Brooklyn Nets NBA Restart: 5 Things to Watch
Catching up on the keys for Brooklyn in the return to play
You’ve never seen anything like this. The NBA returns to action this week with 22 teams at a single site on the NBA Campus in Orlando, with eight seeding games leading up to a traditional 16-team playoff format that will tip off on August 18.
The circumstances that brought us here, a four-month hiatus following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, have also played havoc with the Nets roster, which will include five new players. What to expect when they tip off against the Orlando Magic on Friday, July 31? Here’s five things to watch for:
MORE CARIS LEVERT
For the first time, Caris LeVert is clearly Brooklyn’s No. 1 option on offense. Kyrie Irving remains out for the season after his shoulder surgery, and Spencer Dinwiddie’s positive COVID-19 test took him out of the restart.
LeVert left off in March playing like he was clearly up to the task, averaging 24.1 points and 5.3 assists in Brooklyn’s final 16 games. Over that stretch, following Irving’s final game of the season, LeVert’s usage rate was up to 30.0, compared to 25.8 over his first 23 games of the season.
Only 16 players in the league have a usage rate higher than 30.0 for the full season, and you can expect LeVert’s to take another leap when the Nets return to the court.
The Nets already ran the fewest post-ups per game, by far, just 0.5, so any shift in this direction will be by a matter of degree, but also by necessity. DeAndre Jordan and Nic Claxton are out, leaving Jarrett Allen as the only Net taller than 6-foot-9, even after the Nets had the freedom to add four players, though they did bring in 6-9 Donta Hall and 6-8 Lance Thomas.
So who will get center minutes after Allen? Hall and Thomas were late arrivals to the Orlando campus, and Thomas was out of the NBA this year while Hall is a rookie who played primarily in the G League. Rodions Kurucs got the first look and brought a new dimension to Brooklyn’s offense, making 8-of-12 3-pointers in three scrimmage games. Playing Kurucs at the 5 trickles down, with the Nets starting 6-7 Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot at the 4 in each preseason game. It won’t be surprising if the Nets go with a deep rotation and spread out minutes which, with this guard-heavy roster, points more towards spread out, positionless basketball on the offensive end.
FITTING IN NEW FACES
The Nets have five new players in Orlando — Jamal Crawford, Tyler Johnson, Justin Anderson, Donta Hall, and Lance Thomas — all of whom were late additions to practice after the Nets got started on July 9. What will their roles be?
Crawford is now in his 20th NBA season. In the last game he played, in April 2019, he put up 51 points. Johnson is another combo guard, and they seem most likely to be needed. While Crawford sat out all three scrimmages, Johnson impressed against San Antonio and Utah. They were also able to get into practice on July 15, earlier than the other additions. Anderson was the last to be added, but he has been with the organization since January, first on a 10-day contract, and then in the G League with the Long Island Nets. Hall and Thomas offer needed frontcourt depth, but if the Nets play small, that will limit their opportunity.
OPPORTUNITY FOR KURUCS AND MUSA
Brooklyn’s 2018 draft class has had an uneven season. Kurucs fell out of the rotation early after his impressive rookie season. He was back on the court in mid-December and played steadily after that, with an occasional string of DNPs. Musa had a rotation turn in November with the Nets playing shorthanded after the Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert injuries, but last played on Feb. 5. As the Nets began practice in Orlando though, the two second-year players were among only seven fully rostered players still available, along with the two-way players Chris Chiozza and Jeremiah Martin. With the voids at the 4 and the 5 spot, a significant role is clearly there for Kurucs, who has traditionally played up front. With the Nets likely to embrace a smaller, spread-out scheme, the 6-9 Musa can also be used across the board.
Brooklyn’s starter since the middle of his rookie season, the 22-year-old saw veteran DeAndre Jordan move into the lineup just before the season was suspended. With Jordan out for the restart, Allen is back in his familiar starting spot. He also stands alone as the only true center on the roster. What’s up in the air is how much the Nets will ask of Allen. He averaged 25.7 minutes per game this season, right around the 26.2 he averaged last year. Expect his minutes to increase, but not well over 30. So the Nets will still need to fill 15-plus minutes behind him. Allen looked in rhythm during the three scrimmages, posting three double-doubles and making 17-of-22 shots.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season