Down the stretch, they come in the 2018-19 NBA season. Much like a great horse race, the teams are all jostling for position. Unlike a horse race, however, there are also teams actively trying not to win. That’s another issue. In the Eastern Conference, rank outsiders Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers are making a push towards the playoffs. This begs the question: Are the Brooklyn Nets a serious threat?
Are the Brooklyn Nets a Serious Threat?
A Marked Improvement from Last Season
The Nets won 28 games all of last season which was an improvement from 20 games the season before. This season the Nets have won 36 games thus far, and boast a winning record of 36-34. Such an improvement has the Nets positioned currently in 7th place (trailing the Detroit Pistons by percentage points only) in the Eastern conference, firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt.
While the Nets continue to improve at a consistent yet surprising rate, does it mean that they are contenders? By all means, no. To use a boxing analogy, the Nets have punched above their weight. Or better still, the Nets have outkicked their coverage, to use the popular football analogy.
Roster Questions Answered
At the start of this season, a quick glance of the roster yielded more questions than answers. Is D’Angelo Russell ready to be good enough to lead this team? Can Spencer Dinwiddie replicate the form he showcased at the close of last season? How would Jarrett Allen continue to develop? Is Caris LeVert a star? Will Allen Crabbe showcase the accuracy that made general manager Sean Marks offer him a lucrative contract (offer sheet) as a restricted free agent? Can the rookies produce the way Allen and LeVert did previously?
Many of those questions were asked by optimistic fans and onlookers alike. The season started well enough and LeVert showed he had the makings of a budding star. Then tragedy struck in Minneapolis. LeVert had what looked like a catastrophic injury, potentially career-ending, many fans thought. However, the news was not nearly as bad and the injury not nearly as dire. In the interim, the Nets sputtered to a 9-18 record. Things appeared grim. Many Nets fans whispered loudly, “here we go again!”
However as the former State of California governor, and world champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger famously stated: “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” On December 7, the Nets finally showed that strength. In an overtime slugfest versus a far superior Toronto Raptors team, the Nets led by Russell (29 points, 5 rebounds) prevailed with a 106-105 win. From December 7 to February 6, the Nets won 20 of their next 29 games, giving them a total of 29 wins.
Strides Made by Key Players
Russell was playing at an All-Star level. He showed poise, maturity, leadership, and stamina that many thought he did not previously possess. Through this season, Russell boasts career-high numbers in all offensive categories. Though Russell will never be mistaken for a defensive stopper, he is also boasting career-best numbers in defensive win shares. While Russell’s improvement is amazing in itself, he’s not the only one.
Center Jarrett Allen is blossoming into top-notch rim-protector and shot blocker. Allen is proving himself to be a force on both ends of the court. Presently, Allen is ranked in the top 10 in Offensive Rating, Field Goal Percentage and 2 point Field Goal Percentage. Statistically, Allen is also ranked in the top 20 in the following categories: Blocks, blocks per game, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive rebounds, total rebounds, total rebound percentage, and defensive box plus/minus.
Other Key Contributors
Sharpshooter Joe Harris announced his name with authority this season. A starter for the first time in his career, Harris keenly went about repaying the trust shown in his ability (from the coaching staff and front office) by playing hard, scrappy defense and shooting deadly accurate on offense. While in the box score Harris averages only 13.6 points per game, significantly Harris leads the NBA in three-point accuracy (46.5 percent). Such magnificent shooting earned Harris an invitation to the Mountain Dew 3 point Contest on All-Star Saturday. How did he perform? The video below courtesy of ESPN shows.
Guard Spencer Dinwiddie continues to be Mr. Irreplaceable on this Nets roster. Dinwiddie like Harris was a diamond in the rough found by the front office and developed by the coaches. Though this season the injury bug bit him, Dinwiddie is averaging a career-high 17.5 points per game. Dinwiddie continues to be unafraid of big moments, where he takes and makes crucial or ‘big’ shots. Though he’s technically a reserve, Dinwiddie plays an average of 28 minutes per contest. The Nets continue to count on Dinwiddie to lead their bench and provide continuity of philosophy while the starters take a rest.
In every draft class, there’s always a rookie that goes unnoticed. This season that rookie is proving to be forward Rodions Kurucs. An outcast at FC Barcelona Lassa due to his NBA ambitions Kurucs was discarded to what equates to basketball purgatory. Selected 40th by general manager Marks, Kurucs initially split time between the Nets and G-League affiliate Long Island Nets to begin the season. The Latvian national kept working and was rewarded when the Nets inserted him into the lineup due to injuries to several other players. Kurucs repaid the Nets by providing an instant spark both on offense and defense, quickly showing that he belonged on the “big stage”. With such consistency on display, Kurucs was named as a participant alongside teammate Allen in the Rising Stars Challenge on NBA All-Star weekend.
Post-All-Star break, the Nets coaching staff continued to be impressed with Kurucs’ development and recently named him a starter at power forward.
What Does It All Mean?
At first glance, the notion of considering the Brooklyn Nets as a serious threat is almost laughable. Unless one is a hardcore NBA fan or a resident of Brooklyn, New York, naming 5 Nets players can prove tricky. Even the NBA broadcast partners turned up their collective noses at the Nets by initially scheduling zero nationally televised games. That changed when TNT chose to replace the Detroit Pistons – Miami Heat game with the Oklahoma City Thunder-Nets game last Wednesday.
The schedule also plays a key part in this. For the Nets, the regular season comes to an end with a brutal schedule of games. These games include the already started seven-game road trip (six versus Western Conference teams and the Philadelphia 76ers), as well as 2 more games against the top-ranked NBA team the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets final four regular season games are at home versus the Toronto Raptors, at the Bucks and Pacers, finally closing at home versus the always difficult Miami Heat.
Are the Brooklyn Nets a Serious Threat?
To paraphrase the great comedian Chris Rock, “Not Really.” The Nets have already exceeded expectations for this season, thus everything else is considered a bonus. This is similar to the cliche, playing with house money. While the Nets are the NBA feel-good story for this season, what exactly are they supposed to be a serious threat to? The Eastern Conference championship? Not this year. How about making the playoffs? Quite possible considering their position and the number of games remaining.
Perhaps a first-round upset? Well, that’s an interesting probability, isn’t it? The only truly plausible way of that happening will be if the Nets were to match-up with the Indiana Pacers. The season-ending injury to All-NBA guard Victor Oladipo aside, the Pacers continue to play at a very high level. However, the playoffs are about match-ups. The Nets match up best with Pacers compared to the other four Eastern Conference contenders. The next three weeks will provide some very interesting scenarios playing out.