The Brooklyn Nets have an NBA title on their minds. In order to get there, a couple of questions must be answered first.
The term “roster overhaul” is a gross understatement of the Brooklyn Nets‘ summer.
Seven players from Brooklyn’s 2018-2019 fifteen-man roster entered July’s free agency. And of those seven, only one player was brought back: Theo Pinson. The remaining six spots were filled by a pair All-NBA second-teamers, some scrappy vets, and a couple of high-upside project players.
The Nets are facing a mountain of expectations next season. By circumstance, this also means a multitude of unanswered questions.
Kevin Durant – when is the “right” time to return from the Achilles rupture?
I hate to start this piece on a solemn note, but Brooklyn’s success comes down to the strength of their star player’s right leg; that ceiling will be pushed up or down by the miracles of modern medicine.
The Nets are in a tough position. Kevin Durant is only under contract for three years (with a fourth-year player option). He will lose most, if not all, of his first season due to injury. During the remaining two seasons, Brooklyn will be tasked with keeping Durant healthy, integrating him into Kenny Atkinson‘s systems, and fostering on-court chemistry between KD and his new teammates.
Oh, and competing for a title. No big deal.
Finding the ideal date for Durant’s return is no easy task. Babying his injury could hurt the long-term trajectory of the team and Brooklyn’s clock could run out. At the same time, pushing towards an early return could destroy Durant’s body. A healthy, motivated KD is worth that risk and then some. But until we reach that point, Brooklyn is standing upon one hell of a balancing board.
Author’s note – let it be known: I believe in Brooklyn’s infrastructure. I feel twice as strong about Kevin Durant’s resilience.
Kyrie Irving – can he channel his unique personality into chemistry with his new teammates?
When it comes to the product on the hardwood, you know what you’re getting from Kyrie Irving: sorcery; showmanship; brilliance.
But fair or not, his career has reached a point where many fans separate the art from the artist.
Picking apart Mr. Irving’s off-court transgressions is, at this point, low-hanging fruit. After last year’s season from hell in Boston, Kyrie is the league’s biggest enigma. Whether he is deserving of the clamor or has merely become a scapegoat for a lost season remains to be seen. (I will say, it’s promising to see multiple former teammates come to his defense this summer.)
I have no idea if Irving was the source of Boston’s chemistry problems. But I do feel confident in saying he certainly didn’t extinguish them.
The early signs of Kyrie Irving turning a new leaf are there. So far, he’s already held multiple offseason workouts (in Los Angeles) to build bonds with his new Brooklyn teammates. There’s a good chance Kyrie’s no-nonsense attitude blends perfectly with Brooklyn’s blue-collar approach to continuous improvement.
Caris LeVert – what does a full season of Caris look like?
Caris LeVert is in line for a big payday next offseason if he keeps his body right. So you best believe he shows up to training camp prepared. Plus, for the first time in his young career, Caris’s Nets are a legit title contender if a couple of things go right.
When he was on the floor last season, the Michigan product was an absolute nightmare to contain. Caris was the unequivocal best player on Brooklyn’s roster before his untimely November injury. After being sidelined for most of his third NBA season, LeVert reemerged from the ashes to average 21 points on 49.3% shooting against Philadelphia’s top-five playoff defense. Were these numbers a fluke? Or is Caris LeVert really a 20 ppg type of guy?
Assuming that he’s healthy, we’ll learn if Caris is one of the 35 best scorers in this league. The sky is the limit for Brooklyn’s crafty slasher. Now, it’s about putting it all together and proving he’s worth the hype.
Joe Harris – will he punch someone this season?
To be honest with you, Joey Buckets is a pretty boring subject for an article like this. That isn’t a shot; he’s a consummate professional who shows up and gets the job done. That consistency is a skill in itself and it makes life easier for Kenny Atkinson.
Maybe he can enhance his shot variety as a three-point shooter. And perhaps he can slightly boost his assist totals. But all in all, Harris doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses in his game.
So instead, I’m including a reference from Harris‘s hilarious interview on the Pardon My Take Podcast. See for yourself.
Let’s hope we can add “Joe the Bully” to Harris’ long list of nicknames.
Taurean Prince – will Kenny Atkinson’s zone D help him lock-in defensively?
