2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Brooklyn Nets
Head Coach: Kenny Atkinson
Last Season: 42–40, 6th in Eastern Conference
- PG: Kyrie Irving
- SG: Caris LeVert
- SF: Joe Harris
- PF: Rodions Kurucs
- C: DeAndre Jordan
Additions: Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Claxton (R), Kevin Durant, Henry Ellenson, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, David Nwaba, Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple.
Losses: DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Treveon Graham, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Shabazz Napier, D’Angelo Russell, Alan Williams.
In 2013, the Brooklyn Nets made arguably the worst trade in NBA history when they sent five players and three unprotected first-round picks to the Boston Celtics in exchange for the aging trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. Right from the start, everybody knew the Nets overpaid on this deal. The Nets didn’t win anything with the core they developed through this trade and had given away almost if not all of their assets and draft picks for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward to 2019, and after years of frustration and losing, things are finally on the upswing for the Nets. After two years of 54 losses or more, Kenny Atkinson and General Manager Sean Marks’ gritty, patient methods are starting to come to fruition. The Nets picked up their first winning season last year since the 2013–2014 campaign with a 42–40 record and shocked a lot of people by earning their first playoff berth in three seasons.
What I liked most about the Nets squad from last season, as I mentioned with Atkinson, was the toughness they played with. While they weren’t the most talented team in the league, the Nets played with a chip on their shoulder every night. I believe this stemmed from having a lot of players who were given up on by their former teams, including D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris.
While Harris and Dinwiddie return to Brooklyn this season, Russell now resides in Golden State. Two major free agents took notice of the Nets work ethic and toughness, as the Nets signed superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. After trading away a first-round pick and Allen Crabbe to free up salary, the Nets signed the two offensive juggernauts Durant and Irving and made perhaps the biggest splash of any team in the Eastern Conference.
With Durant likely to miss all of next season due to an Achilles injury he suffered during the playoffs last season, Irving will be thrust into a leadership for the young Nets core. Irving’s ability to lead has been questioned in the past, especially after the disappointing stint he had as the main option with the Celtics. One thing that not has been doubted however, has been his on-court production. Irving is a six-time All-Star who has averaged over 23.8 points per game in each of the last three seasons. I also believe Irving will thrive much more in Kenny Atkinson’s up-tempo, run-and-gun offense than he did under Brad Stevens’ system in Boston.
Outside of their star Irving, the Nets are one of the more younger and deeper teams in the NBA. Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs all return this year to try to build on the success they showcased last season. Dinwiddie is a smart and smooth point guard and is one of the most efficient scorers and passers in the league. Dinwiddie uses his 6-foot-6 frame to his advantage to get into the lane and make plays. While he can be a bit turnover prone and struggle with his shooting percentages, I believe Dinwiddie is one of the best bench players in the league and definitely has a chance at taking home Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Much like Dinwiddie, Joe Harris has significantly turned his career around in the last few years. After struggling in his first two years in Cleveland, Harris has emerged as one of the premier 3-point marksmen in the NBA. Last season, Harris led the NBA in 3-point percentage at 47.1% on 5.1 attempts per game. Harris is also a very smart player, plays team basketball, makes extra passes, and doesn’t make many mistakes on the floor.
The player I believe has the been the most underappreciated for the Nets over the past two years, has been big man Jarrett Allen. While D’Angelo Russell received the most attention of all Nets players last season, Allen led the team in win shares with 7.6 and averaged 10.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Allen is a superb athlete who can rebound and protect the rim with the best of them, as he’s already met several NBA superstars at the rim. He will have to continue to work on offensive game as a whole and add some muscle to his frame, but Allen still projects as a solid NBA center.
One move I questioned this past summer was the Nets choosing to sign DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal. While the Nets now have 48 minutes of solid production at center, I question the move in terms of the way it could hamper Jarrett Allen’s development. You’d think that given how productive Allen has been in years past that the Nets would have him playing a good amount of minutes at center, but with Jordan now in the fold, Allen’s playing time could take a hit. Jordan is not the player he used to be and his production has decreased in the last few years, but he’ll still give you adequate rim protection and superb rebounding. Jordan averaged 11 points and 13.1 rebounds per game last season with the Mavericks and Knicks on 64.1% shooting. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are both friends with Jordan, so the Nets could have made the signing to appeal to their two newest superstars.
