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Brooklyn Nets After 82 Games: What We’ve Learned

The Nets saw an eight-game improvement and built some momentum for next season

The Nets continued their ascent under general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson as they saw an eight-game improvement in the 2017-18 season.

There were plenty of challenges as the team dealt with key players missing games due to injury, which started with Jeremy Lin suffering an injury on opening day that would rule him out for the remainder of the season. D’Angelo Russell (34 games), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (15 games) and Caris LeVert (11 games) all missed significant time as well. Still, despite that factor and dealing with the natural inexperience that comes from having one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, Brooklyn was relentless in fighting to prove itself. 

“It’s because we care about each other,” Hollis-Jefferson explained. “When you care about one another, the rest is history. We can go out and compete and have fun. Even when it’s a tough loss, it’ll hurt, but we’ll go back to being brothers and start talking about the things we could’ve done differently.”

Midseason arrival Dante Cunningham has played in a few stops around the league, ranging from veteran-filled playoff teams to young rebuilding teams, and he insists the locker room dynamic is unique in Brooklyn. He pointed to the team’s season-high three-game win streak in April as a perfect example.

“When it’s the end of the season guys don’t want to play anymore if you’re not making the playoffs…We haven’t had a situation like that,” Cunningham told BrooklynNets.com. “We’re playing until the end and coach is staying on us. I love that about this organization and this team – this group of guys.”

Here’s a Review of the Nets’ 2017-18 Season:

Team MVP: DeMarre Carroll

At various points of the season, the answer of this question might have been different. D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were often the catalysts for Brooklyn at different stages of the season, but it is Carroll’s consistency and leadership that makes him stand out.

He is the unquestioned voice of the Nets locker room and often the extension of Atkinson’s coaching on the court. As good as Carroll was off the court, he was even better on it. The 31-year-old forward averaged career highs in points (13.5) and rebounds (6.6) and hit the most threes he’s had in a season at 145.

More importantly, after being labelled as injury-prone in Toronto, Carroll matched his career-high games played in a season (73). Pretty impressive for a player who many considered to be a salary dump when he arrived last summer. 

Top Breakout Player: Spencer Dinwiddie

There was a stretch from mid-November through the end of January where Dinwiddie was hands down the Nets’ best player. There weren’t many outside of Brooklyn who knew who the guard was prior to this season, but he introduced himself to the NBA by being one of the league’s most efficient playmakers and also one of its fiercest competitors in the clutch (watch the highlight below) during those months.

Dinwiddie’s rise reached national status when he stunned All-Star Weekend by winning the Skills Competition. He then followed that up by appearing on the Racheal Ray show, which would air just three days after that win. 

Dinwiddie didn’t maintain those highs after the All-Star break as a combination of factors, including fatigue, rotation changes and ultimately, a new role off the bench, attributed to a decline. Yet, as has been the case through his young NBA career, just as it appears he’s about to be written off, Dinwiddie finds a way to respond. A new hairdo appeared to bring back some of his mojo as he poured in 20 points, seven assists and three rebounds in what would be his final game of the season against the Bulls on April 9. 

“I thought Spencer got back to old Spencer,” Atkinson said after that game. “He was aggressive, he was driving it, he was getting to the rim and that’s who he’s been 90 percent of the year.”

Top Arrival: D’Angelo Russell

Cunningham has definitely had an impact since the Nets acquired him from the Pelicans on Feb. 8, but the team landed a potential franchise player when Russell arrived last June.

Russell’s knee injury suffered on Nov. 11 likely ended momentum towards what was appearing to be a breakout campaign as he was averaging 20.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds before that point. Still, the 22-year-old made some strides once he was reinserted into the starting lineup on Feb. 22. He had several eye-opening performances including two impressive showings against Toronto, scoring 24 points in the first quarter against the team on March 14 and having his first career triple-double (18 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds) against them 10 days later.

Once Russell finds consistency and improves his decision-making, he has all of the tools to be an elite point guard in the NBA.

Best Win of the Season: Nets 119, Bucks 111, April 5

Beating Cleveland on Oct. 25 at Barclays Center might have been the bigger upset, but if Nets fans wanted to see tangible proof of their team’s improvement, the late-season victory in Milwaukee was it. 

Coming off of two losses to the Pistons and Sixers, the Nets could have caved in against a Bucks side that had dominated them throughout the season. Instead, Brooklyn stunned a determined Milwaukee team that was jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference playoff seeding.

Allen Crabbe was the catalyst of the Nets’ upset as he had 25 points and hit two timely threes in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Toughest Defeat of the Season: Pelicans 138, Nets 128 (2OT), Feb. 10

The Nets rallied from 28 points down to force an overtime, where they would trade buckets with the Pelicans in a thriller. Unfortunately, Brooklyn would run out of gas in the second overtime as New Orleans would go on a 14-4 run. Still, the fight shown by Atkinson’s side in that game was representative of his team’s season as a whole. Despite the odds being against them, the Nets took one of the Western Conference’s best teams down to the wire. While it didn’t result in a win in this particular game, there would be other results where Brooklyn would steal an upset due to this style of play.

Player to Keep an Eye in the 2018-19 Season: Jarrett Allen

Russell wasn’t the only potential franchise cornerstone Brooklyn acquired last offseason. Allen, who was a steal at the 22nd pick in the 2017 draft, cemented himself as the Nets’ potential starting center for years to come.  

The 19-year-old started off the season slowly, averaging just 4.5 points a game in October and November, but emerged in January and wouldn’t look back after. He was named starter on Jan. 30 and has impressed in that role, averaging 10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 62.1 percent. His 1.2 blocks on the season lead all rookies.

The key for Allen this offseason will be to add weight to his 6-foot-11, 234 pound-frame. The center has good footwork and solid low post moves, but was often outmuscled in the paint. Getting stronger will help him in that area. Atkinson has big expectations for the former Longhorns star in his second season.

“Jarrett Allen, he’s got to be not a good player but be a great player," Atkinson stated. 

Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season

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