Based on what I’ve seen, there wasn’t a ton of uproar from Hawks’ fans after Atlanta traded Prince — a one-time franchise cornerstone — to a conference rival. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t at least 10% concerning.
In theory, Prince fits the sacred 3-and-D archetype. However, like many other 3-and-D projects in this league, Prince has only fulfilled half of that billing. As a first-year player, Prince showed signs of top-notch perimeter defense during the first round of the 2017 NBA playoffs. Unfortunately, rookie Prince couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn, connecting on only 32.4% of his three-pointers.
Two years later, Prince blossomed into a productive outside shooter, knocking-in 39% of his 5.7 attempted three-pointers. Unfortunately, his defense — the aspect of his game that made him such an intriguing prospect — has slipped greatly. Prince has become prone to lapses in his focus and has seen his overall effort wane as a defender.
Kenny Atkinson was one of the first coaches to use a zone defense in the modern-day NBA. It will be interesting to see if Kenny’s zone D can help Prince find his former defensive greatness.
In zone coverage, Prince will be forced to guard certain quadrants of the floor. To stay afloat, he must continuously keep his head on a swivel to track opponents who move in and out of his designated assignment. Consistent awareness and effort should build upon itself, and Prince could rekindle strong defensive habits. Plus, if he does happen to lose an opponent on, say, a back-door cut, at least Prince will be supported by teammates who can shift over and cover for him.
By nature, zone defense is fairly simplistic and is mostly used in youth basketball settings. Getting back to the basics may help Prince find his former love for making hustle plays and contributing to team basketball.
Spencer Dinwiddie – which version of Spencer Dinwiddie will we get?
In 2017-2018, Spencer Dinwiddie made a name for himself by becoming one of the league’s most efficient and careful point guards. Din averaged 6.6 assists along with an outstanding 4.09 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranked second in the league among players who qualified.
In 2018-2019, Dinwiddie was almost a completely different player. After averaging 16.8 points off the bench, Spence finished fourth in Sixth Man of the Year voting. He became a microwave scorer of sorts, capable of popping off against any team who dared to question his abilities. Houston, among many others, learned this the hard way.
With D’Angelo Russell shipped across the country, Brooklyn has fewer playmakers aboard. It will be interesting to see if Dinwiddie continues his reign as a heat-check artist. There’s a good chance he hones it in a bit and instead contributes to Atkinson’s democratic system with his passing.
Jarrett Allen – how much does adding a corner three to his arsenal raise his ceiling?
Kenny Atkinson and his coaching staff have worked hard to turn Jarrett Allen into a credible three-point shooter. Unlike most rim-running big men, Allen showed a proficiency for sinking his free throws. He shot 77.6% from the line during his rookie season and 70.9% in year two — a good sign for upcoming outside shooters.
Brooklyn has focused on developing Allen as a lethal short corner specialist. Last season’s results weren’t great: 11.8% from the right corner; 16.7% from the left. But with another offseason of work, perhaps JA can climb closer to league average.
Improved shot variety would unquestionably change some of Allen’s surrounding stigma. But would it be enough to keep him on the floor in big moments?
DeAndre Jordan – can he return to form?
I’m incredibly interested in seeing DeAndre Jordan’s role for the Nets next season. Last year, he saw his numbers slip in nearly every major category. Jordan played on two losing teams and this may have affected his day-to-day effort.
Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll offense certainly leads well into a DeAndre Jordan Lob City-like renaissance. Defensively, he won’t be asked to do much other than stand close to the rim and contest shots. It’s a match made in heaven if you ask me.
In all likelihood, Jordan’s impact as a Net will be tied to the performance of the guy above. If Jarrett Allen slips, Kenny Atkinson will happily toss the keys to 31-year-old DeAndre Jordan. Otherwise, expect Jordan to be the handsomely paid matchup-proof backup.
Rodions Kurucs – which will come first: an improved handle or a three-point shot?
There is certainly reason for excitement following year one of the Rodions Kurucs experience. On the right nights, Kurucs showed flashes of becoming a knockdown spot-up shooter. Rodi was also one of Brooklyn’s premier sources of transition offense.
On the flip side, the 21-year-old Latvian was still pretty raw. More often than not, he struggled to contain his endless energy, which resulted in some pretty erratic performances.
