In what can only be described as a tough start to the NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets continue its respectability quest. Through 18 games, the Nets put its fans and opponents alike through a kaleidoscope of emotions. This article attempts to show a view in the rearview mirror, as well as a peep into the future of the Brooklyn Nets’ 2017-18 season.
After a very aggressive off-season by General Manager Sean Marks, spirits were high all over through Kings County. The additions of DeMarre Carroll, D’Angelo Russell, and Allen Crabbe brought renewed hope to the Flatbush faithful. Players like Caris LeVert and Jeremy Lin mused about making the playoffs following this season. Other players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Isaiah Whitehead, and Trevor Booker came with expectations. Rookie big man Jarrett Allen hoped to contribute positively. Timofey Mozgov, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Sean Kilpatrick were eager to make their mark.
Coincidently or perhaps consequently, the Boston Celtics traded the rights to the unprotected Nets 2018 draft pick (thanks, Billy King) in a deal that netted them Kyrie Irving. The Celtics previously were very wary about trading any of the previous Nets’ picks. This move drew speculation that Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge felt the pick was not as valuable as once thought, meaning the Nets were improving and thus not guaranteed to have the worst record in the league. Other factors included teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings expected to struggle this season.
Game one and tragedy struck immediately. The quest to respectability hit a potential roadblock. Starting point guard Jeremy Lin fell to the ground clutching his right knee and the news was not good. ESPN’s Insider Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet said it all:
Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin suffered a patellar tendon rupture and will miss rest of season, source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 19, 2017
Not again! The Nets’ suffered through most of the last season with Lin unavailable due to injuries. Lin remained a key member of the team though not playing. He was a vocal supporter and cheerleader on the Nets’ bench. GM Marks said the following about Lin’s injury:
“Jeremy worked tremendously hard during the offseason and in training camp and was excited for the prospects of the team this season. We feel awful that the injury will cost him the season, however, our entire organization will be there to support Jeremy in every way possible throughout his recovery. Jeremy remains an important part of this team and will continue to contribute in a leadership role.”
D’Angelo Russell has been diagnosed with a left knee contusion. Return to play updates will be provided as appropriate.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 12, 2017
As if that was not bad enough, the Nets were forced to endure the loss of the second starting guard D’Angelo Russell through injury. Russell is in the midst of a career year. Wojnarowski reported that “Russell will miss several games with a left knee contusion, league sources told ESPN”. On November 17, the Nets confirmed Russell’s surgery. However, there was no timetable for his return. “It’s an arthroscopic surgery, so the plan would be for him to return this season,” Marks said. No other team in the NBA has suffered the hardship of losing both starting guards for any period of time. Better still, no team lost two starters from their roster through injury thus far.
Unheralded guard Spencer Dinwiddie was thrust into a meaningful role first following the loss of Lin. Dinwiddie who appeared in 59 games for the Nets last season, repaid the faith entrusted upon him by coach Kenny Atkinson. Through 17 games this season, Dinwiddie has flourished. He’s averaging 12.1 points, 6.0 assist and 2.9 rebounds per game thus far this season. His production increased in all offensive statistical categories, though his Field Goal percentage is down. Also worth noting is while the Nets play an uptempo style, Dinwiddie averages only 1.6 turnovers per 36 minutes. Comparatively, All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker all average more turnovers than Dinwiddie.
Dinwiddie’s advanced metrics also provided interesting insight. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Dinwiddie possesses an Offensive Rating of 121. Dinwiddie’s Offensive Box Plus/Minus is 4.1 and his Win Shares per 48 minutes is 0.165. These numbers are superior to several NBA guards, including superstar Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook, last season’s MVP – though averaging almost a triple double (double figures in points, assists, and rebounds) and over 21 points per game – trails Dinwiddie in other stats such as Effective Field Goal Percentage.
One should not be overly surprised by the success of Dinwiddie because he attended the University of Colorado. Before Dinwiddie, another great Colorado alum made his mark in the NBA. That alum, Mr. Big Shot himself, Chauncey Billups.
The Van Gundy brothers (Jeff and Stan) call the NBA a “make or miss” league. Former player, coach, and basketball pundit Mark Jackson said the NBA is ‘a results-oriented business’. With that in mind, the results are what teams are ultimately judged on whether fairly or not. Through 18 games, the Nets mustered what some may consider a meager six wins. These came versus the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Note that four of those teams were in the playoffs last season. Respectability much?
The Nets endured hard-fought loses to the Jazz, Celtics, Cavaliers, Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, and defending champions Golden State Warriors. Though shorthanded, the Nets are not a scheduled win for their opponents. Only the Cavaliers, Lakers and hated rival New York Knicks won by a double-digit margin.
The Nets begin a three-game Western Conference road trip on Sunday when they face the Memphis Grizzlies. Next, they head to Houston to face James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets before finishing up in Dallas facing the Mavericks.
Coach Atkinson continues to develop the players given to him. The progress of Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert, Allen, and Dinwiddie is proof that the journey to respectability is continuing in a positive fashion. The team’s motto of “WE GO HARD” is always on display.
December approaches and the respectability quest continues. One can’t help but remain optimistic as the Brooklyn Nets continue to valiantly take on all comers. All Nets fans request this Christmas is the gift of good health (for the players).
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