For NBA fans, this is the depressing part of the offseason, so it’s a good opportunity to theorize and philosophise about what teams will do next season. One question on my mind is how good can the Brooklyn Nets be next season, with Jeremy Lin responsible for making it work on the court.
The Nets are a new team, with very few players from last season remaining. Brook Lopez is here, along with Sean Kilpatrick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough. The rest: Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, Anthony Bennett, Randy Foye, Joe Harris and rookies Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert, are new. And new teams are very difficult to predict, both in how they’ll play and what the results will be.
Quickly surveying the Eastern seaboard and conference in general, based on what we know and without going too deeply into the unknown, it’ll be difficult making the playoffs. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are better teams, and the New York Knicks seem to have a stronger roster, although you never know how it’ll click. The Cleveland Cavaliers are obviously better, and so are the Indiana Pacers, and probably the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks, just because of continuity. The Chicago Bulls? They have better players on paper, but that might be a disaster waiting to happen.
In the Southeast Division, the Atlanta Hawks are probably the only team you can say, hands down, that’s better than the Hawks. They’ve gone through some changes, but they should still be good enough to make the playoffs, although not too far. The Washington Wizards don’t have a bench, the Miami Heat are a complete unknown, the Orlando Magic are building something new once again, and the Charlotte Hornets are probably weaker than last season.
So what’s the worst case scenario for the Nets? Something like last season, which a lot of their more pessimistic fans are predicting. Last season they won 21 games. Sure, it could end up like that. Kenny Atkinson might struggle in finding the right lineup and balance with some many players who can play SG-SF-PF, especially in small ball lineups, and things could really be difficult to handle if Brook Lopez gets injured, although he has been relatively healthy these last two seasons. Lin and Lopez look like the most reliable players on this roster, not just the best, their consistency. However, a point guard who is about spreading the wealth needs the players around him to make shots. We saw last season Lin losing a lot of assists to some wide open misses with the Hornets second unit. The Nets have young talent around him, talent that can shoot, but the numbers on the box score don’t always translate on the court.
Defense is probably going to be the most difficult thing to establish. Lin is a good one on one defender, Hollis-Jefferson has the potential to be a great shutdown perimeter player, but the rest is really difficult to foresee. There are no other standout shutdown guys, and Lopez’ rim protection isn’t the best. Right now, the Nets look like a team that could do a lot of damage with small ball lineups, but could struggle against teams with bigger frontcourts.
Best case scenario? Championship, of course. But seriously, anything above 35 wins. Simply saying the Nets are going to win 30 or 33 games next season isn’t really a risky gamble, but it’s based on information that isn’t that anymore. Lin is a starter without any interference, something that hasn’t happened before. Young players in new roles and still developing. New head coach. This could click well beyond anyone’s imagination. I’m thinking the Phoenix Suns of 2013-2014, when they accidentally almost made the playoffs, seems like something everyone will be happy with.
Personally for Lin, this could be a huge season. Maybe even an All-Star if he gets hot, and the city follows. He could have a great year individually and the Nets still won’t make the playoffs, which isn’t out of the picture. But as we’ve said a number of times, Lin playing well quite often means his team doing better. He doesn’t operate in a vacuum, which is fantastic for a young team looking to build some chemistry, and looking for someone to lead towards what is hopefully a very bright future, even if it’ll take more than one season to get there.