In terms of other new additions, the Nets brought in wing player Taurean Prince in the Allen Crabbe trade. Prince has yet to live up to the 3-and-D potential he was given out of college, but has shown the ability to knock down outside jumpers. Prince shot a career best 39% from deep on 5.7 attempts per game last season and is starting to show more consistency from beyond-the-arc. He is still turnover prone, and will need to improve his ball-handling skills in order to become a better isolation scorer. I project Prince as the starting small forward for the Nets this season and believe he will get plenty of opportunities to improve his game with Durant out with an injury.
X-Factor: Caris LeVert
You could make the argument that before he went down with an injury last season, Caris LeVert was the best player on the Nets. Before missing 42 games due to injury, the Nets guard was averaging a career high 18.3 points per game and looked like he was breaking through.
LeVert has battled injuries ever since his college days at Michigan, and that shaky durability has followed him into the NBA. LeVert has all the tools to be an exceptional NBA wing and has showcased that ability on a number of occasions. The biggest key for LeVert moving forward will simply be staying healthy and developing a rhythm. The Nets needs someone to step up and take some pressure off Kyrie Irving on offense this year, and LeVert looks more than capable of being the number two option in Kevin Durant’s absence.
What is the power forward spot going to look like moving forward?
Things are looking a bit shaky for the Nets at the four spot at the moment. Rodions Kurucs, who went from a second-round pick to a starter for the Nets in just one season, is currently facing allegations for assaulting his now ex-girlfriend. Their other prominent four option and new addition this past summer, Wilson Chandler, was suspended by the NBA for 25 games back on August 29 for violating the NBA’s drug policy.
While we’ve yet to hear what Kurucs fate will be, the Nets may have to look into a temporary option at power forward. One name that has been mentioned is Carmelo Anthony, who Durant and Irving have apparently tried to convince the Nets front office to bring in. Anthony played just 10 games for the Rockets last season, and while he averaged a solid 13.4 points per game, his efficiency numbers were subpar for the second straight year. While Durant and Irving have tried to bring him in, the Nets front office feels otherwise as multiple reports have confirmed there’s a slim chance Melo becomes a Net.
The Nets could also move Prince up to the four and insert Harris at small forward. Brooklyn also recently extended a training camp offer to Lance Thomas, who is capable of playing both forward positions.
Who starts at center?
As I mentioned before, I questioned the DeAndre Jordan signing, but it does give Brooklyn more depth in the frontcourt. I believe Allen should get the starting spot, but given the contract he just signed, I think Jordan will get the nod as the starting center.
The Nets may be one of the few teams in the NBA to operate with two true centers in the rotation. Brooklyn should have 48 minutes of rim protection and rim running from both of their centers. Regardless of who starts, Allen and Jordan should get similar minute totals and prove to be one of the best big man duos in the league.
Does Kevin Durant play this season?
Every NBA player heals differently from injury, and Achilles tears are no different. Some players have been able to come back as soon as eight to nine months, while others have had to sit out over a year.
What the Nets and Kevin Durant will decide to do remains to be seen, but I believe Durant could benefit from playing late in the year. Even if he isn’t fully at 100% right out of the gate, Durant with slightly less athleticism and quickness is still better than most of the players in the league. KD should be anxious to return and I feel that it could be a big boost to his confidence if he’s able to come back. There is a possibility, however, that if the Nets don’t meet expectations they could choose to sit Durant even if he’s healthy enough to return. If the season is lost, there’s no sense in rushing Durant back on the court and risking further injury.
While many view this season as a gap year until Durant returns, I believe this scrappy Nets team could turn more heads and surprise people once again this season. Brooklyn will obviously have more expectations this year, and while I don’t expect them to gain home-court advantage in the playoffs, they should be playing postseason basketball again in 2020. I currently have the Nets winning 43 to 47 games next season.