Nick Ballistreri looks at how the Brooklyn Nets have started in the NBA Bubble and tries to assess the team that is in rebuild mode.
If you’ve been a Nets fan for the long-haul, you’ve been through some tough times. Long gone are the days of free-agency “coups” including Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmer and Johan Petro. The Nets aren’t going to compete for a championship this season, but knowing that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are waiting in the wings makes it much easier to sleep at night.
Coming into the restart, the Nets were already undermanned. Things got worse when Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan opted out of the bubble due to complications from Covid-19. Before the team departed for Orlando, Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince also announced they were staying home. With the Nets entering as the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, things were looking dicey.
After 4 games in, the results are mixed. The highs have been high—the Nets defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in a game where Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris were all resting. Haters will say that Giannis and Middleton sat the 2nd half, but they fail to mention the duo played the 1st half, and were down by 5!
With 4 games to play before the playoffs (or play-in round), let’s assess how the Nets have fared.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. When the Nets signed Tyler Johnson after they were stripped bare by opt-outs, the expectations were cautiously high. The Nets originally signed Johnson to a lucrative 4-year $52 million contract in the 2016 free agency period, only to be turned away by the Heat when they matched. After a couple of scrimmages, Johnson looked to be worth the gamble.
When the real games have started, the results have been less than stellar. In 4 games, Johnson is sporting averages of 7.5 points and 3.5 assists. It’s clear that Johnson is not a potential starter in this league, but the Nets hope that he can stick in the rotation the rest of the way—and even next season.
It pains me to call Caris LeVert a negative, but with the exception of his 34-point explosion against the Wizards, he’s been struggling. The knock on LeVert has always been that he has an inconsistent shot from beyond the arc. While he’s shown improvement in this part of his game, in his 3 games played (LeVert rested against Milwaukee), he is shooting 2-13 from deep (15%). The Nets had hoped that LeVert could be their own organic version of a third star next to KD and Kyrie. He still has time to turn things around, but he’s been high-volume and inconsistent so far. To make matters worse, with the ball in his hands more, LeVert has only dished out 11 assists.
Now, the fun stuff. Everything was good just a couple days ago when the Nets upset the Bucks as the biggest outright underdog since 1993. The Nets have to feel like they found some players that can stick around next season and play a big role on a team with championship expectations.
The main catalyst for the Nets success to this point has been Timothe’ Luwawu Cabarrot. In the first three games of the restart in which the Nets went 2-1, TLC averaged 19.3 points on 56% from the field, and hitting 11 of his 21 threes. The Nets hope TLC can turn into their own 3-and-D guy, and he’s played his part so far.
Chris Chiozza is another Nets player who’s been turning heads. Chiozza is a fan favorite, dazzling fans with his dribble moves and passing ability. He’s not much of a scorer, only averaging 8.25 points, but he’s been a steady floor general with a 21/9 assist to turnover ratio (2.33). Chiozza will never be expected to be a starter on a contending team, but if he can carve out a role as a backup guard, the Nets would be thrilled.
Things I’d Like To See More Of
- Jamal Crawford: It’s unfortunate that his debut got cut short, because Crawford proved he can still play in this league.
- Rodions Kurucs: The avid Nets observer is always pining for Kurucs to get more minutes. He’s developed a 3-point shot, but can’t ever seem to find consistent minutes. In the bubble, he’s only averaging 18.5 minutes, and I think the Nets would be better suited giving Kurucs some starting time over Lance Thomas.
- Jeremiah Martin: The kid can play.
- Jacque Vaughn’s strategies: I’m pleasantly surprised with Vaughn so far. His implementation of the zone against Milwaukee helped keep the Bucks out of rhythm. I did not like how unprepared the Nets looked against Boston.
In the end, the Nets know this time is for observation. If they could pull out a few more wins, great. But that’s not the goal. With a playoff berth almost assuredly wrapped up, it’ll be interesting to see how the higher level players on the Nets perform in the postseason against a seasoned opponent like the Bucks or Raptors.
For some quick Nets betting advice: Don’t touch the Nets NBA Finals odds with a 20-foot pole (I know how enticing the payout would be). It’s not going to happen. Maybe (hopefully?) next year.