I would be shocked if Kurucs doesn’t make a major change to one of his deficiencies. Will his three-point shot come alive for a full season– mirroring his 5-of-8 shooting night against Boston? He’s got a clean set-up, a quick stroke and nice rotation on that jumper. It’s certainly possible.
Or will Kurucs instead show growth as a ballhandler? To be truthful, I’m hoping the latter of the two occurs. Too often did we see Kurucs barrel into multiple defenders, leading to an easy whistle for an offensive foul. Imagine if Rodi could capably take defenders off the dribble on the fastbreak. Sheesh!
Garrett Temple – how many months will go by before he becomes my favorite player?
Similar to Joe Harris, no complaints from me on Brooklyn’s latest 3-and-D addition. He should be a vital cog to the 2019-2020 Nets by simply playing to his strengths.
I loved Garrett Temple during his two seasons with Sacramento Kings. He’s the type of guy I prefer: a jack of all trades specialist. You can bet on plenty of pro-Garrett Temple columns from this cheesing mug in the near future.
David Nwaba – can he move up Brooklyn’s rotation?
I have a lot of stock in David Nwaba. He might be Brooklyn’s best perimeter defender; he’s a solid three-point shooter who can knock down open threes; plus, he’s a sturdy finisher inside with soft touch.
He’s also never been a part of a winning roster, mostly playing alongside inefficient, shot-happy youngsters. But next season, Nwaba will be surrounded by seasoned professionals. He’ll have plenty of time — and room — to make the right plays. With youthful 26-year-old legs, Nwaba could be a gem hidden in plain sight. He’s the perfect incubator to Brooklyn’s stars.
Wilson Chandler – by the end of the season, will Chandler be a part of Kenny Atkinson’s 10-man rotation?
There is no doubt in my mind that Kenny Atkinson will tinker with Wilson Chandler’s role throughout the season. After all, at the beginning of 2018-2019, Jared Dudley was Brooklyn’s starting power forward.
Chandler is an upgrade over Dud, but he’s 32 years old and has a whopping 19,553 total minutes under his belt. (In contrast, Garrett Temple has only recorded 10,427 total minutes). Wear and tear is a real thing, and Father Time is a cruel-hearted sadist. Here’s to a healthy, productive twelfth season for Wilson Chandler.
Dzanan Musa – is that three-ball consistent?
The Bosnian first-round pick has a pure shot. But thus far, clean mechanics haven’t led up to much. Musa must shoot better than 10% from deep as a member of the big league Nets.
In 35 G-League games, Musa was considerably better from behind the arc, canning 35.7% of his attempts — right around league average.
Still, Musa needs to climb yet another level (i.e. 38-39% from 3P) if he wants to stick. That outside shot is his calling card; a failure in its development could mean a sharp turn in his trajectory.
Nicolas Claxton – will he actually play?
At the very least, I like the idea of Nic Claxton. His switchability as a big makes him one of Brooklyn’s most interesting defenders. On the other end of the floor, his quick-twitch speed goes hand-in-hand with becoming a tough cover for nominal bigs.
Down the line, with his unique skillset, I expect he becomes a pivotal piece. Bigs who can run the floor like guards will always hold value in today’s crazy-paced league. But for now, it’s going to be tough for the second-rounder to carve out space on this deep roster. But hey, maybe he’s this season’s Rodions Kurucs!
Theo Pinson – who will be his dance partners on the bench?
Theo Pinson’s celebratory shenanigans could’ve earned him a roster spot. Kudos to him. He was responsible for the most meme-able moment of the 2018-2019 NBA season.
my organs when i finally eat my first meal at 5pm pic.twitter.com/X9AVhVMKrb
— a frustrated coon (@hamza2kforlife) June 16, 2019
So, who will be joining Pinson as he cheers his teammates on from the bench? Will it be the fun-loving DeAndre Jordan? (7-foot, 265-pound Jordan hopping around like a teenager with a Ritalin prescription would be hilarious, by the way.)
Maybe Taurean Prince joins in on the fun? Or perhaps Brooklyn’s newest superstar, Kevin Durant, adds a one-footed twist to Pinson’s signature moves?
With Pinson’s amicable personality around, next season is sure to be fun. He’s the type of guy who makes going to work an absolute blast. That stuff is important during the long 82 game season. Even as the 14th man, he’s an integral part of what Brooklyn is building.