Last season: 35-37, 7th in Eastern Conference.
Swept in the first round by Toronto.
Off-season in review
The off-season for the new look Nets was a loud one, yet quiet in the department of making additions.
The most polarizing team in the league for this upcoming season, the return of their lead players (Durant and Irving) and what they’d do with the assets they have (Dinwiddie, LeVert, Allen) was a topic point weekly up until a few days ago when they detached from the Harden sweepstakes (for now, atleast).
As of opening night, GM Sean Marks and company have elected to stand pat and give their roster it’s due diligence in assessment. This is a logical decision as now they will finally be operating with everyone back in rotation for the first time in this rendition.
They also transitioned from interim coach Jacque Vaughn (who is relegated back to an assistant role) to a revamped coaching staff, with Steve Nash as new and first time head coach. The 2-time MVP is accompanied by the coach he enjoyed his most success with as a player in Mike D’Antoni as his lead assistant.
These key additions all finally being in the fold serve as a collective breath of fresh air for this franchise. As they exhale, the expectations of making these additions sit in front of them, with this first season together being their first opportunity to see what they have.
What to watch for?
As cliche as it is to say, health is the most important component for Brooklyn this season.
It’s a more pressing point of note because, on one hand, Kevin Durant is looking to defy the odds in a return from his ruptured Achilles. Durant has been heard mentioning that he feels as good as ever on numerous occasions, while other accounts from players he scrimmaged with before training camp were sure to say that he is indeed back.
Even more affirmation, when asked about what level his star player is at, Nash said:
“THIS IS TOUGH FOR ME TO ACTUALLY PUT A NUMBER ON. IT’S REALLY HARD. BUT HE’S IN THE 90S, FOR SURE. WHETHER IT’S 90 OR 99, I DON’T KNOW,” NASH SAID WHEN ASKED HOW FAR BACK DURANT IS. “BUT I KEEP TRYING TO TELL HIM THAT HE’S GOT TO GIVE HIMSELF 15, 20 GAMES BEFORE HE STARTS JUDGING HIMSELF.
His former head coach Steve Kerr also chimed in on his observations:
“I could not tell any difference between him 18 months ago and him now.” He would also note that this is “Kind of scary for the rest of the league.”
There is confidence, yet quietly cautious and optimistic feelings about Durant in his return. So long as he stays healthy, I find it hard to not agree with that latter statement from Kerr, should the initial claim hold true.
On the other they have Kyrie Irving, who hasn’t played more than 70 games since he left Cleveland in 2017 and has missed 200 games through his nine season career.
They are equipped with the adequate depth necessary to withstand short-term injury from the aforementioned Durant or Irving, but any long-term absence from either of their two top players could have lasting ramifications regarding their 2020-2021 aspirations.
Chemistry, Rotations, Depth
An inevitable advantage that contenders in the east will have over the Nets is core continuity amongst their best players. The deemed competition aside from Brooklyn, being the likes of Milwaukee, Miami, Philly, and Boston, all have at least one marginally successful playoff run under their belts.
Those teams all also have tenured, battle tested, and successful coaches with experiences that Nash has never had from the sideline, and that D’Antoni had never been able to amass in his time spent as head coach.
It goes without saying that both of their franchise faces (mainly Irving, but Durant cannot be completely absolved) need structure. They have personalities that are more fragile than other superstars and they have never hesitated in publicly voicing their opinions on previous situations. These instances have never been conducive to a winning environment, and if not managed properly, could be the demise of their season. These occurrences almost always have a trickle down effect, if not leading to issues between the top dogs.
All of this to say, Nash’s vaunted ability to manage egos will be put to an ultimate test. All the while needing to appease the “others” on his roster while also learning the ropes of not just coaching but coaching a contender in a major market at the same time.
I will be curious as to what his rotations will look like. The starting line-up looks like it will be Irving, Dinwiddie, Harris, Durant, and Jordan makes for an offensive oriented bunch. It also makes a great amount of sense as Dinwiddie allows for both Durant and Irving to operate without the ball, while Joe Harris spaces the floor and shoots the three-ball at an elite level with off the ball movement, and Jordan brings the dynamic of a solid screener/vertical spacer/decent rim protection. It’s a dynamic bunch to say the least.
