Team Preview: New Jersey Nets
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
With this summer's re-signing of superstar Vince Carter, the Nets were able to keep their talented and largely underappreciated nucleus. The team may also enter this season as a veritable sleeper in the Eastern Conference. While division-mates such as Boston and New York retooled their rosters, the Nets head into this year looking largely like they did last year, though hopefully much healthier. With Carter back in the fold and the return of injured stars Nenad Krstic and Richard Jefferson, the Nets have the potential to capture the Eastern Conference title.
The team, much like in previous years, is largely built around its triumvirate of Carter, Jefferson and Jason Kidd. That nucleus can compete with any in the league, and all are solid fantasy contributors. Veteran Jamaal Magloire was signed to bolster the power forward spot, and emerging center Nenad Krstic is slated to return from a knee injury that caused him to miss the vast majority of last season. While Magloire has gradually declined, the Nets' other four starters are all strong fantasy plays, and Kidd and Carter are legitimate top-25 fantasy picks.
A second-round loss to Cleveland left a bad taste in the Nets' collective mouths, and they enter this season as a team that many are sleeping on. However, we expect the Nets to surprise this year, led, as always, by their top three stars.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Nets top three players should all see upwards of 35 minutes a game barring injury, with Kidd manning the point guard spot, Carter holding down shooting guard, and Jefferson playing small forward. While some guessed prior to last season that Kidd's playing time would decrease with the drafting of point guard Marcus Williams, Kidd actually played 2,979 minutes last year, his most since 2002-03. Carter's minutes may actually increase with the jettisoning of Hassan Adams, who served as his backup last year. Jefferson's ankle seems fully recovered, and he should see heavy minutes right away.
Collins will enter the season as the team's starting power forward. Expect Magloire to see 25-30 minutes a game, possibly less if he struggles. Collins will battle with Magloire for the starting power forward spot and will see roughly 20-25 minutes per game at both the 4 and 5 (possibly more against larger lineups). Second-year player Josh Boone really came on late last season, and he could see between 15-20 minutes per game, depending on how quickly his offensive game develops. Veteran Malik Allen will see less than 10 minutes per game.
Krstic, who was emerging as one of the top centers in the Eastern Conference, tore his left ACL early last season. He expects to be fully recovered this year, though the team may bring him along slowly at first. Look for him to receive 20-25 minutes per game early in the season, capping out at 30 if his knee holds up. Backing up Krstic will be a combination of Boone, Collins and rookie shot-blocker specialist Sean Williams, who could see up to 15 minutes per game if he develops quickly. European import Mile Ilic is also on the roster, but he should see less than 10 minutes per game, if that.
Williams will back up Kidd at the point, but he will see less than 15 minutes per game, maybe less if he can't develop a jump shot. Wright will back up Carter at the 2, though must improve his shooting as well. Free agent signee Robert Hite will see only garbage time minutes, if any at all.
Sean Williams - NJN [C]: The Nets drafted Williams with the 17th pick in the first round this summer, despite the fact that he was kicked off of the Boston College basketball team early in the year for reported drug troubles. Williams' first-round grade was due entirely to his shot blocking and, to a lesser extent, rebounding skill. Williams' 5.0 blocked shots per game in his shortened senior year were buoyed by a 12.1-point, 6.9-rebound average against largely inferior competition. We don't expect Williams to come close to those numbers this year, as he’ll probably play only as a defensive replacement. Williams' lack of offensive skill and maturity should keep fantasy owners away, at least this year, but there’s some long-term upside here.
Mile Ilic - NJN [C]: Ilic is the Nets' long-term project at center and should see very little playing time this season after spending much of last year in the NBDL.
* Richard Jefferson - NJN [SF]: Jefferson is clearly not the player he was two or three years ago, posting some of his worst numbers in years during his injury-shortened 2006-07 season. Midseason arthroscopic ankle surgery was the lowlight of a year that saw Jefferson average barely 16 points and four rebounds per game, a far cry from the 22/7 he put up in 2004-05. That the Nets were attempting to trade Jefferson all summer should be a sign to fantasy owners, as should the re-signing of Vince Carter, who is clearly the team's top offensive option at this point. Jefferson is still an awesome athlete and a solid mid-round fantasy pickup, but he’s no longer the elite fantasy player he once was.
