A season in which Jeremy Lin finally got the keys to the offense of an NBA team right from the start turned into a missed opportunity, as the Brooklyn Nets missed their best player for over half the season. What’s there to learn about where the Nets and Lin are going from a season like this?
Enough. Not as much as we would have liked to see, as Lin played only 36 games, and didn’t really start his season until February 24. Before that, he played a total of 12 games, never more than 6 in a row, quite a lot of them under minute restrictions and in two of them pulled out early due to the hamstring injuries.
The Nets won 20 games this season, one less than last year. Using Bill James’ pythagorean system, the Nets were expected to win 24 games based on their offense and defense numbers, suggesting they were a tad unlucky. But it doesn’t really matter. The Nets were nowhere close to making the playoffs. When this season began, we thought they’d be able to pull off 30 wins, maybe a bit more, so we ended up being way off. Would they have won more with Lin healthy for longer stretches? Probably, but that’s hypothetical, and in the past.
Lin finished the season with an average of 14.5 points, 5.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He shot 43.8% from the field (his best in three years) and a career-best 37.2% from downtown, taking 4.3 shots per game. He finished with a career high in effective FG% (51.0%) and second best in true shooting percentage (56.6%). Not every game was a sharpshooting display, but when you compare it to his rocky mechanics and inconsistencies in the past and especially last season in Charlotte when it came to shooting the ball, Lin certainly took a step forward.
Lin finished with his best scoring numbers per minute this season, averaging 21.3 points per 36 minutes. After coming back from his second hamstring injury, it took Kenny Atkinson a long time before he gave Lin more than 30 minutes. Lin averaged 14.8 points in 24.3 minutes through that 24-game stretch, missing the final game of the season, like other key players on the team.
Despite the solid numbers, the promise of this being Lin’s team wasn’t fully materialized most of the time. Atkinson loves his motion offense, and the Nets needed this season to figure out what they have in their hands going forward, besides Lin and Brook Lopez. Not a lot, as it turns out, especially when it comes to handling the ball and playing de facto point guard. The difference between Lin running an offense and anyone else doing it was huge, whether it was Randy Foye, Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie or even Sean Kilpatrick. The Nets were 3.4 points better per 100 possessions with Lin on the floor as opposed to him being off of it.
During March, when the Nets were almost a .500 team (they even won 3 games in a row!!!), we finally saw just how good this team can be when the offense focuses on the Lin-Lopez pick and roll, which isn’t just incredibly difficult to stop, but opens up so many opportunities for the Nets on offense. The Nets would be wise to add another capable ball handling player in the offseason for when Lin isn’t on the floor, or to add another dimension if they guy signed isn’t in the backcourt.
The Nets have plenty of cap space heading into the offseason, not to mention have decisions to make on players with unguaranteed contracts, including Kilpatrick, who disappointed this season with a lot of inconsistent offense and a failure to show his capabilities in more than just one role. Dinwiddie, Quincy Acy, Joe Harris and Archie Goodwin are all unguaranteed for next season (Kilpatrick until June 30).
A wasted season? Yes, when it comes to wasted potential, considering the Nets could have been a lot more competitive had Lin played for the entire year. A lost season? Depends on what Sean Marks and Atkinson learned from this one. There’s a foundation to work with. March might have told us the Nets aren’t that far away from being competitive for the lower playoff seeds. With the right signings, more consistent coaching and a little bit of luck, the Nets might put the last couple of years behind them very quickly.