The Emperor’s Three Questions: A Brooklyn Nets Season Preview
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
For the second straight offseason, the Brooklyn Nets have made an unexpected splash that has rippled through the waters of the NBA. Last year, we saw GM Billy King trade for Joe Johnson with the Nets moving to Brooklyn and needing a marquee ticket-seller, I mean basketball player, to accompany the team’s transition. This year, the Nets traded for two post-prime Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as pulling off possibly the steal of free agency, signing Andrei Kirilenko to a third of what he was being offered elsewhere. Oh, and they made a former player of theirs with no coaching/basketball operations/analysis experience their head coach.
Busy summer, huh? As great as this team looks on paper – with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez on top of their newest additions – there are questions to be answered as to how this team will live up to the hype and where exactly their peak is.
First – How far can talent alone take this Nets squad?
Even the most experienced experts can’t picture exactly how effective a coaching staff Jason Kidd and his army of 300 assistants will be. Kidd’s yet to have a non-player basketball experience so under the worst-case scenario that he and his coaching staff don’t do a solid enough job. it’s up to the talent on it’s own. Luckily for the Nets, they have a damn good amount of it. Now the threat of injury is apparent, with Brook Lopez being the only player in their projected starting lineup of Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett-Lopez who is under 29 years of age. But let’s set injuries aside, for now.
Deron Williams’ TS% was at a ‘meh’ 54.2% clip before the All-Star break when he struggled with injuries, but leaped to an astounding 62.2% post-ASB. If his past injuries don’t linger and he stays healthy, Williams is well overdue for a strong year in a Nets uniform. Joe Johnson is the odd man out, with no clear-cut role in this system and little to offer the team that they don’t have elsewhere. Johnson was a freak in close games last year, shooting 66% on tries in the final 2 minutes of a game within 3 points, but disappointed nearly everywhere else. Johnson’s below-average PER mark of 14.1 demonstrated his ineffectiveness scoring the ball, and even with improved spacing this year it’s hard to imagine a big jump in efficiency.
Pierce is a mixed bag, with conventional knowledge and regression in his statistics telling us his career is quite close to it’s eclipse. However, ‘The Truth’ continues finding a way to make himself very useful – Pierce’s TS% was at a 3-year low last year, but his REB% and AST% were career highs. Pierce has said he’s content with being a “glorified role player” and this truly is a great descriptor of how he could be most helpful to Brooklyn. Kevin Garnett’s mid-range jumper, low-post precision and intangibles don’t age, so expect a lot of the same from this former Celtic in those aspects. As for his defensive impact, well we’ll get to that later. Brook Lopez is arguably the Nets’ most intriguing piece, being their lone young prospect and only player getting significant minutes who still has yet (as far as we know) to reach his ceiling. Lopez has improved his defense dramatically from his rookie campaign, last year being his largest leap forward. With Garnett paired alongside him, we can expect this to continue, adding on to an already impressive offensive repertoire.
Off the bench, we have the steal-of-the-summer in Kirilenko filling the sixth man role as a tremendous defender and well-rounded player altogether. Filling out the pine are a decent if not an average cast of characters – Jason Terry, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston, who has impressed in the preseason.
So we take a look at this roster construction and can easily come to the conclusion that, yes, this roster is flooded with talent. Enough to be a contender if the coaching aspect doesn’t work out well? No, not at all. The team doesn’t have an elite superstar to carry them, meaning it’ll take a team effort and brilliant coaching to make that happen. But don’t mistake this team for the Pacers, who have five well-above average defenders starting for them and one of the best coaches in the league, not to mention a system that’s already been cemented. All this being said assuming injuries aren’t a factor. There is also talk of a potential power struggle between the players and coaching staff, but I don’t really see this as a possibility. Moving on.
Second – How much of a defensive impact can Kevin Garnett have? Garnett is going to be the Nets’ defensive anchor and their best chance of being a top-10 defensive team. Many cite Garnett’s influence on the Celtics’ defense last year, with a pretty telling number: the Celtics gave up 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor compared to him on the bench. That’s huge, no doubt about it. However, KG the Net may not be able to have that large of an effect on the defense this year. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, he won’t be playing the center position as he did in Boston. Lopez will undoubtedly play the center, moving Garnett back to the four – and in today’s NBA, further from the paint where he is at his most helpful. Lopez is incapable of guarding perimeter oriented fours, so this duty will go to Garnett, thus limiting his interior presence. This can be undone by subbing out Brook Lopez of course, but that is a mighty cost over any decent stretch of time and there’s no denying that.
Secondly, coach Kidd has made it known that he plans to limit Garnett’s game time and possibly even having him sit out the second games of back-to-backs. Now nothing was set in stone from the sound of Kidd’s comments, but it’s clear – despite Garnett’s noted disapproval – that Jason is planning to do what he can to keep KG fresh for the Playoffs. Garnett can’t do much for the Nets defense sitting on the bench or playing 20 minutes a night, but playing him often brings an increased risk of injury.
With these two things in mind, expecting Garnett to revolutionize Brooklyn’s defense is far-fetched. Brooklyn will surely improve on that end but it’s hard to see them being an elite team on defense when their anchor can’t maximize his ability to bolster the team on that end.
Finally – How does this team stack up to the NBA’s best such as Miami or Oklahoma City?
Well, to me, there are too many question marks and ‘what if’s’ for Brooklyn that other contenders simply don’t have. Unlike Miami, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Chicago, Memphis and San Antonio – the Nets have a brand new team top to bottom, with a brand new system to turn into a winner. That alone is a scary idea, and let’s not forget that Miami didn’t even finish the job in their first year with three of the best players on the planet, nor last year’s Lakers who, well, you know. And those teams didn’t employ first-time head coaches with no experience outside of playing the game.
The Nets also have a lot more injury concerns than other contenders, as much as I find this point rather rocky. But, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to Brooklyn’s defensive anchor being 37 years old and their two youngest starters battling injuries since they first donned a Nets uniform. The lack of the best, second best, third best, etc. player in the league is another weak point to me, with having one transcendent athlete being as pivotal as it is in today’s NBA.
I see Brooklyn having an up-and-down season, with talent alone earning them at the very least a top four or five seed. Come the postseason, if the team hasn’t figured itself out yet it’s hard to see them making the Conference Finals. If they do click however, I can see them challenging but ultimately falling in the ECF or, if they get lucky, the NBA Finals.