Bostjan Nachbar - NJN [SF]: Despite being a five-year veteran, Nachbar didn't truly mature until last season, when he posted career highs in every significant offensive category. Nachbar's season culminated in a spectacular April, in which he averaged 14.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and shot a blistering 58.7 percent from three-point range. That three-point percentage is no misprint, and should read like a giant billboard to fantasy owners looking for three-point shooting. Nachbar will still serve as Richard Jefferson's backup and see limited playing time, but he finally seems to be taking full advantage of the time that he's seeing. He would be an optimal waiver wire pickup should Jefferson become injured again, or just for a team looking to increase its shooting percentages.
Josh Boone - NJN [PF,C]: Boone's improved play at the end of the season will earn him minutes at both the 4 and the 5, though his lack of shooting range should eliminate him from fantasy consideration in all formats. He did improve his point and rebound production in March and April of last year, and we do expect those numbers to improve from last year's 4.2 points and 2.9 rebounds. He does not earn many blocks however, and his negligible shooting range will mean little in the way of offensive touches.
* Jason Collins - NJN [PF,C]: Collins has made a career out of being a space-eater inside, and he has never held any fantasy value. His shooting is poor (36 percent), he doesn't block many shots (0.48 bpg) and his free throw shooting is terrible (46 percent). We also expect him to play less minutes with the arrival of Jamaal Magloire and emergence of Josh Boone, so Collins' already minimal fantasy value should take an even greater hit this year.
Malik Allen - NJN [PF]: Allen was brought in late this offseason as a veteran presence off the bench. He has never been any kind of a fantasy contributor, and wll serve primarily as a veteran leader and big body off the bench. Look elsewhere for frontcourt help.
* Jason Kidd - NJN [PG]: Let the other owners in your league doubt Kidd's age or injury history while you ride his statistical contributions all the way to a championship. Kidd is simply that good and has shown no sign of slowing down. He remains a triple-double threat every time he steps on the court (a league-leading 17 last year), and he actually led all guards in rebounding last year at 8.2 rpg. His scoring last year dipped a bit (13.0 ppg) but his assists (9.2 apg) and shooting percentage (40.6 percent) were his highest in years. Kidd also shoots free throws at a high percentage (77.8 percent) and collects a lot of steals(1.6 spg), making him one of the top few point guards in fantasy. Kidd's experience playing this summer for the U.S. National Team has also seemed to re-energize him. Target him early in all draft formats.
* Vince Carter - NJN [SG]: Love him or hate him, Carter has long been one of the top players in all of fantasy basketball and shows no sign of slowing down. The Nets made re-signing Carter a priority this offseason and inked him to a long-term deal worth potentially $80 million. For their money, the Nets retain a player who put up 25 points, six rebounds and nearly five assists every game. Carter also shoots well from the free throw line (80.2 percent) while putting up reasonably good numbers from the field (45.4 percent) and from three-point range (35.7 percent). Carter is most known for his scoring, but his assists and rebounds were career highs last year. Let other fantasy owners worry about his reputation, and pick up Carter as your top shooting guard.
Antoine Wright - NJN [SF]: Wright enters his third season with high expectations, especially after a somewhat solid playoff performance. However, we would be wary of him from a fantasy perspective. Wright will never be much of a scorer (only 43.8 percent from the field), and his rebounds (7.4 rpg) and assists (2.3 apg) per 48 minutes were also not terribly impressive. He also does not possess any three-point range to speak of, nor can he shoot free throws (60.3 percent). Wright can defend and will earn playing time on those merits, but he should earn no fantasy consideration.
Marcus Williams - NJN [PG,SG]: Williams started the year strong as Jason Kidd's backup at the point, but hit the rookie wall hard in March and April. His pre-All-Star game offensive numbers (7.1 points, 41 percent FG) were much higher than his post-All-Star splits (5.5 points, 34 percent FG). Williams was also limited last year by the fact that Kidd absolutely refused to age, which we expect to occur this year as well. Kidd simply plays too well to cede significant minutes to Williams, lessening Williams' fantasy value. Williams' lack of a jump shot also hurts his fantasy relevance, and he should only be seen as a waiver wire pickup in the event that Kidd gets hurt.
*** UPDATE - Oct. 3: Wiliams will miss 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair a fractured right foot.
Bernard Robinson - NJN [SG,SF]: Robinson appeared in 10 games last season for the Nets, averaging only 1.0 points and 0.6 rebounds in limited play. He is seen solely as a defensive player and will not earn any sort of statistics to make him fantasy relevant.
Robert Hite - NJN [PG,SG]: Hite appeared in 12 games for the Heat last year. He’ll struggle in training camp to make the Nets' regular season roster. Should he even make the big club, expect Hite to collect a majority of DNP-CDs.