Welcome back to Brooklyn Nets basketball, folks! This preseason game versus the New York Knicks gave us our first semblance of observation for the 2017-18 Brooklyn Nets. Pleasantly, that premiere peek led to a 115-107 Nets victory across the bridge in Madison Square Garden. Of course, the preseason kickoff game brought some expected sloppiness and mistiming from players on both teams. However, some implications can be taken away from the night and victory to expound upon in later games.
Born to Run
The 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets under current head coach Kenny Atkinson completely revamped the old style of play under the previous coach Lionel Hollins, to indoctrinate a Rockets-esque system of high-tempo ball movement and early threes. They vaulted to the very top of the league in pace per 100 possessions and fourth in 3-point rate (via Basketball-Reference). If the Knicks game has any bearings, the Nets will not be falling from either of those rankings this coming season. 32 of the Nets’ 87 field goal attempts during the game came from beyond the arc, and many early in the shot clock. Brooklyn also maintained the similar emphasis on ball movement from last year with 10 different Nets recording an assist in the game. The issue of integrating quite a few new players into the roster, especially three new starters, led to frequent miscommunication in the quick-decision-reliant system and 17 turnovers overall. But that should be seen as standard fare for preseason.
Blinded By the Light
New franchise cornerstone D’Angelo Russell seems certain to have the greenest light in the New York City traffic system moving forward. Russell led the team with 14 field goal attempts in just 20 game-time minutes on his way to an efficient game-high of 19 points. Beyond just the volume, Russell seemed to have Atkinson’s permission to take pull-ups at will in the previously loathed midrange area.
Brooklyn finished second to last in shot frequency of both catch-and-shoot and pull-up jumpers taken in 2-point range in 2016-17 (via NBA.com). One would think another year of the system would cause Atkinson to entrench his “threes or layups” philosophy even more, but Atkinson seems to be accommodating for Russell… at least for now. As a Laker and in his Nets debut, Russell has shown the ability to create space off the dribble for his jumper but not be able to rise over rim protectors to finish at the rim. Therefore, giving him the pull-up option may be necessary to fully unlock Russell’s primary ball-handling gifts. As Russell went 3-of-6 from midrange in the game, the compromise might be mutually beneficial.
Open All Night
Despite the Nets’ fondness of the 3-pointer, the Knicks’ defense did not fear sagging off the Brooklyn shooters to often fortify the paint. Perhaps, the Knicks’ strategy relates more to the plethora of immobile bigs they stock in the front-court rotation. On the other hand, perhaps the gunning potential of DeMarre Carroll, Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Tyler Zeller does not yet strike fear into opposing defenses.
However, if the Nets’ shooters did not garner much face-guarding respect, they did take advantage of the open looks and ready triggers to shoot 50 percent from downtown for the game. Joe Harris in particular impressed with his persistent off-ball movement, being rewarded with a 4-of-7 night from behind the arc off the bench. With more than capable marksmen Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert taking DNP for sprained ankles, the Nets should feel gleeful of such a shooting performance without even having full artillery.
It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City
Despite the torrid shooting performance and eventual victory, not all Nets had performances to hang their hats on. Jeremy Lin debuted his new dreadlocks in the preseason opener but will dread to look back on his 2-of-9 shooting, three-turnover game. Lin did not play in sync with the game’s tempo, with his passing accuracy off-kilter all night. He also struggled mightily in his two attacks at the rim to finish over the towering 7-foot-3 frame of Kristaps Porzingis, with both attempts ending futilely and one in an engulfing stuffing.
Isaiah Whitehead acted as Lin’s de-facto backup, especially for the second half, and also did not acquit himself well in the debut to his sophomore NBA season. Whitehead finished 0-of-6 from the field for the entire game and struggled mightily to gain any space from the impressive defense of fellow sophomore pro Damyean Dotson. When Whitehead did not have the displeasure of being guarded by Dotson, he would gain space (as he often showed as a rookie), but screw up the end-product with either a rushed shot or an overly risky pass on the move. Not a great way to stand out for minutes in a crowded backcourt rotation.
The predictable issue of not having much size in the Nets’ front-court rotation also reared its petite head in the faces of the burly Knicks front-court. Throughout the game, the Knicks frequently countered the Nets with quick pin-downs in transition right under the basket. Front-court staples DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Jarrett Allen, Quincy Acy and Tyler Zeller all likely weigh under 235 pounds. So, naturally, they presented themselves as helpless to the interior bullying of Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez, Enes Kanter and even Michael Beasley. Kanter, in particular, had his will with any defender matched up with him in the low post, and racked up free throws by the armful.
Brooklyn does have starting center Timofey Mozgov to provide a modicum of heft, but the Nets could only grin and bear it when the Knicks deployed two legitimate interior bigs at a time. For some optimism, though, Hollis-Jefferson accounted for himself as well as could be expected in his matchup, with the eight-inch taller Porzingis. RHJ held his ground on Porzingis’ drives to the hoop in the half-court and forced Porzingis to do the majority of his damage only in transition.