Session 1, Brooklyn Nets 2017-18 Campaign:
With the regular season complete the Brooklyn Nets are fully into their offseason and undoubtedly have begun their preparations for the draft.
Meanwhile, the 2018 Playoffs are past the mid way point of the first round. Nets fans may not be involved in the postseason, but a fun exercise is to center on specific players who may be available this coming summer and picture them in Nets jerseys. The playoff forum showcases who is a team player, who excels under the bright lights and in the case of Brooklyn who might best fit the core.
To that end, the team at Brook-Lin is thinking about the tweaks Sean Marks and the brain trust should focus efforts on to retool the 2018-19 squad. With that in mind the scribes provided input on various questions. These roundtable sessions will be featured on Brook-Lin in the coming weeks.
The first segment is offered in two parts with reflection on the performance of the 2017-18 Brooklyn Nets.
What aspect of the Nets game impressed you the most this season?
The Nets’ tenacity and unrelenting attack on the backboards were eye-catching, particularly because bad defensive teams aren’t able to make an impact in the rebounding category. When they were able to stop opponents, they ended the possessions and prevented second-chance points. There were more than a few occasions when Brooklyn came away with a few 50-50 balls that altered the outcome of a game.
The team’s three-point shooting. The Nets might only have managed the 20th-best three point percentage in the league, but given how many triples they take (second behind the unprecedented offensive attack of the Houston Rockets), that’s still pretty solid and a big jump up from their 26th-ranked percentage last year. Given Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell‘s poor shooting numbers down the stretch, 20th is a pretty decent finish from deep.
Coach Kenny Atkinson drew up great gameplans each time out to have the Nets players play smartly. The Nets consistently controlled the three-point arc on both ends by having the 2nd highest three point rate in the league AND allowing the lowest three point rate in the league. Atkinson also deployed smart small-ball wrinkles and, most importantly, trusted his players to make good decisions without micromanaging.
Although there were individual areas of the game the Brooklyn Nets improved the most impressive quality of this squad was their tenacity. Granted, this Nets squad wasn’t tanking or good enough to compete for a playoff berth quite yet. But, the fact they never quit and fought back in so many games is a characteristic which punctuates their identity. Too many young squads get saddled with ‘soft’ identities as opponents expect to take early leads and watch the youngsters fold. That is not who the Nets are and above everything, retaining that competitive edge and stick-to-it-tive-ness is imperative in the future direction of the squad.
Development of the youth movement. Although the team still has a ways to go before real legitimacy in terms of playoff contention, this year the Nets experienced an eight-game jump in wins from 2016-2017 which was largely due to development across the board of their youth. Players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Spencer Dinwiddie have grown from fringe role-players to legitimate starters with the potential to be more.
Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen showed more than enough this year to give Nets’ fans hope in the three-year potential of the team. Even D’Angelo Russell, whose season has been as up-and-down as driving on an a country road at night, flashed enough to at least deserve another look next year with more seasoning.
Brooklyn’s top-end young talent may not be as competitive as some other youth-focused teams like the Denver Nuggets or even the Phoenix Suns, but they’ve at least shown enough to give hope that they could be.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) April 23, 2018
Which area of the Nets game surprised you?
The Nets just could not shoot the ball. Via Basketball-Reference, the Brooklyn Nets finished below average relative to the league from the rim, all midrange zones, and beyond the arc. With the preseason hopes of the open shots Brooklyn’s multiple ball handlers could generate, the consistent bricking was a let-down. Good shot selection can only bolster an offense so much.
Defensive inefficiency. Look, no one’s saying that the Nets have world-beating talent defensively. But,mmm given the physical profile and basketball IQ of their personnel, they should have been better. Nearly every single player in their starting line-up is long and athletic with real defensive potential, and it’s slightly unsettling that head coach Kenny Atkinson wasn’t able to coax better than a 25th ranked effort out of this unit. Sure, young teams are notoriously bad at defense but it’s not like this is their first rodeo.
Outside of Jarrett Allen, every player on the team has at least a year of experience in the system and has, at some point in their career, proven to be a more-than-capable defender. Whether it’s due to the style of play which is one of the highest-risk gambles in the game or on the players’ lackluster effort levels or just experience, the team needs to remedy the problem as soon as possible to even have a hope of playoff contention down the road.
Season-damning injuries hit the Nets early starting with Jeremy Lin suffering a tear-jerking knee injury in the first game; D’Angelo Russell followed suit missing 32 games. Two serious knee injuries on one team, in the same season, typically doesn’t bode well for the rest of the team. Spencer Dinwiddie was a feel-good story amid an otherwise heart wrenching season. The depth in the backcourt was a pleasant surprise. Dinwiddie’s smile-inducing performance in the NBA Skills Challenge was marvelous. He added a wrinkle to a team that was desperate for some kind of mainstream notoriety.
Brooklyn’s team defense was surprising in both a good and bad way. They had flashes of stifling opponents thanks to their length and quickness on the perimeter, something that wasn’t prevalent last year. However, they had as many instances where pick-and-roll coverages went botched, and someone slipped into the lane untouched for an easy dunk.
The Nets finished the year with the sixth-fastest pace of play (98.9 possessions per 48 minutes per basketball-reference)–and somehow that still felt slow. They played at the fastest pace in the league last season (101.3 possessions per 48 minutes), and I expected them to at least remain in the top five this year. The three-point bombing from last season stuck around, so the pace falling off is somewhat surprising.
