May 22, 2018, 2:46 pm
It is currently May of 2018 and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are playing for Eastern Conference supremacy against LeBron James and the Cavs. In July of 2018, the same Cavs will pick 8th in the NBA Draft regardless of the outcome in the East. This is important because these facts are going to be lorded over Nets fans for however long those two Celtics remain in Kelly green and the Cavs’ new shiny toy is wearing wine and gold. These are all players that could have been wearing Nets uniforms if it wasn’t for a single decision made years ago.
You see, in 2013, Billy King and Danny Ainge made a couple phone calls. Some future Hall-of-Famers and draft picks were involved and for the love of God do we really need to dredge this up again? It hurts to type and doesn’t make Nets fans have any less desire to shoot Billy King out of a cannon to see if he can clear both the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges before hitting water. This trade is how the Brooklyn and Boston franchises wound up at this point and no Nets season post-mortem can truly begin without reflecting on the trade that will shape the power structure of the NBA’s Eastern Conference for the next decade. For Nets fans, without understanding and accepting your history, you are doomed to repeat it.
For the most part, Brooklyn has reached the acceptance part of the grieving process, as the upcoming draft will be the last time any picks are owed to Boston or Cleveland or anyone else for that matter. 2019 will be the first time the Nets own their pick outright this decade which is enough to warrant a dancing jubilee no matter where it winds up in the order. But the real reason that Nets fans are in stage 5 is that in the second full season of the Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson era there were some real improvements to the team and the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to get brighter.
Marks has been wisely searching for diamonds in the rough who fit the system that he and Atkinson are carefully implementing while being a thorn in the side of cash-strapped teams who have restricted free agents. He’s developing a true long-term franchise and no-ego culture that is spurred on (pun kinda intended) by today’s analytically driven modern NBA. Atkinson is also continuing to focus on player development on one of the youngest teams in the league while getting them to play every minute of every game no matter the opponent and what may appear in the win and loss columns.
2016-2017 Record 20-62, 2017-2018 Record 28-54
Statistically speaking, this team is moving in the right direction. The Nets were 2nd in the league in 3-point attempts behind only the Rockets. The Nets were tops in the league at forcing opposing teams into 2-point shots from 10-feet out or more. They were 6th in pace of play. And quietly, they were a top-10 team in both total rebounds and assists. Well, this all sounds very promising. How the hell did this team only win 28 games?
Then you realize that despite shooting the 3-ball a ton, they were only 20th in the league in 3P%, which resulted in the Nets being 29th in total FG%. Being 6th in pace also allowed them to place 6th in turnovers as well. That last stat is exacerbated by the fact that no team in the league forced fewer opponent turnovers than the Nets, mainly by being dead last in steals. It’s apparently mathematical fact that turning the ball over plus not getting other teams to turn the ball over equals… oh, so that’s how they only won 28 games.
Still, 28 games was an improvement from the previous season and the team has room to grow if only because their Pythagorean record had them at 31 wins. The team finished the season winning seven of their final 13 and had been hovering around .500 for the early months of the season. The issue is that this team is prone to long losing streaks and when the calendar turns to February, everything goes to hell. The Nets have won only once in the month of February in the last two seasons combined. That’s quite the achievement in futility. Overcoming their winter doldrums will determine if the Nets make even more strides next season.
Year two of Kenny Atkinson as head coach was very similar to year one. Atkinson continues to adhere to the modern NBA mantra of play positionless, play fast, and everyone on the floor should fire when open from deep resulting in the aforementioned placements of 6th in the NBA in pace and 2nd in 3-points attempted. Pace and Space ruled once again in Brooklyn and that will not change going into next season either. Theoretically, they should have oodles of fantasy goodies to choose from under the tutelage of Mr. Atkinson.
The flip side of that is that Atkinson has been rather unpredictable with his rotations. Some of that was due to injury, but it was also a function of the Nets talent not separating themselves from the pack. There wasn’t a single Net to average more than 30 minutes a game with the closest being DeMarre Carroll at 29.9 mpg. 13 different Nets played more than 28 games this season. Nine Nets averaged more than 20 minutes per game, it would be 10 if you include Jeremy Lin’s injury shortened season and it would be 11 if you stretched to include Quincy Acy’s 19.4 mpg. That’s a lot of bodies getting ample time on a 28-win team. Player development is a double edged sword in this scenario. You can’t develop players if they’re not on the court, but at the same time how much can they really develop if your core players aren’t going deep into games. Atkinson will need to shorten his lineups if fantasy owners are going to find any reliable sources of production on a night-to-night basis, but it’ll be a hoot for DFS players to use this knowledge to bargain hunt.
