What if I told you one of the most surprisingly entertaining teams in the league did not have a superstar, lacked a lottery pick to potentially get one by tanking, and finished 13 games under .500? Without its most beloved player. That was pretty much the story of the 2017-18 Brooklyn Nets.
Their record (28-54) wasn't inspiring on the surface. They ranked in the bottom third of the league in offensive and defensive rating. And yet, they were easily one of the better league pass teams in the league. They played fast (sixth in pace), moved the ball (third in passes and assist opportunities per game), shot a lotttttt of threes (second most per 100 possessions), and competed hard every night.
The Nets have done a wonderful job of establishing a culture on and off the floor. It's why guys like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris can break out, why they can give the Cavs a headache on a random Tuesday night, and why you should be on the lookout for them over the next two years.
5. ND: With the KG/Pierce trade (and all those picks) almost behind them, how do you feel about the direction of the franchise right now?
SM: The KG/Pierce trade feels like a lifetime ago, so whenever someone brings it up to me, I have to remind myself it happened only five years ago. However, it’s irrelevant in terms of the Nets’ regime and direction — Billy King is long gone, and so are all of the remnants of the Nets’ 2013-14 roster. Many of the people who still talk about the trade do so only to write off any progress/success Brooklyn has had in the last couple of seasons with Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson at the helm.
Despite back-to-back sub-30-win seasons, I haven’t lost confidence in the team, Marks nor Atkinson. It kind of sucks that the Nets haven’t been able to attract (or successfully acquire) top-notch free agents, but we’ve seen some great progress from some of the team’s members. There’s Spencer Dinwiddie (who’s currently a very deserving candidate of the Most Improved Player Award), Joe Harris (who’s turned into an invaluable marksman) and an impressive group of guys aged 23 or younger: Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen. There’s a lot to look forward to, as long as the Nets can steer clear of injuries, which have unfortunately plagued them for the last couple of seasons. As my good friend Charles Maniego would say, “Progression is nonlinear.”
4. The point guard situation is probably to come to a head soon, right? The D'Angelo Russell trade was mostly praised when it happened. It hasn't been a failure, but it's just been..ok. Spencer Dinwiddie thoroughly outplayed him last year, though injuries played a part in that. Who do you trust more moving forward: Russell or Dinwiddie?
Both players have been great, but I’m super excited to see how Spencer Dinwiddie progresses in the coming seasons. He really got some heads turning when he won the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend, which was extremely exciting to live tweet, by the way.
It’s really crazy to think about the shoes Dinwiddie has had to fill, and even crazier when you try to process how well he’s filled those shoes. The Nets have attempted to use versatility to their advantage, but that left a huge void at point guard, especially after Jeremy Lin went down very early into the season. Dinwiddie had to step in almost immediately, and he’s done nothing but impress. It’s also worth noting he played 80 games this season, the most any Net suited up for. That’s impressive, considering many of the Nets’ struggles involved staying healthy.
Remember the name. Spencer. Dinwiddie. (And don’t forget to @ him.)
3. Don't forget to @ him! And with that, let's shift to the draft. The Nets nailed their pick in the 20s last year with Jarrett Allen. They have the 29th pick of the first round this year. Who would you like to see them target?
Jarrett Allen was not someone I expected the Nets to go with last year, but he turned out to be a great addition. The Allen selection was even more surprising since I don’t believe he was linked to the Nets in many mock drafts. Essentially, Brooklyn tries to be as unpredictable as possible, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
However, I’m still going to brashly base my answer on who’s been linked to the Nets in various mock drafts. I’m cool with the idea of them drafting Hamidou Diallo, who was actually connected to Brooklyn in a lot of mock drafts last year as well. (In the final hours, Diallo pulled his name out of consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.) Still, he has a connection to New York (he was born in Queens and went to John Bowne High School in Flushing, New York), and he’s a rather athletic wing. The 19-year-old has an impeccable compilation of highlight-reel dunks…
… and he recorded the best vertical jump (44.5 inches) of any player at last year’s NBA Draft Combine. Another good friend of mine, Nicholas LeTourneau, would certainly appreciate Diallo’s 7-foot wingspan!
Now, if we’re talking unpredictability with Brooklyn, well, Diallo’s is rather unpredictable as well. NBAdraft.net (last updated May 24), Bleacher Report (May 31) and Sports Illustrated (post-Draft Combine; May 21) all have Diallo being selected in the second round. Earlier mocks have projected Diallo in the first round, though his lack of an offensive game seems to be what’s causing his draft stock to drop.
2. The Nets are also equipped with a pair of second rounders (40,45). Would you like to see them swing for more sleepers, or package those in a trade?
I have a feeling this might come down to what happens on Draft Day. We’ve seen some crazy trades happen while the draft’s still going on — for example, the Bulls/Timberwolves trade from last year’s draft. Even the Nets’ deal that involved shipping Brook Lopez and the 27th pick to the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov, happened on Draft Day last year.
A team that’s looking to acquire more players than talent might take up the Nets’ offer of a pair of second-rounders in exchange for a pick in the 20s. Brooklyn is a rebuilding team that isn’t following Sam Hinkie’s strategy of stockpiling assets (the Nets can’t anyway since their picks aren’t super high), so it’ll come down to who’s still on the board when we get to the middle of the first round or so.
If there’s someone the Nets are super confident in that they can in no way, shape or form get in the 40s, then sure, go ahead and package those up. Marks always has something up his sleeve, so I’m probably going to be surprised at what end up happening, anyway.
1. Who are some free agents you'd like to see Brooklyn go after?
In terms of their own free agents, the Nets should try to get Joe Harris to re-sign. He was one of the few bright spots for Brooklyn last season, and he really got to shine after the Nets alleviated their wings situation a bit by waiving Sean Kilpatrick. A career-best 10.8 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting from behind the arc?! C’mon.
Around the league, there aren’t many options at center, but Dewayne Dedmon will be on the market once again this summer. I put Dedmon down as a potential big candidate in my free agency guide last year, and that won’t change from my point of view this summer. This season, Dedmon added a three-point shot (which you can never have too much of on the Nets), and he understandably had his best season stats-wise on a struggling Hawks team, where he was able to get more playing time. Dedmon has a player option he has yet to make a decision on, but considering Atlanta’s predicament as a tanking team, it wouldn’t be surprising if he doesn’t want to stay. I’m not sure if Brooklyn would be a far better destination in terms of what he’s looking for, but the Nets could potentially get him for cheap.
Other guys the Nets should consider are mainly wings/shooting guards. There’s JJ Redick, whom Brooklyn failed to bring in last summer. Redick will most likely want to stay in Philly (he’s already stated his intent to do so), but what ends up happening will probably depend on the 76ers’ cap situation if/when they get LeBron James. (Considering what happened after Game 1 of the NBA Finals, I <really don’t picture James staying in Cleveland.) Redick might come at too much of a price tag for the Nets though — like he did last summer — and it might not be worth it, since he’s already 33 years old.
A younger wing Brooklyn could look at is Zach LaVine. After recovering from his torn ACL, LaVine showed some signs of resurgence in 24 games with the Bulls. It’s a small sample size, so it’d be a risk for both LaVine and a team to bet on him, but he’s still very young, at 23 years old. That’s perfect for the Nets’ timeline; they’ll just have to be wary of what LaVine’s asking for. The two-time Slam Dunk champ has been quite vague when discussing his price tag.