Brooklyn Nets eye next wave of the Year 2 effect

DeMarre Carroll always talks about year two.

It was Carroll’s second season with the Atlanta Hawks where he believes he took the biggest leap in his career while the team – losers of 14-of-15 games at one point the previous year – won 60 games on the road to the conference finals in its second season under coach Mike Budenholzer.

That 2014-15 season was actually Kenny Atkinson’s third year as an assistant in Atlanta, having been hired by Larry Drew a year before Budenholzer took over. But with Atkinson having just completed his second year as the head coach in Brooklyn – the second full season for a fully revamped basketball operations staff under GM Sean Marks – the year two effect is clearly in evidence.

“When I look back and I look at the job Kenny has done, I say look at our players that have improved over the course of the last two years,” said Marks. “If you want to call some of them diamonds in the rough or so forth, but I don’t think we can argue with what Kenny and the staff have done in terms of developing talent.”

All you have to do is take a look at the individual growth, particularly of four young players with two seasons behind them now under Atkinson – Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis- Jefferson, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie.

“The program’s great,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Just the structure, the organization, everything that they have in place is phenomenal and we believe in it. I think that’s the biggest part, believing and trusting in a process, which makes things a lot easier for their side and ours. Because when you’re aligned, I feel like that’s when you get the best out of everything.”

In his third pro season, the 23-year-old Hollis-Jefferson took a huge leap offensively, going from 8.7 to 13.9 points per game while improving his shooting percentage from 43.4 percent to 47.2 percent. He also increased his assists from 2.0 to 2.5 per game and his rebounding from 5.8 to 6.8 per game. Often matched up against bigger players at the power forward spot, the 6-foot-7 Hollis-Jefferson ranked third in the NBA in rebounding for players 6-7 or under. Harris’ surface improvement was a little more modest – from 8.2 to 10.6 points per game. But his efficiency took a huge jump. He went from shooting 42.5 percent to 49.1 percent overall, while improving his 3-point shooting from 38.5 percent to 41.9 percent. Best known as a long-range specialist, Harris became one of the most effective drivers in the league, taking advantage of defenses attempting to run him off the 3-point line.

“I think I fit into the category of being here last year and then making improvements over the summer,” said Harris. “A lot of that is the emphasis that Sean and Kenny have put on skill development and individual development. I’m a byproduct of that, as is Caris, Rondae, Spencer. We’re all here and got a lot better. We improved from a skills standpoint, but then physically our performance staff did a good job as well making improvements athletically and from a health standpoint.”

Dinwiddie took on a huge role after injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell and lived up to the responsibility. He increased his scoring from 7.3 to 12.6 points per game and upped his assists from 3.1 to 6.6 per game, 11th in the NBA, while also ranking second in assist to turnover ratio. Dinwiddie also showed a knack for crunch-time heroics, with three game-winners in January.

LeVert, a first-round pick in 2016, went from 8.2 to 12.1 points per game. After a slow start from 3-point range, he shot 37.9 percent over the season’s final five months. He also increased his assists from 1.9 to 4.2 per game.

“Obviously we’re really big with player development here,” said LeVert. “And you can see that with the guys on the team. You know how everybody’s developed. And they do it in a really positive way, a really fun way. And obviously Kenny’s a really good coach. So going forward we can’t wait to continue to get better and continue to get better with that theme and see where it takes us.”

As the Nets look ahead to the 2018-19 season, there is another contingent of young talent that fits the profile of Harris, LeVert, Dinwiddie and Hollis-Jefferson this past season. Russell, Allen Crabbe, and Jarrett Allen will all have the benefit of a full offseason in Brooklyn for the first time as they prepare for next season.

It’s an opportunity for Russell to experience some stability after playing for five different head coaches over the last five seasons, dating back to his senior year of high school.

“That’s pretty cool honestly,” said Russell. “Not the fact of having that many coaches, but as far as knowing there’s some type of security and there’s going to be repetitive guidance from a coach that you know you’re going to be around, I think it’s great.”

Russell, like Crabbe and Allen, showed abundant promise during his first season in Brooklyn. He averaged 20.9 points over his first 12 games before a knee injury sidelined him for two months. His per-36 rates of 21.7 points and 7.3 assists for the season were the highest of his career.

Crabbe shot 37.8 percent from 3-point range and had Brooklyn’s highest-scoring game of the year with 41 points against Chicago on April 9. He hit five or more 3-pointers in each of Brooklyn’s last four games and did so 13 times during the year.

Allen, the rookie center, took a huge leap around New Year’s, moved into the starting lineup at the end of January, and started 31 of Brooklyn’s last 32 games – inactive for the other. From Jan. 1 to the end of the season, Allen averaged 9.7 points on 63.7 percent shooting with 6.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 21.8 minutes per game.

Atkinson is looking forward to working with that trio during the summer and that the gains made by Harris, Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert and Dinwiddie will offer motivation.

“We can look at the guys that made the commitment last offseason, and hopefully they saw the improvement in certain players,” said Atkinson. “Whether it’s D’Angelo or Jarrett or Allen, they’re going to say ‘Man, I’m going to buy into this.’ The proof will be in the pudding when we start next year’s preseason and we talk about the commitment and buy-in, but I expect full commitment. That’s the feedback we got in exit interviews, that’s the type of guy we collectively brought in here that buy into the whole program. So I expect full participation, enthusiasm for what we’re trying to do here in the offseason from all those guys.”