The NBA season has finally begun, and after a night dedicated to mostly championship-caliber teams, the rest of the commoners can take the floor. Among them, the Brooklyn Nets, who have a very special player in Jeremy Lin, who is their best shot at making this season a lot less miserable than many predict it will be.
The Nets open the season in Boston against the ambitious Celtics. The two teams have already met twice in the preseason, with Boston winning both games. Overall, aside from Lin, it was hard to point anything consistently good or promising on the Nets. It made people like me, who announced the Nets would win over 30 games this season, have second thoughts. But it very well may be that Kenny Atkinson wasn’t showing everything during the preseason, and the offensive lulls and defensive confusion will look like a thing of the past in no time.
Being realistic, it’s probably going to be somewhere in between. We can talk all day about how Lin is the key, but he alone isn’t going to turn the Nets into a winning, playoff franchise again. A lot is riding on Brook Lopez being able to run an efficient pick and roll with him and settle in with the motion offense that Atkinson is trying to install. Players like Bojan Bogdanovic and Sean Kilpatrick need to be a lot more consistent on offense, and someone like Bogdanovic is going to have and start digging in on defense, or the trade rumors will begin. And there’s probably a question mark and doubt regarding every player on this team. The Nets are going to have a good season through team balance and cohesion, not individualism (within limits isn’t that bad), because they are behind almost everyone when it comes to individual offensive talent in this league.
But Lin does provide a certain pattern breaker for them. His ability to break down defenses with his penetration, his improved shooting and suddenly playing as the go-to-guy and facilitator all at once puts him in a unique position, and perhaps opponents not knowing what to expect, at least at first. While ideally the Atkinson offense provides a template for five players to move around and find each other in open spots, the Nets don’t have a better finisher than Lin, and don’t have a passer that comes close to what Lin can do.
The biggest problem they had in the preseason was stopping Isaiah Thomas from breaking their defense apart. Lin has done a good job in the past in bullying small point guards on the other end, and giving Thomas a hard time by taking him to the basket as much as possible can be a problem for the Celtics. Obviously, they can put Avery Bradley on Lin, but that creates other mismatch and size problems. If the Nets manage to pull Al Horford away from the basket, they could give the Celtics plenty of problems. This means Lopez has to be a lot more mobile than in the preseason.
But beyond trying to foresee how this game develops, this is something of a celebration day for Lin. The first time as a starting point guard from day 1 without someone next to him trying to interfere, for lack of a better word. This isn’t the Lin show, these are the Brooklyn Nets, but as it’s often been with Lin on his different teams, the more he plays with the ball in his hand, the better it is for the team. The Nets have probably figured that out early. Now it’s all about putting the right pieces next to him.