Brooklyn Nets Season Preview: 5 Things to Watch For
The Nets have new faces as they seek to build on last season's playoff trip
The Brooklyn Nets enter a highly anticipated season with a brand-new look. The 2018-19 squad made a 14-win improvement to finish 42-40 and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Brooklyn then swung big in the offseason, ensuring that the next step will have to be taken by a different crew.
Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince are among the newcomers joining five rotation returnees. Kevin Durant is on deck as he rehabs, but is not expected back this season. The Nets had a fairly consistent rotation group the last two seasons, as their top eight players in minutes played were the same in 2017-18 and 2018-19, with some shuffling in the order.
How will the new-look Nets coalesce with new arrivals playing major roles? Here are a few things to watch for as they get underway:
FRESH FACES AT THE 4
The Nets started four different players at this spot last season and only one returns, Rodions Kurucs. As a 20-year-old rookie, Kurucs played his way into the rotation with explosive and energetic play. Ideally, the Nets would like more consistent perimeter shooting at the position then they got from Kurucs last season, when he shot a streaky 31.5 percent. Hence the addition of Taurean Prince, who has shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range over the last two years. The 6-7, 218-pound Prince matches the surface profile of DeMarre Carroll, whom the Nets used at both forward positions, but tried not to lean on too heavily at the 4. But after his sharpshooting preseason performance, Prince seems ticketed for major minutes at the 4, likely as the starter. After Prince and Kurucs, there’s veteran Wilson Chandler, but he’s suspended for the first 25 games for failing a PED test. Not to leave anybody out, Atkinson has mentioned the defensive presence of 6-foot-5 swingman David Nwaba as a possibility here, and then there’s two-way man Henry Ellenson, rookie Nic Claxton, and possibly even Kurucs’ fellow second-year man Dzanan Musa.
The Nets are waiting on Kevin Durant, and D’Angelo Russell is gone, so that leaves Kyrie Irving at the front of the line. While Russell was fifth in the league in usage last season at 31.1, Irving was 19th at 28.6. Aside from Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie (54th, 24.2) was the next highest ranked player on this year’s roster.
So Irving will open the season as Brooklyn’s leading man, coming off an All-NBA Second Team season, his second career all-league selection. An NBA champion with the Cavaliers in 2016, Irving averaged 23.8 points and a career-high 6.9 assists last season. Whether its isolations or pick-and-rolls, drives or 3-pointers, Irving isn’t among the top handful of players in the league in the frequency of any particular playtype; it’s the fullness of his game that makes him one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players.
Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie are here at the front of the guard rotation. Who else, if anybody, will be in that mix, and how will they be used? The Nets have added Garrett Temple and David Nwaba. Theo Pinson has been elevated from a two-way contract and Dzanan Musa enters year two after spending most of his time as a rookie with Pinson on Long Island. Roughly speaking, you could just play Irving, LeVert and Dinwiddie 30 minutes each and cover the two guard spots on most nights. But it’s a long season, and you have to expect Kenny Atkinson would like to be able to go deeper here and find consistent performance.
CARIS TAKE TWO
Caris LeVert was speeding toward a breakout season in 2018-19 before his frightening fall in Minnesota on Nov. 12. The injury defied the optics, with LeVert avoiding surgery and returning after three months. By playoff time, he was back in the form that turned heads in the season’s first six weeks.
LeVert at that level for a full six months elevates the team’s upside in a huge way. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about last season’s 42-40 record is the Nets did it with LeVert sidelined for so long. Teammates and coaches spent the 2018 training camp raving about LeVert’s play and predicting a breakout season. That’s what he was on course for before the injury. Expect him to fulfill those predictions in 2019-20.
SO LONG SMALL BALL
DeAndre Jordan is here and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is gone, so this could mean the end of the extreme small-ball lineups that the Nets would occasionally utilize, particularly working from a second-half deficit. Expect Jordan to see more than Ed Davis’ 17.9 minutes per game, and with Jarrett Allen averaging 26.2 minutes per game last season, that would generally fill up the center minutes.
Brooklyn’s version of small ball this season could be some guard-heavy lineups that slide Joe Harris to the 4, a lineup that saw some infrequent usage a year ago, or rugged defender David Nwaba at the spot.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season