Off the bench they’ll have the likes of LeVert, Shamet, Prince, Green, and Allen to deploy. Plus more capable bodies in Tyler Johnson and Bruce Brown at guard, then Rodionis Kurucs and Luwawu-Cabarrot at forward.
That’s a solid cast, almost envious for other teams. However with a lot of talent comes the need for adequate opportunity to appease, especially when two of the arguably five best talents on the team (LeVert and Allen) are younger players wanting to tap into their true career trajectory. After enjoying the successes those two did last season sans Irving and Durant, you can’t blame them for wanting more of the same opportunities.
This will be something to watch as the season unfolds, whether they keep those two (plus Dinwiddie), or if a combination of those guys are packaged together for a third star.
As it stands, they’ve compiled talents that make for one of the best collections of depth across the league.
What will I be watching for?
What level of play Durant is at based on production as the season progresses. It will be a gradual process, but something to gauge as back to backs come up in the schedule and his minute totals rise.
Offensive style of play
Their preseason games suggest that they’ll be playing with pace, which comes as no surprise given what Nash and D’Antoni are known most for in tandem. It suits their current roster to play with pace as well, having numerous ball handlers and shooters to space the floor. Of course late shot clock and with the game on the line, they have two of the best one on one players in the league to give the ball to, but having a system implemented that keeps their “others” involved is imperative.
For both tactical reasons (under Kenny Atkinson) as well as for personnel reason, they were at the top of the league in three point attempts. That number, 38 per night, will be lesser seeing that Irving does a lot of damage both from the mid range and even more so at the cup. Also because, of course, Durant will get plenty of those signature high post touches in isolation and operate from that killer triple-threat position.
At a glance, their roster is somewhat devoid of defenders. Only four players returning from last season posted a plus in defensive box score plus or minus (DBPM). Also, typically the teams that play at higher paces, in turn, don’t defend as well.
Though they do have one of the better rim protection tandems with Jordan and Allen, I will be curious as to their defense on the wings and even at guard in certain match ups.
Last season, they were 19th in defense. Their up tempo style offensively will likely net them at or near this mid-tier range in that regard.
They’ll obviously be more lenient on their scoring, but whether or not they can sustain a league average level defense and get stops of the timely variety will be what I may watch for most with them.
Lastly, I’m curious as to what this teams identity will be. I’ll also be curious as to how long it takes them to mesh then establish that ahead of the playoffs. It seems as if they will have an egalitarian-style leadership mold of shared responsibilities between Durant and Irving, and though at the surface that makes sense, I feel as though their personalities will need for one of the two to emerge as the true alpha. Both have very much been beta type leaders, and I feel that will allow for many distractions to arise. My thought is that Durant will need to evolve into an alpha type of player in leadership. He has the more respected resume and his temperament seems to be better suited for that role.
Ceiling: NBA Finals Appearance
Floor: 2nd round exit
Operating under the mindset that they stand relatively pat this season, establishing organic chemistry and continuity, I have them finishing second in the East around 45-27. Advancing past the second round, they’ll make a high profile Conference Finals appearance which is where I think their season will end.
Operating under the idea that they make no impact roster moves, I feel that it will take a season for them to establish the needed chemistry both from the coaching staff and as players to take the leap to a finals appearance. I feel that their roster is in dire need of more viable defense from the guard position, but even more so from the wing. I also dislike their lack of true leadership at the moment. Those three respects seem like projects that will need time to develop, more time than a shortened preseason and shortened regular season can offer them.
It will be as fun of a season for any Brooklyn Nets fan as ever, but even as a general fan of basketball to see this team match up with the rest of the league’s talents.
Basketball is back and the games officially count starting tonight on TNT with these Brooklyn Nets hosting Durant’s former team, the Golden State Warriors, at 6pm CST. Followed by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers receiving their rings as the host the Los Angeles Clippers at 9pm CST.
Here’s to a new season, wishing good health on the entire league in its 75th rendition. With that being said, let’s hoop 🏀🙏🏾.