With the 2016-17 season firmly in the rearview mirror, the Brooklyn Nets continue to build a solid foundation. It must be said that the Nets can only improve after winning a league-worst 20 games last season. After a series of changes throughout the conference, the Nets are optimistic, but it’s a tough road ahead. Here is the 2017-18 Brooklyn Nets season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Brooklyn Nets Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
The NBA is a talent driven league. In order to compete for honors, teams must consist of top-tier talent. The Brooklyn Nets roster was devoid of talent last year. What the organization had, however, was a philosophy. A plan to level the playing field as much as possible. Rookie head coach Kenny Atkinson took an analytical approach to bridging the gap. His calculated gamble was two-fold; pace and three-point shooting.
Upon his appointment as coach, Atkinson mandated center Brook Lopez to improve his shooting from three-point range. Lopez responded magnificently. Prior to last season, Lopez had scored a total of three three-pointers in his career. In 2016-17, Lopez made 134 threes, shooting 34.6 percent from long distance. Lopez was one of many Nets players given the green light to shoot from the perimeter. The Nets attempted the fourth most three-point shots in the league last season.
Atkinson also implemented a fast-paced offense. The Nets led all teams in possessions per 48 minutes, averaging over 100. That’s greater than potent teams like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
What Needs Improvement
The simple answer: everything. Let’s face it, though the Nets led the league in pace as mentioned, they were terrible on offense. The Nets scored a paltry 104.1 points per 100 possessions. That number ranked 28th in the league. Brooklyn’s field goal percentage was 44.4 percent, good enough for 24th in the league. Though the Nets attempted the fourth most threes during the season, they were just 26th in three-point percentage. Most notably, the Nets committed the second most turnovers per 100 plays in the league.
Defensively, the news was just as grim. The Nets allowed 110 points per 100 possessions. So they allowed an average of six points more per 100 possessions than they scored. Hence their record. Delving further, opponents shot 45.8 percent from the field against the Nets. Brooklyn was unable to force turnovers, with opponents only committing 13.3 turnovers per game. A major issue was the inability to end a possession; the Nets were 29th in the league in rebounding. This was in large part due to the ineptitude of Lopez as a defensive anchor. The Nets had a defensive rebound percentage of 76.1, which ranked 18th in the league.
Alas, the news is not all bad for the Nets. General manager Sean Marks continues to work diligently at improving the roster. This was clearly evident with the numerous signings Marks made throughout the season and the transactions made during the off-season. First, the trade for DeMarre Carroll from the Toronto Raptors. Next, Marks traded Lopez and a first round draft pick for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. The Nets later drafted athletic big Jarrett Allen. Finally, Marks traded Andrew Nicholson to the Portland Trailblazers for sharpshooter Allen Crabbe.
What Marks and the Nets Front office did appears to be very intelligent. In sacrificing Lopez (a free agent at the end of the next season), the Nets got a budding talent (2015 Number 2 overall draft pick) in Russell. Mozgov is also serviceable as a center. For taking on Carroll’s salary, the Nets also received draft picks in the 2018 draft. By becoming a bit worse offensively at center, the Nets improved (talent-wise at least) at every other position.
The 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets, in addition to being one of the least talented teams in recent NBA history, suffered injuries to key players. Most notably point guard Jeremy Lin missed 46 games last season. Combine that with rookie Caris LeVert recovery from his foot as well as Greivis Vasquez released due to health issues. This forced Atkinson to play rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead more than initially expected.
With the expected growth and continued development and growth of Whitehead and LeVert combined with the previously mentioned infusion of talent, makes this Nets team much more improved than the last version. While LeVert and Lin both predicted the Nets will make the playoffs, a reasonable expectation would be in 30-40 wins.
The Nets do not possess its pick in the 2018 NBA draft, which means the Nets will not tank or try to position itself to win the draft lottery. Other circumstances such as weakened Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers rosters must not go overlooked.
Assuming all goes well on the injury front, the Nets will compete in each and every game. Atkinson and Marks will have them in the top 10 in the Eastern Conference, but not quite in the playoffs just yet. With that said, the Brooklyn Nets will win 36 games in 2017-18.