Regardless, Atkinson is here to stay and the players are nothing but sunshine and roses when they talk about playing for him. This remains a young team playing in a high-scoring system within a culture that preaches personal and professional growth. With a more modest rotation, there could be a lot of sleeper fantasy appeal on this team next season.
ADP: 53/62 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 200/254 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 109/189 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 48
When the video recap 2017-2018 Nets season eventually finds its way to your preferred streaming service, the narration will start with D-Loading. In a big summer trade, Russell was dealt to the Nets along with Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Nets lifer Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the Draft. With the Lakers set on picking Lonzo Ball and questioning Russell’s maturity level, Russell was expendable and thus the Nets had a former No. 2 overall pick to be their pet reclamation project.
The early returns on Russell as franchise savior and fantasy breakout star were promising. He was averaging nearly a 20-5-5 through his first 12 games on a respectable 46% shooting. But he still had his warts. He was struggling at the stripe and turning the ball over a ton weighing down his value, especially in 9-cat leagues.
Then as typical Nets fate would have it, a knee injury put him on the shelf for two months. The injury had a brutal effect on his game. His averages plummeted to 13-4-5 and his shooting fell below 40% through the end of the season. His confidence was down and there were games where he was glued to the bench in the 4th quarter.
His first season in Brooklyn was unquestionably a disappointment for both the team and fantasy owners who believed in his breakout. Still the Nets have a lot invested in Russell as a possible savior. It’s easy for them to call the season centered around D-Loading a wash and focus on his return to full health and another offseason in developing him into the star he could still become. His ability to score in bunches and contribute in the counting categories will make him a desirable commodity next season, but he’s a buyer beware as he can be prone to shooting slumps and will still turn the ball over a ton in this offense.
ADP: 92/91 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 485/482 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 102/175 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 1
You also can’t tell the story of the Nets season without including Lin, who was their prize signing back in the 2016 offseason. Going into this season, Nets fans and fantasy players were salivating at the thought of a Lin/Russell backcourt playing in Atkinson’s up-tempo offense.
Unfortunately, Jeremy Lin’s patella tendon had other plans. Lin would be lost for the season after the first game leaving a whole lot of ‘what could have beens.’ Before his departure, he and Russell combined for 48 points and had Nets fans believing that could be a nightly occurrence if he stayed healthy.
Two injury-filled seasons later and there’s some question as to what Lin can still contribute. Spencer Dinwiddie filled in quite well for him and deserves his minutes. Russell isn’t going anywhere either. The Nets will still find ways to get Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe plenty of minutes as well. The Nets are a better team with Lin on the court, but the question is how often will that be? Lin will always be remembered for his burst of Linsanity during his time with the Knicks and because of that, someone will always think of him as a bit of a lottery ticket on draft day, but at this stage of his career, he can’t be treated as anything more than that.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 61/65 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 99/101 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 80
When both Lin and Russell hit the shelf and Nets fans began to stare longingly into yet another dark abyss, Spencer Dinwiddie came along and pulled everyone out of their collective malaise. Dinwiddie thus became of fantasy’s biggest waiver prizes of the season.
In the two months without Russell, Dinwiddie put up averages of over 14 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two 3-pointers per game. A dismal shooting percentage was the only thing holding him back from having his value skyrocket. Nets fans and fantasy owners alike all enjoyed the ride while they could. Unfortunately, once Russell returned, Dinwiddie couldn’t keep up his production. His minutes stayed mostly consistent, but there were clear issues in ball handling responsibilities with Russell back in the fold. Dinwiddie’s shooting percentages fell even further and all of his counting stats dipped as well.
The Nets backcourt will be crowded again, but Dinwiddie has earned his place within it or on any other team as a quality starting point guard. It’s possible that either he or Lin will be attractive trade pieces next season on expiring contracts and that’s a factor to consider when considering him in fantasy. With some better shot selection, there’s no reason why Dinwiddie couldn’t replicate his top-100 season next year.
ADP: 116/147 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 96/107 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 94/102 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 68
The tumult in the backcourt masks that the Nets best player this season wasn’t one of their guards, but their versatile forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. When D’Angelo Russell went down with his injury, Spencer Dinwiddie came in and held things together. When Hollis-Jefferson went down with a groin injury, there wasn’t anyone of Dinwiddie’s caliber behind RHJ at forward. The result was the Nets dropping 10 of the 11 games Hollis-Jefferson missed, effectively ending what faint hope there could be of a late season run.