At season start it was expected Atkinson would continue to emphasize pushing pace and perimeter shooting. Yet, for the Nets to finish in top ten in both assists (9th with 23.7 per game) and total rebounding (9th with 44.4 per game) was in my mind a testament to the system. Although there are copious athletic players on the Nets, size particularly upfront was missing. Couple that with the backcourt having to deal with guards missing games due to injury and this achievement shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks believes Jeremy Lin is determined to get back to his best in his third season in Brooklyn. #WeGoHard
"Don't Bet Against Jeremy." -Sean Marks
— infinity88 (@linfinity88) April 17, 2018
Which Nets player grew the most this season?
Few players in the NBA improved as much as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The 23-year-old saw his game expand tremendously, and no longer is he strictly an energy guy on defense. He’s added a couple of moves on offense and finally looks confident with the ball in his hands. The most impressive development is as a roll man, and that’s an interesting wrinkle Brooklyn could add to their offense. Now we’re just waiting on his three-point shot.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. His breakout started in February of last season when he moved to power forward, and he built on that this year–by far his best season as a pro. His three-point shot didn’t develop, but every other area of his game definitely did. He got much better at switching speeds off the dribble, and it showed in his much-improved ability to drive to the rim and score.
The wild drives and flails at the basket from years past have mostly gone away, his finishing around the basket is far better than it had been, and Rondae has learned how to get fouled instead of wildly flinging the ball at the basket. Rondae was the Nets’ best player this season, and another leap next season could earn him an All-Defensive team berth.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. As I’ve detailed before, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s growth offensively has been nothing short of spectacular. His efficiency is up in nearly every scoring category, registering above the 50th percentile in almost every statistical category, and he’s developed into a dynamic, two-way force for the Nets. Moreover, he sported one of the highest net-ratings on the team for the third consecutive year and is proving himself to be a potential key-player for Brooklyn down the line.
He may never be a full-fledged star, but he made huge strides this season to near that goal.
It is possible not even members of Spencer Dinwiddie’s immediate family would have chosen him to be the Nets’ best player in 2017-18. However, to these eyes, Dinwiddie achieved just that by showing zen-like patience with the ball and underrated elusiveness to channel Atkinson’s vision on the court. Who knew Dinwiddie would play like one of the best isolation players in the league?
This isn’t easy to answer, mainly due to the respective personal feats of Allen Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen , but I’m going with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. RHJ is not a household name just yet, however his play and presence alone stood out to me this season. The Nets went a discouraging 2-12 with him out of the lineup. Ironically, making a strong case for his importance on the team while inactive. Hollis-Jefferson isn’t (and may never be) a dependable three-point, nonetheless this past season’s shot chart shows growth.
Since I have the advantage of seeing everyone’s answers I decided pay credit to someone other than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. To that end, Caris LeVert is extremely intriguing. His well rounded skill set allows Kenny Atkinson a multitude of options. LeVert’s length gives him the ability to visualize the court and implement the offense quickly while simultaneously makes him a nightmare for opposing guards.
Furthermore, his length, playmaking and scoring assets might make him the most versatile player on the Brooklyn Nets. Whether he was paired with D’Angelo Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie he proved to be a complimentary partner. Moving forward with Jeremy Lin expected back this coming season LeVert’s versatility opens the door for three guard clutch time lineups.
More Marks on Jahlil Okafor: "Did we get a good enough look at him? I could argue we didn't get a good enough look at any of these guys."
— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) April 16, 2018
Which Nets player disappointed you this season or to put it another way didn’t measure up to your expectations?
Sean Kilpatrick appeared in 16 games before Brooklyn let him go. After the modest season he had in 2016-17, it was shocking. On the other hand, he struggled to get minutes which, in turn, impacted his production. Heading into this campaign, Kilpatrick was potentially someone who could develop into a go-to scorer for a team that lacked one. That ship sailed a long time ago, unfortunately.
D’Angelo Russell had his bouts with serious injury in his debut Brooklyn season. However, Russell’s performances proved bleak if plans remain to station him as the franchise centerpiece. Optimism has dropped over the consistency of his jump shot and passing going forward.
D’Angelo Russell. I know this is easy money, but it bears true nonetheless. With the former Buckeye arriving in Brooklyn it meant the Nets also picked up the worst contract in the NBA. Russell consistently failed to be a better option than Spencer Dinwiddie. Let alone even touch the James Harden comparisons which were saddled on him coming out of the draft. His efficiency is down across the board while taking more shots than ever. His defense remains an eyesore, and his playmaking isn’t near the level where it needs to be.
This would all be fine if the Nets hadn’t given him almost the perfect opportunity to thrive. Brooklyn push pace, space the floor and their brand of defense can best be described as “optional”. Russell was handed the keys to the offense on day one. It was absolutely the perfect situation for him. And, although he missed a big chunk of the year, it’s unsettling that Dinwiddie made a better case to be a starter than Russell.
I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Jahlil Okafor, and he still managed to disappoint me. The Nets desperately needed help down low all season long (despite Jarrett Allen being way more NBA-ready than I expected), and Okafor still barely played. It’s too bad for Okafor that he was drafted in 2015. If he was 20 years older, he could have made a couple of All-Star teams via his dominant post scoring. However, his inability to do anything else well makes him unplayable in the modern NBA.
News of Okafor changing his diet and working all offseason led most to believe the Sixers just weren’t giving him a fair shake. As Nick points out this current era isn’t ideal for a player like Okafor. Still, there are examples of players who have developed to make themselves viable. Greg Monroe, the Morris twins, Taj Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge are all players who Okafor could’ve patterned his game after.
Aldridge may be a reach, but the other players arguably don’t have the same offensive tools. Yet, in each of the others cases they worked on stretching their shooting range and more importantly developing two-way games. After arriving in Brooklyn my hopes were Okafor would seize the moment and work his butt off to improve defensively. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. So, when Okafor inevitably finds himself on the outside of the NBA he’ll have no one to blame but himself.