The Brooklyn Nets aren’t going to let this season end (for them) too soon, winning their first game without Jeremy Lin, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-110. Brook Lopez led a group of six players in double figures, Isaiah Whitehead with all of his limitations is enjoying a warm support from his home fans, and it seems Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is finally starting to look like a capable NBA player.
Lopez scored 26 points with 3 rebounds and 3 blocks. He helped do a very good job on Karl Anthony-Towns in the second half, holding the Timberwolves star to just 2 points after 19 in the first half. Lopez isn’t a good rebounder or much of a one-on-one defender, but with the Nets improving their help to the inside from the perimeter, Lopez suddenly looks like a competent defensive player, and maybe even rim stopper at times.
It’s interesting to look at the bench. Lin is acting like one of the assistant coaches. Not just cheering on his teammates like most injured players do, but he seems to take the job of mentoring guys like Whitehead and Sean Kilpatrick very seriously. Both have mentioned Lin’s role behind the scenes in their development besides being together for a very short time. It’s also nice to see that despite the very low expectations from the Nets and the so-so performances, there’s a very unified look to this team.
Trevor Booker scored 15 points to go with 9 rebounds and is quietly having a very solid start to the season. His defense is good (3 steals this time), his movement is just what Kenny Atkinson wants, and while he’s not a very flashy player, he makes up for it with court intelligence. He’s averaging 9.7 points and 9.4 rebounds so far, and the Nets are probably getting more than expected with him. All this, at least this time, in only 27 minutes.
Hollis-Jefferson had his second consecutive game of looking like an NBA player with 13 points. Whitehead had to leave the game early because he got stepped on, but returned after he was cleared and finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. The media narrative is “Coney Island toughness” but that’s just a line to sell the fans. Whitehead is tough, but you can see he’s learning, and playing against another rookie point guard helped. As we said, Lin giving him pointers off the bench isn’t hurting as well.
The Nets now go on a five-game road trip, which is actually four games because their next game is tonight against the New York Knicks. But then it’s a very difficult run: at Phoenix, Clippers, Lakers and Thunder. Don’t be surprised if the Nets remain winless on the road when this trip is over. Will Lin be coming back? The Nets said they would assess his status after two weeks, which is probably after the Clippers game. My guess is they let him come back slowly: Either in a bench role on the road (no need in putting him right after the injury against Russell Westbrook), or in his starting role once they get back home. That is if the hamstring injury doesn’t need more time to recover from.
And a final word on Minnesota, who are 1-5 to start the season, 0-4 on the road. There’s a lot of talent on this team and maybe it’s only a matter of time before Tom Thibodeau makes a proper team out of them. For now, defensively, it’s a mess. Ricky Rubio is out which really hurts this team on both ends of the floor. Kris Dunn, like Minnesota as a whole, was really hyped up when this season, began, but it’s too soon for him to take over the point guard role from Rubio. Who would have guesses a Thibodeau team would be giving up more than 107 points per 100 possessions? Until that number improves, the Timberwolves will continue to stay close to the bottom of the Western Conference.