RHJ was always thought of as a reliable defensive presence that could guard multiple positions. This year he added some around the basket offense and a mid-range jumpshot to his repertoire. The result was career highs in just about every relevant basketball category. He was unquestionably one of the most improved players in the entire league.
RHJ is tailor made for defense in the modern NBA. He’s tall, rangy and can defend anywhere on the court. He’ll likely play next season on a team option, but it would behoove the Nets to lock up Hollis-Jefferson long term. More offensive gains are only going to make his price tag increase and he’s the type of player that fit in just about any style of play, which could lead teams to try and vulture him at the trade deadline or in free agency should the Nets be unwilling to pony up.
As long as he is a Net next season, RHJ will undoubtedly be their starting four and have the most stable spot in the Nets rotation. Even without any further improvement in his game, he’s still a top-100 option and a reliable week-to-week starter at forward. If he adds more beyond-the-arc distance to his jumpshot then his value could increase further.
ADP: N/A / 135 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 94/78 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 116/96 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 75
In the illustrious history of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, no player has hit more 3-pointers in a season than Allen Crabbe (201) did in 2017-2018. Congrats are in order I suppose.
Crabbe was a Sean Marks target when he was a restricted free agent in 2016, but the Blazers wound up matching the Nets offer. As fate would have it, the cash-strapped Blazers needed some relief and sent him to the Nets for just about nothing the following offseason. Crabbe was long thought of to be a one-trick pony, but that trick fit the Nets’ offensive plans just fine. For most of the season, Crabbe was who everyone thought he was. He was a fill-in for anyone desperate for 3s that could stomach 38% shooting. Crabbe was a barely top-150 piece of waiver fodder.
Then on February 7th, in a game against the Pistons in the midst of another losing streak, Allen Crabbe snapped.
Crabbe dropped a career-high 34 points in that game and from there on out looked like a completely different player. From that game on, Allen Crabbe averaged over 16 points and four rebounds on 45% shooting and 87% from charity. He added 3.5 threes per game and nearly a steal and a block per game as well. He would go on to top his previous career high by exploding for 41 against the Bulls in the second-to-last game of the season. All of that was good enough for top-50 value at the most critical time in the fantasy season.
Crabbe isn’t likely to repeat that stretch of fire, but the brass loves him and he’s going to remain a fixture in the Nets offense. He’ll be worth owning knowing he can fill the basket from deep when he’s shooting with confidence.
ADP: N/A / 147 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 145/131 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 159/142 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 72
When the book on the 2017 rookie class is finally written, it will include the Markelle Fultz & Jayson Tatum swap, Donovan Mitchell’s rise to superstardom, Lonzo Ball letting his point guard gifts speak louder than his father, and feature a massive crop of rookies who could be long time starters and possibly All-Stars between Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., and Kyle Kuzma that could make this class one of the best in NBA history.
The Nets hope they reserve a spot in there for Jarrett Allen.
The silver lining in Hollis-Jefferson missing time in late January through the All-Star break was that it forced Jarrett Allen into a much bigger role. All Allen did was verify the scouts who said the Nets got a draft steal. From January 31st through the end of the regular season, Allen averaged over 10 points, 6 rebounds, and nearly 2 blocks on over 60% shooting and over 80% from the stripe. In that time, he was a top-70 player in 9-cats and was doing all this in under 25 minutes per game.
It’s easy to envision the Nets looking at Allen as their version of Clint Capela on the Rockets. Both are tall and slim and have room to grow in their frames. Both are willing shot-blockers. And like Capela, Allen was excellent at cleaning up around the rim and will have a lot space to operate around while teams guard against the Nets army of 3-point shooters. Allen has sleeper written all over him going into next year and will likely develop into a must-own, must-start center.
ADP: N/A / 142 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 120/157 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 131/168 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 71
To add to the Nets rotational issues, they need to keep finding time for their 2016 first-round pick to develop. The problem has been that LeVert has battled some injury issues and has a lot of inconsistency in his game. He can be an athletic scorer and contributor with the ball in his hands, but he’s a mediocre shooter at best and prone to turn the ball over. On the plus side his defense has improved and the Nets want him to be more of a two-way player. Some of his highlight reel plays will tempt fantasy owners, but he’ll need to make a major step forward and carve out more time to warrant (26.2 mpg) a place in 10 or 12-team leagues.
