The Brooklyn Nets are in a beyond obvious rebuilding state. Trading away big man Thaddeus Young this summer and shedding veterans like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in recent years made that clear.
The Nets aren’t willing to be so receptive to 2016-17 being another year of missing out on the playoffs, however. Star guard Bojan Bogdanovic, fresh off of a dominant scoring run in the Rio Summer Olympics, suggested as much:
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) September 13, 2016
The big takeaway isn’t that Bogdanovic is guaranetting a Nets playoff run. He’s just expressing confidence in a freshly pieced together unit that may be slightly overlooked. The main problem with his logic is that the Nets were abysmal a year ago as winners of just 21 games.
That being said, it’s worth wondering if this is just preseason fodder, or if Bojan has a point. Are the Nets just another tanking team that will struggle to win 20 games and reach for a high draft pick when it’s all said and done, or could they shock as a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference?
Reason For Optimism
Believe it or not, there are a lot of good reasons to slowly buy into the Nets as a fringe playoff team. For one, the Nets moved on at head coach and started fresh with former NBA assistant, Kenny Atkinson. How that switch goes is anyone’s guess, but a change up top was needed and could go a long way in revamping the souring culture in Brooklyn.
There is something to be said for veteran experience, raw young talent and depth – especially a very solid blend of all three aspects. The Nets definitely established some veteran presences, as they brought in Jeremy Lin to run the offense, have Bogdanovic to provide offense at either the two or three, and still have one of the game’s top centers in Brook Lopez.
The depth aspect is also key, with solid glue guys like Randy Foye, Greivis Vasquez, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker and Justin Hamilton all being brought on this past off-season. The young talent is there, too, with tantalizing prospects like Isaiah Whitehead, Yogi Ferrell and Caris LeVert all being added to the mix.
Holdover youngsters Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also exhibited interesting skill-sets last season and could vie for bigger roles.
It’s true that there isn’t one jaw-dropping superstar on this team, but the Nets stripped their roster of big names and replaced them with very solid depth via players that can wear multiple hats. Lin is a combo scoring guard who can shoot, penetrate and run an offense, Vasquez and Foye can both score and lead a unit, Bojan can take a big scoring role and Lopez likely will operate as the main star and offensive leader.
Brooklyn faces three huge obstacles in their plight to shock everyone and make the playoffs:
- Lack star power
The Nets have a new rookie head coach, several young bodies and in general a ton of new faces. That’s great considering that last year’s team was awful, but there could obviously be a lack of high level chemistry early on. That won’t be an issue forever, but it’s worth wondering if Brooklyn digs themselves a huge hole early on because they’re not familiar enough with each other.
Even if chemistry isn’t an issue, the Nets have to worry about consistently producing offense. Lopez, Lin and Bojan can all score, but it’s pretty arguable only Lopez can do so consistently every single night. With no other proven star on this roster, this team will either need to rally around Lopez on a regular basis or someone else will have to really evolve their game to become more of a go-to scoring threat.
Of the other options, it makes the most sense for that to be Bogdanovic. Bojan was an elite scorer in an intense Olympic run and he can provide inside/outside offense. He could oddly be the perfect complement to Lopez’s inside game, while the Nets could really carve teams up if they can get consistency from outside shooters like Lin and Foye.
Still, the consistency might not be there and on paper, the Nets don’t have the proven outside shooters to hang with the top offensive teams on a regular basis.
Naturally, that takes us to defense. Brooklyn was one of the worst defensive teams last year and on paper that doesn’t figure to change. Lopez can be a decent shot-blocker when he’s focused, but he’s not a great one-on-one defender down low and can be prone to foul trouble. In all honesty, the only big man defender the Nets can get remotely excited about is Booker, but it’s unclear exactly what his role will be.
On the perimeter guys like Vasquez, Hollis-Jefferson and Foye can all defend, but of that trio RHJ is the only guy with elite ability. Lin and Bogdanovic could both be eaten alive on defense nightly.
Per Bovada, the Nets are tied with five others teams with +50000 odds to win the 2016-17 NBA Finals. We know they’re not going to defy odds that like and go on a title run, but there is still a pretty valid argument for them being deep, balanced and experienced enough to make a run at one of the bottom playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The main reason for optimism, probably ahead of everything we’ve touched on, is the fact that the bottom of the Eastern Conference still isn’t amazing. The Detroit Pistons wrapped up the 8th and final seed last year and won just 44 games. In fact, just two of the conference’s 8 playoff teams won more than 48 games a year ago.
There is still a wide gap between that and what the Nets did during the 2015-16 season, of course. They will have to make quite the leap from last year’s production, a season that saw them put up just 98 points per game, while allowing over 106 per game.
So, what can we expect?
The Nets are as bad as a flier title bet as you can find and they’re not a threat to win their division. With teams like the Pistons, Pacers, Knicks, Bulls and Wizards all still more talented, it’s also very tough to imagine Brooklyn making a serious playoff push. Ultimately, the Nets have a better roster than they did a season ago and they absolutely have reason to believe they can win more games and be a more competitive unit, but making the playoffs feels like a pipe dream.