Posted Sep 7, 2012 9:41 AM
This is the 10th in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2012-13. Coming Monday: the Toronto Raptors.
New city. New arena. New colors, logo and uniforms. New roster.
The Nets' move to Brooklyn is about a lot more than just geography. It comes with a new identity and a return to relevance for a team that has gone five seasons without sniffing the playoffs.
It doesn't come with Dwight Howard, who could have made the Nets instant contenders. But it comes with Joe Johnson, a healthy Brook Lopez, a full season of Gerald Wallace, and, most importantly, a re-signed Deron Williams. That should be plenty enough to get the Nets back to the postseason.
There are a lot of variables that will determine just what the Nets can do beyond that. At the top of the list is Lopez's ability to bounce back from a pair of foot injuries. But chemistry and defense are also critical.
Brooklyn has talent at every position, but talented players don't always mesh well or play the defense needed to make the most of what they have. The Nets only need to look as far as Manhattan for a prime example of how acquiring lucrative talent doesn't always lead to postseason success.
Though they got 55 games out of an All-Star point guard, the Nets' fifth straight season out of the playoffs wasn't much better than the previous four. Their injury issues went well beyond Lopez, who played just five games after initially fracturing his foot in the preseason.
The players who were healthy were also slow of foot. And at one point midway through the season, the Nets were playing the worst defense of the last 20 years. There was some improvement down the stretch, but only one team (Charlotte) was worse than they were defensively.
Offensively, they weren't much better, regressing as the season progressed. Despite the addition of Wallace, the Nets had the third worst offense after the All-Star break.
Though four of their five projected starters are returnees, the Nets should be the most improved team in the league. The trade for Johnson was the key to the summer, because it helped convince Williams to re-sign and gave him a backcourt partner to take on some of the scoring and ball-handling load.
When their attempts to acquire Howard fell through (again), the Nets brought back Lopez and Kris Humphries. And re-signing Wallace gives them a starting lineup few teams can match. Wallace was exactly what the Nets needed last season, but the trade that brought him to New Jersey came too late to make much of an impact, especially with Williams dealing with a calf injury down the stretch.
In a season and a half with the Nets, Williams has played just 12 games with Wallace and just 17 games with Lopez. So, even without Johnson factored in, the Nets figured to be improved. The additions of Mirza Teletovic and C.J. Watson will help the second unit.
They Nets will be better defensively, but how much is a big question. The issues start on the inside. Lopez is slow-footed and a poor rebounder for his size. Kris Humphries is a great rebounder, but not a good pick-and-roll or help defender. And off the bench, neither Reggie Evans nor Teletovic should make much of a defensive impact.
Perimeter defense should be better. Johnson has size and length at the two, and Wallace is a stopper on the wing. The Nets were awful at defending the 3-point line last season, so any improvement in rotations and close-outs will help.
The Nets are going to be good again, and they'll create plenty of buzz in their new home. Every game between the top four teams in the Atlantic Division should be an event this season.
Within the division especially, Lopez's play will be a huge barometer for the Nets' success. He's only 24, so defensive improvement certainly isn't out of the question. But even offensively, he needs to be better at passing out of double-teams than he was in his first three seasons.
Either way, the Nets will have one of the league's best offenses, and should be a lot of fun to watch, especially when they go small with MarShon Brooks coming off the bench.
They're still a step or two below the best teams overall. And with all the huge contracts they handed out (and traded for) this summer, it may be tough to upgrade from here. But this should be the best Nets team we've seen in years.
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