guys like Caris Levert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Sean Kilpatrick and Isaiah Whitehead lies in their solid athleticism, youth and ability to play multiple positions.
Drafting Texas center Jarrett Allen in the first round can be a nice boost to the young core as well, as they get a solid inside presence.
While the Nets have a very long time until their relevant and contending, their organization is trying its hardest to build a team full of young players that can turn into a competent, respected team in the long run…and trading for a player that I think can turn into star in D’Angelo Russell, just might have jump-started that process.
Maybe the lingering affects and stink of that notorious 2013 Nets-Celtics trade are starting to finally rub off.