After winning only 41 games in the last two seasons, the revamped and optimistic Brooklyn Nets have Jeremy Lin setting ambitious goals for the team. Here are 5 things I expect and hope to see from both the team and Lin himself in 2017-2018:
Stay healthy. Lin played in just 36 games, plenty of them with minute restrictions. The Nets were 13-23 when Lin played. As I’ve mentioned a number of times since the end of last season: I don’t think Brooklyn would have made the playoffs if Lin was healthy for the entire year, but they’d have won at least 30 games, and probably stay in the picture a while longer.
Team defense. The Nets were 23rd in the NBA last season defensively, giving up over 110 points per 100 possessions. It’s a new team, I know, with six new players joining, and with both Lin and D’Angelo Russell, it should be easier to keep the team’s offense ticking for longer stretches unlike last season. However, taking the step from one of the worst in the league to a more formidable group goes through Kenny Atkinson’s ability to make this group play solid defense. DeMarre Carroll will help in that aspect, and Timofey Mozgov staying healthy is very important in that regard too.
Thinning the lines. Last season was about finding out who the Nets can rely on moving forward. They took a step closer, but they’re not there yet. More of a Sean Marks assignment than Atkinson, the Nets need to figure out who from this group of players can play a part in the contender they’re trying to build, and not f*** up, while making it a place that good players and not just unknown projects want to play in, or stay in.
Lets players call the shots. It’s hard to analyse last season without taking into account the injuries playing a part, but Atkinson, despite initial hopes, didn’t always let Lin be his floor general. While it’s clear that Russell will also have his minutes as the one running the show, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as it doesn’t become another ‘everyone gets a touch’ type of scheme, it should be fine. Lin should be the more ‘on the ball’ backcourt player, and Atkinson hopefully won’t try to curb Lin’s ability to make the team run smoothly.
Creative lineups. Atkinson’s lineups last season had some question marks hanging over them at times. While he doesn’t have a big man who can spread the floor, four players who can do it and switch between two and three positions are in abundance, or at least more than last season. This is where the NBA is going – blurred and less defined lines, especially between the ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ positions. Not everyone loves small ball and focusing on 3’s, but having this kind of flexibility is what succeeds in this league.
Last season I thought the Nets would win 30 games. Injury to Lin or not, the bottom line matters, and the Nets went 10 wins under what I had expected. Now, before the season began, Lin spoke about thinking playoffs, and aiming for that. Considering how the Eastern conference’s ‘middle class’ has fallen apart, it’s not that far fetched, barring injuries to key players, that the Nets come close to that. I’m going with 32 wins this season but who knows; the Nets have a winnable schedule early on. It’s easier to figure things out when you’re winning. Who knows, maybe a strong opening will put Jeremy Lin & Co. on the path to the postseason, against most people’s expectations.