NBA basketball is back, and there’s been a huge number of changes to the Brooklyn Nets. Let’s talk about those changes and what you can expect this season from this Nets team.
What Happened Last Year?
Count me among the people who didn’t see the Brooklyn Nets rise into playoff contention happening last season.
Entering the year, I saw a team with a lot of disparate but interesting parts that seemed to lack that solidifying star that teams need if they want to make a leap to the next level. I thought there were definitely players who could make a leap — Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell — but didn’t think it was going to happen yet, that maybe this upcoming year was the year that that Nets core became contenders.
And then LeVert opened the year with a bang, and it looked like the Nets had turned a corner.
And then LeVert went down with a devastating foot injury, and it looked like that corner had abruptly turned into a wall.
And then D’Angelo Russell said “wait, this is my team,” averaged 21.1 points and seven assists per game, and became one of the NBA’s best mid-range shooters en route to his first All-Star appearance. The Nets ended up as the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed and lost in the first round to the 76ers.
All in all, it was a successful year for Brooklyn. We learned that Joe Harris is the greatest three-point shooter ever. We learned that you can make the playoffs even with huge question marks at power forward. And we learned that sometimes Jarrett Allen can block literally anyone.
What Happened This Summer?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. This team changed absolutely zero things.
Ok, well they changed a few things.
First, a lot of the talk right after the season revolved around D’Angelo Russell. Would the Nets give him the huge contract it would take to keep him? Would they move on from him? Would they sign a star and then keep Russell to help that star?
This ended up happening:
Brooklyn is making a clean sweep tonight: Brooklyn will sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
So, change of plans?
The Nets ended up sending Russell to Golden State as part of the deal to acquire Durant. They also added Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, Garrett Temple, and David Nwaba and drafted Nic Claxton.
Meanwhile, gone are Russell, as well as DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Jared Dudley, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, players who all felt very much like part of that last generation of Nets basketball, even if they weren’t all in Brooklyn for that long.
What’ll Happen This Season?
Let’s give the big thing out of the way first: the Nets signed Kevin Durant, but he’s going to be out for the entire 2019-20 season because of an Achilles tear suffered in the NBA Finals.
What this means is this: Durant is a Net and every Nets should be excited about that, but Durant’s presence for this upcoming season is more ethereal than anything else. His looming return to the court will be this specter that floats over everything. If the Nets are winning, so much of the national conversation will be about how adding Durant can push this team over the top. If they’re losing, the conversation will be about how much they need Durant, and it will inevitably evolve into conversations about what Durant will look like when he returns.
But while that will be what we see over and over nationally, it’s not the story of this year’s Nets team.
Instead, the story of this year’s team should be this: With Russell swapped out for Kyrie Irving, how far can this team make it?
Despite what a lot of people were saying at points last year, 2019 Kyrie Irving is better than 2019 D’Angelo Russell. He’s a better scorer. A better finisher. A better ball-handler. A one-to-one swap of the two players alone would make the Nets a stronger team, though it’s unclear just how much better. Irving had 9.1 win shares to Russell’s 5.0 last season, but I know win shares is a highly flawed metric. Still, it should be clear that an Irving-led team has a higher ceiling.
What’s less clear are some other things. Let’s look at those things in the form of a little Q&A.
What’s up with the center position?
Jarrett Allen was pretty good last year, but the Nets also signed DeAndre Jordan. What happens there?
Short answer: They both play similar minutes and do similar things.
Long answer: Look, both of these guys are going to be asked to do the same kind of things. Set screens — both were top 10 guys in screen assists last year — and roll to the rim and catch lobs. 67.8% of Allen’s attempts last year came within three feet. 81.4% of Jordan’s shots came there, so it’s clear that Allen’s got some more range to his game. But I also think Allen’s going to end up being more of an inside guy this year.
Allen probably starts. Maybe it’s something like a 26/22 split minutes-wise, because we all know that Kenny Atkinson likes to keep minutes low. I don’t think they share the floor because this team wants shooters at the four and Allen’s sometimes willing to shoot, but he shouldn’t actually be shooting.
Who starts at the four?
It should be Taurean Prince. It will be Taurean Prince. He’s going to provide a ton of shooting and spacing and will be incredibly important to what this team wants to do.
A better question: What will the rest of the power forward rotation look like?
Rodions Kurucs started 46 games last year. He put up solid stats in those games and flashed a lot of potential as a playmaker and was surprisingly adept in isolation.
But Kurucs is also facing legal issues after being arrested for a domestic violence incident. While it appears he’ll be available to start the year, he likely faces some kind of league punishment at some point.
Speaking of suspension, Wilson Chandler is suspended for PEDs. 25 games.
Dzanan Musa could end up getting a lot of run. Musa played just nine games as a rookie, but he averaged 19.5 points on 43.9% shooting in the G-League. There are reasons to think he can be a solid bench piece.
But also…do I feel great about this position? Nope. But that’s understandable, as Brooklyn’s starting four should be Kevin Durant.
Can Caris LeVert make another leap?
No Nets player excites me as much as Caris LeVert.
I’m not even sure I can put into words why I like LeVert so much. He’s just…fun. He’s a lot of fun, and having him on the floor gives you an additional ball-handler who can make some really tough passes.
The big issue I have? Shooting. LeVert shot just 31.2% from three last year.
But he upped that to 46.2% in the postseason. Yes, a five game sample isn’t enough to draw real conclusions from, but we did see LeVert connecting on jumpers, and that can be a sign of him connecting on more jumpers going forward.
LeVert can be the second-best player on this Nets team this year. I have no questions about that.
Where does this team end up?
Without Durant, this team feels capped at a certain point. I think that point is fourth place, though I could be convinced of it being third.
I also think, depending on how Irving plays and if he ends up resting, and how quickly the team’s new additions gel together, that this team could fall down to the seventh or eighth seed.
I’ll split that all with my prediction. Let’s put the Nets fifth in the East behind Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto, which sets up a irst round meeting with the Raptors.
Can Brooklyn win that? Sure. Am I making a playoff prediction this early? Nah.
But overall, this should be a good year for fans of the Nets. There’s going to be an adjustment period, but once things get rolling this team will be tough to beat.