A team very few people expect anything from is the Brooklyn Nets. However, Jeremy Lin has recently declared that the Nets are making the playoffs.
On the face of it, this statement is hard to take too seriously. The Nets have won 41 combined games over the last two years, and traded Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, they’ve added D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov through that trade, got DeMarre Carroll and draft picks from Toronto as well as drafting a promising big man in Jarrett Allen. But looking at the roster, this doesn’t look like a playoff team.
One thing people forget about last year’s Nets, a team that won only 20 games, is that Lin was healthy for only 36 games, and a lot of them were under minute restriction. Had he played the entire season, I don’t know if the Nets would have made the playoffs, but they probably would have stayed in the picture much longer. The Bulls got in with 41 wins. A full Lin season doesn’t mean double the wins, but we saw how the Nets played when they finally got time to click. In the East, it was good enough to be much more than bottom feeders.
So if the Nets are going to be a playoff team, they’re going to have to replace a player who averaged over 20 points per game last season, provided decent rim defense and turned out to be quite an adequate 3-point shooter all of a sudden. Allen and Mozgov aren’t that type of player, but the Nets had those last season in guys like Justin Hamilton. Maybe what they need is something a little bit different.
The biggest x-factors will obviously be Russell (as well as his combination with Lin), and Carroll, as he tries to put his disappointing time in Toronto behind him, and provide a more meaningful contribution, like he did with the Hawks. I think Carroll will do better in Brooklyn, not just because of the change in atmosphere, but because the Nets will probably operate on offense in a manner that’s a lot more similar to how things worked for him in Atlanta. A team offense (although hopefully Atkinson ditches his rigid motion offense principles and puts the ball in hands that know what to do with it), and not an offense that focuses on Lowry and DeRozan scoring through isolations. Carroll needs a playmaker to find him as he picks his spots. The Nets are made for that. Lin was made for that.
Russell begins a two-year trial to show he deserves a max rookie extension in 2019. At around $7 million, it’s hard to see the Nets waiving his team option next season unless 2017-2018 is disastrous. And Russell’s ability to share a backcourt and switch from scorer to facilitator depending on need will determine how well he does and the Nets do. Although I’m not in love about Lin playing the ‘2’ position, there has to be some flexibility in this offense.
If the Nets get that right and establish a potent defense early on the season, as well as having the right kind of luck when it comes to injuries, maybe Lin’s statement about making the playoffs won’t sound so out of touch a few months from now.