Two months after being hired to coach the Brooklyn Nets, with the official start of a new season in flux, Steve Nash is getting acquainted with his team.
“For me it was really about trying to get in front of them as much as I can early on, develop relationships, show them that I care and that my motives really are pure here. I’m here to help this group fulfill its potential,” said Nash during Tuesday’s livestreamed Brooklyn Nets Town Hall with YES Network’s Ian Eagle. “That’s really my biggest goal by a long shot. I definitely am not here to raise my profile or get credit for anything. I really want to work with these guys and put them in a position to be their best, individually and collectively. So, getting in front of them, developing those relationships is a challenge given we’re all over the place right now but I’ve done as much as I can while also connecting with our departments and staff in the same manner while building and planning for the season. It’s been a challenge but it’s been the highest priority to connect and be in contact with our guys and start to develop that relationship, that understanding and that trust, which is, at the end of the day an unmovable mission in this world of professional sports, in this generation to connect with your players is pivotal. So that’s been a priority for me.”
While Kyrie Irving averaged 27.4 points per game last season, he was limited to 20 games by a shoulder injury, and Kevin Durant missed the entire season. Spencer Dinwiddie rose up to lead the Nets with 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game, while Caris LeVert returned from injury for a strong finish in averaging 18.7 points, 4.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. Joe Harris shot over 40 percent from 3-point range for the third straight season, and the Nets were formidable at center with veteran DeAndre Jordan averaging 10.0 rebounds and Jarrett Allen averaging 11.1 points and 9.6 rebounds, with both players shooting well over 60 percent.
“I’ve definitely been studying the team individually and collectively from the last season,” said Nash. “Kenny (Atkinson) was here and did a great job for many years. (Jacque Vaughn) took over in the bubble and was excellent as well, so there’s pieces for me to learn and build on from what they did, but then there’s also new players coming in here that are going to have a big impact, that are going to change the way we have to look at things in many ways and challenge us to create something unique that identifies with their skills and talents. It is a bit of all those things, and I’m going to definitely lean on the experiences this club has had in the past, the development of the individual players and collectively how this new group, considering Kevin hasn’t been in the mix, is going to best perform and how we can use him as a cornerstone for much of that we do.”
There were several versions of the Nets last season for Nash to review. With and without Irving. With and without LeVert. And ultimately, there were the bubble Nets, who took the court in Orlando with five new faces after losing players to opt-outs, injuries, and positive COVID-19 tests. LeVert, Allen, and Harris stepped into lead roles and elevated their games in leading the Nets to a 5-3 record in their seeding round games, while Brooklyn received contributions up and down the roster.
“I was impressed with the team in the bubble,” said Nash. “They, under difficult situations with a lot of missing players, I thought looked and felt like a basketball team. They played together. They were connected defensively. They took a lot of things away consistently that I liked to see. They protected the basket in a positive way. I think they forced people into situations that favored them consistently. So, the talent probably couldn’t match up with some of the top teams given who was missing, but the connectivity, the belief, the spirit and the principals were really string, so lots to build on.”
In Orlando, LeVert averaged 23.1 points and 6.4 assists over 10 games. He put up three 30-point games, and after moving into more of a playmaking role, averaged 12.0 assists over a four-game stretch, including a career-high 15.
Allen thrived while taking on a big jump in minutes with the Nets shorthanded at center, logging more playing time than any other Net over the seeding round games and averaging 13.7 points, 14.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 10 games.
“Caris and Jarrett both developing at an excellent rate,” said Nash. “Caris’ performance in the bubble, I think he made the all-bubble team, showing how prolific he can be scoring and playmaking. He’s a big guard who also can get into the ball defensively. He can improve a lot as well, which is exciting. He can continue to grow and improve. Jarrett, the same. I thought his performance in the bubble showed some big growth at both ends of the floor. He was more dynamic at the defensive end, expanding his game there, getting out and player farther out on the floor, covering guards, moving his feet for stretches that we hadn’t seen in the past, and then his rim protection I think has been his cornerstone. Offensively, I think he’s getting better in traffic. He’s getting a better feel, and he’s going to continue to grow there too. So, two very talented players who have youth and a lot of upside and are great pieces to put in the mix here for this team.”