Nets vs. Sixers: Brooklyn's Building Blocks to a Playoff Team
GM Sean Marks acquired five of Brooklyn's top six scorers in the span of a single year
Sean Marks took over as the Brooklyn Nets' general manager in February 2016, with the team in the midst of a 21-win season. Only one player remains from the roster Marks inherited — then-rookie forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. In year one under Marks and Kenny Atkinson, the Nets finished with the NBA's worst record, a 20-62 mark. Two years later, they've doubled that win total and claimed a playoff berth.
Here's a quick look at how Marks got started on building a playoff team.
From June 23, 2016 through June 22, 2017, Marks acquired Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, D'Angelo Russell, and Jarrett Allen. That's four-fifths of this season's opening night starting lineup and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, all within a single year. None were sure things. It took a combination of vision from the front office and development by the coaching staff.
The LeVert trade didn't become official until two weeks after the 2016 draft. In exchange for Thaddeus Young, the Indiana Pacers selected LeVert with the 20th overall pick. Injuries had ruined LeVert's final two seasons at Michigan, and after a third foot surgery, he wouldn't make his NBA debut until December. After a breakout start to the 2018-19 season was interrupted by injury, LeVert has been back in form over the season's final two weeks.
Next came two players that were there for any team in the league to grab — Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie. Harris had been traded and waived on the same day he had ankle surgery midway through his second season. The Nets signed him as a free agent in July. Dinwiddie started the 2016-17 season in the G League, cut by the Chicago Bulls in training camp after two seasons in Detroit.
Each has progressed steadily. Dinwiddie was a Most Improved Award finalist in 2017-18 after stepping into a starting role and demonstrating an ability to score in bunches and make clutch shots. He's been even better in 2018-19 as Brooklyn's second-leading scorer in a steady sixth man role. Harris has started every game he's played in this season and led the NBA in 3-point shooting, an amazing progression.
On February 22, 2017, Marks dealt forward Bojan Bogdanovic to the Washington Wizards for a first-round draft pick. Four months later, he selected Jarrett Allen with the 22nd overall pick. The lean and explosive 19-year-old left Texas after his freshman season, then slipped past No. 20 to the Nets. By the middle of his rookie season, he was Brooklyn's starter.
And then ...
D'Angelo Russell had been the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, but slowly fallen out of favor, particularly with new — and now newly departed — basketball boss Magic Johnson, amidst the rising presence of L.A. native and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, whom Johnson eyed in the 2017 draft.
Marks traded franchise scoring leader Brook Lopez and the team's first-round pick (No. 27 in a pick swap with Boston) in a swing for an All-Star caliber talent. And that's exactly what he got in return. After an initial season interrupted by knee surgery, Russell has thrived in his second year with the Nets. He's led the team in scoring and assists and shouldered a bigger responsibility while the Nets played without the injured LeVert or Dinwiddie. Russell made his first All-Star Game appearance in February, and then elevated his game afterwards.
From this trio, the Nets have gotten a combination of quality play and irreplaceable leadership. DeMarre Carroll came first. A favorite of coach Kenny Atkinson's from their days together in Atlanta, Carroll was taken off of Toronto's hands with two years left on his contract — along with the draft picks that became Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs in exchange for ... wait for it ... Justin Hamilton. Carroll set career highs in points and rebounds in 2017-18, then played a reserve role after preseason ankle surgery slowed his start in 2018-19. He rolled into gear in January, then moved back into the starting lineup late in the season.
Carroll had the sage veteran role largely to himself in 2017-18. He was happy to have some new voices in the locker room this season. Respected throughout the league and known for his rebounding on the court, Ed Davis has rebounded at the best rate of his career in teaming with Jarrett Allen to shore up the center spot, where depth was a serious problem last season.
The Nets picked up Jared Dudley from Phoenix last summer, along with a second-round pick. The 12th-year forward has been praised by teammates for his leadership and wisdom, ended up starting the first 20 games of the season, and played some of his best basketball of the year over the final weeks.
Before the season, Spencer Dinwiddie said all the Nets needed was for every player to be one-percent or two-percent better. He and others have done that, and more. But it doesn't hurt to have a lightning-strike, out-of-nowhere surprise to give a team another boost.
After some early appearances in which he impressed with his energy and a knack for making plays happen, second-round pick Rodions Kurucs has been a rotation regular — and a starter for most of that — since Dec. 7. The Nets went into their game against the Raptors that night with an 8-18 record and are 34-22 since. Kurucs has played the 4 and he's played the wing, he's played big minutes and short minutes, and throughout he's shown a disruptive athleticism that makes an impact.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season