The Brooklyn Nets are a popular choice for many to post the worst record in the NBA next season, despite the additions of Jeremy Lin and many others on a basically brand new team. This had me thinking about trying to define what would be a successful season, for Lin as an individual, and for the Nets as a team trying to build something new.
It’s hard to think about Lin this way because he represents something completely different. Lin isn’t a player who will put up big numbers while his team bottoms out. His success often means everyone around him playing better, and more wins. VORP is a way to measure it in basketball, something similar to WAR in baseball, although not exactly, and it’s a different sport, so like many attempts to define things through analytics, it can often miss the target completely.
We spoke about Lin’s numbers in a couple of posts (Stats, shooting %), but we’ll use broader strokes to try and define a successful season here, which for the first time has something to do with how mass media, or simply the New York one, perceives his performances.
Holding on to his starting role for the entire season shouldn’t be taken for granted, because anything can happen in the NBA, but that alone won’t be a success. Those who have followed Lin over the years expect a lot more from him. He expects a lot more from himself. He doesn’t have to be the team’s go-to-guy all the time; Brook Lopez is probably going to be the top scorer. But Lin establishing himself as the main option in crunch time to make the right decision with the ball is a must. Making the All-Star game is possible, more than ever before, and getting that kind of recognition would be a major step forward. All-NBA teams? Maybe that’s thinking too far ahead, but more spotlight on Lin could finally place him in the right kind of recognition position in terms of his defense. Lin helped shed away that old wives tale about him being a defensive liability last season, but still, not too many people know about him capable of being a lockdown defender, his fantastic timing on steals and blocks, and his ability to help anchor a defense along with another stopper.
There are two levels to this: Wins, and the development and production of Lin’s teammates, which connects to the individual success perception. The Nets don’t have to make the playoffs for this season to be a good one, although it won’t hurt. What they do have to do is show progress compared to last year, and that the Sean Marks-Kenny Atkinson combination is taking them in the right direction. The Timberwolves improved by 13 wins to 29 last season, and they are one of the most (over?) hyped teams heading into the next season. After the Nets won 21 games in 2015-2016, I’m guessing 30 wins is a magic number to make the people running the show feel good about where this is going.
And what about the players? Lopez was an All-Star in 2013, and in the diluted East, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be an All-Star. Lin should help him score over 20 points per game again, and establish himself as one of the best big men in the NBA, if he isn’t already considered that good by most.
But the Nets aren’t all about Lopez and Lin. There are the wing players, like Bojan Bogdanovic, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson that will finally be playing next to a point guard who knows how to find them in open positions. Improving their 3-point shooting from the 35.2% it was last season (13th in the NBA, not too bad, but not great) will be a sign there’s not just good shooters on this team, but a point guard who knows how to make them operate. We can run through the list of players, from Trevor Booker to Chris McCullough and point out how they will benefit from having a point guard that has exceptional vision and passing skills. The bottom line? Lin doesn’t have to make everyone reach their career highs like Nash once did on the Phoenix Suns, but helping three or four players take their offense to another level will be fantastic, not just from a points-assists standpoint, but obviously we’ll see it translate into wins.