ADP: N/A / 143 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 97/95 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 111/104 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 73
DeMarre Carroll wound up being the guy that led the Nets in minutes and became their veteran leader. Carroll who was a salary dump by the Raptors after two disappointing seasons up north, was able to turn his career around with the Nets. His shooting still isn’t quite what it was when he was with the Hawks, but he still scores and boards enough and can hit from deep to keep him hovering around top-100 value for much of the season. Unless he’s traded, the Nets will keep his role largely the same for his leadership and defense.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 128/121 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 168/152 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 78
Joe Harris was another gem the Marks regime uncovered that could come in and get scorching hot from deep in no time and open up lanes for himself. It was what he could do with those lanes that propelled him into significant minutes and a career year. Harris had an NBA best 62.7% field goal percentage on drives to the rim at a minimum of 100 attempts. If you need a reference point as to how good that is, the guy in second under those criteria is nicknamed The King. When all was said and done, Harris set career-highs in minutes, points, rebounds, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage, with the efficient output from deep (1.9 per game) doing the heavy lifting in fantasy. The Nets would love to have him back and the feeling is mutual on Harris’s side, but he may have secured a pay raise from another team with his play this season.
ADP: 110/142 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 361/361 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 331/330 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 28
Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas were a couple of fliers taken in a trade with Philly, but neither made much impact. He had some nice moments including a 21-point, 6-rebound effort in 23 minutes against Wolves. Beyond that, Okafor was relegated to a bench role, and was miscast in this offense. The #FreeJah movement will likely need to rely on a different team to see if he can resurrect his career.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 370/376 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 410/418 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 41
The aforementioned Stauskas came over to the Nets in a trade where Jahlil Okafor was the headliner. However, it was Stauskas that filled a more pressing need and made sense at the time. The Nets had lost Lin and Russell to injury, Crabbe was struggling, and the team needed another guard who could shoot from deep. Stauskas had a great Nets debut and scored 22 with five triples, but his minutes were never consistent and wasn’t part of the rotation later in the year.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 242/243 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 281/280 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 70
Quincy Acy was what little depth the Nets had at power forward and is a very limited contributor on either end of the game. He got significant minutes when Hollis-Jefferson went down with an injury and oddly enough, the majority of his contributions sans RHJ came from outside the arc, leading to a career high in 3-pointers (1.5 a night). Acy could likely be back on the veteran’s minimum, but the Nets will likely look for upgrades at forward in the offseason.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 241/221 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 298/268 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 73
To try and address some of their weakness at the forward position, the Nets acquired Dante Cunningham at the trade deadline. Cunningham played over 20 minutes a game with the Nets and proved to be fairly versatile by averaging nearly eight points, five rebounds, and a triple per game on 47% shooting. Cunningham is also a free agent and the Nets will likely explore if there upgrades at forward, but could look to him as a fall back option.
ADP: N/A / 141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: LOL/JK (8/9-cat), Games Played: 31
Timofey Mozgov was acquired from the Lakers to facilitate the D’Angelo Russell trade. He largely faded from the rotation once Kenny Atkinson realized that Jarrett Allen was also on the team. He’ll be the team’s 2nd highest paid player where he’ll be waving a towel in his warmups on most nights.
The Nets will continue to have reasons to be optimistic going into next season. They improved by eight wins from the previous season and their 28 total wins was three lower than their Pythagorean record. They’ll return the majority of a young and improving team and have front office and coaching stability. They’re going to continue to play a fun style of offensive basketball. The Nets’ cap situation is still one of the better in the league and will allow them to be active in the free agent market if they so choose, or extend both Russell and Hollis-Jefferson who are crucial to both the team’s present and future.
Sean Marks may still have another trick up his sleeve to bring in some reinforcements to give them some more size and depth behind Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen. Perhaps a Brook Lopez reunion could be in order? Or he could bring in someone who fits the 3 and D model and be the catalyst for creating turnovers that this team desperately needs. Might Avery Bradley take less money after to rehab his value after a miserable season in Detroit and LA?
No matter which direction they go, the expectations to improve again will be there and Marks knows it. But on paper this team has the system in place to lay the groundwork for those gains and the players to execute. They’re far from contending, but 2018-2019 will be another year in which the Nets get even closer to respectability and maybe even the postseason. The Nets jerseys may be pitch black, but for the first time in a long time, their future isn’t.