Now armed with their draft picks and cap space, the Brooklyn Nets finally appear to be on a path they can follow. How will the offseason additions affect their team’s timeline?
The Brooklyn Nets have slowly been climbing out of the NBA basement since their last playoff appearance in 2015. As a result of the infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the Nets haven’t owned their own first-round pick in each of the last three drafts, making it harder for them to add young talent during their rebuild.
Enter Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson as the team’s new GM-head coach combination. As a result of their pragmatic approach to adding young talent through the use of the team’s cap space and late first-round picks, the Nets have assembled a team that includes some impressive young players and cap space to potentially use in 2019 free agency (not to mention the fact that they finally their own first-round picks moving forward).
This past offseason, Brooklyn added a plethora of veterans to their roster to bolster depth at each position. From adding Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried and Jared Dudley to guards/wings in Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham, the Nets suddenly have one of the deepest teams in the league, albeit on a roster void of top-end talent.
What Brooklyn does have is a collection of young players that appear to have solid starter potential and veterans to trade during the season to add to their stockpile of assets, which is exactly what Marks should be focused on this season. It’s safe to say that Marks’ phone will be blowing up surrounding some of those veteran players, namely DeMarre Carroll (a solid 3-and-D wing), Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis, one of the best backup bigs in the league last season.
Will Marks be focused on trading those players away in exchange for youth and/or draft picks? Or will he and the team be focused on staying as competitive as possible to attract potential free agents in 2019? That is one of the key dilemmas to watch with this Nets team this season, especially if the race for the eighth seed in the East is as weak as many expect.
The 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets will be an interesting team to watch for many reasons, from their Rockets-lite style of play (Brooklyn was second in 3-pointers attempted per game and sixth in pace last season) to the development of their young players.
Jarrett Allen is the team’s prized possession, as the 20-year-old big man impressed in his rookie campaign, averaging 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per-36 minutes. Allen shot 70 percent from within three feet of the rim and showcased an offensive touch that few expected so early in his career.
Allen projects to have a Clint Capela-like impact moving forward as a switchable, fierce rim protector on defense and rim-runner on offense. Plus, Allen just instantly makes any game he enters more entertaining with his shot blocking and dunking ability:
Beyond Allen, the rest of the team’s young players have serious question marks surrounding their game and situation with the team, starting with D’Angelo Russell.
Russell has had his fair share of flashy moments throughout his first three seasons in the league, but injuries and a lack of true impact have held him back from blossoming into the unquestioned leader of this Nets team moving forward. Russell has played just 63 and 48 games respectively in the past two seasons, has been a below-average 3-point shooter and his teams have been better with him off the floor in each of his three seasons. Not exactly what you want to hear about the former second overall pick as he enters restricted free agency.
This is a make-or-break season for Russell. If he can stay healthy and finally contribute to winning basketball, the Nets (or another team desperate for a point guard) will feel comfortable throwing a nice contract at him this summer. If he continues to struggle to stay on the floor and has a negative overall impact, he will likely find himself struggling to secure a starting role or big payday in free agency.
The same can be said for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, another upcoming restricted free agent and unique swingmen. Hollis-Jefferson is best known for his strong defensive play as he is able to guard multiple positions on the wing and in the frontcourt due to his length. Hollis-Jefferson has consistently graded out as a positive defender according to Defensive Real Plus-Minus, but his overall impact on the team’s defense hasn’t been strong since his rookie campaign (in which he only played 603 minutes).
When it comes to his offensive game, Hollis-Jefferson is a throwback scorer who relies on mid-range jumpers and craftiness to get to the rim. Last season, the 23-year-old shot 47.7 percent on shots from within 10-16 feet of the rim and 44 percent on shots between 16 feet of the rim and the 3-point line, showcasing his mid-range prowess.
Unfortunately, those are the most inefficient shots in the NBA and Hollis-Jefferson hasn’t shown the ability to step back beyond the arc throughout his three seasons in the league (he has attempted a grand total of 135 3-pointers in that time). Additionally, Hollis-Jefferson isn’t a strong finisher at the rim, as he has been a slightly above league-average (59 percent) in his brief NBA career.
While Hollis-Jefferson is a unique passer for his position and can put up a solid stat line of 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, he must be paired with multiple shooters around him to overcome his offensive limitations. Which makes it tricky to assess his value heading into restricted free agency.
Once you get past the intriguing (albeit limited) young talent on this Nets roster, you are presented with a variety of solid role players and depth pieces either in the prime of their careers or exiting their prime into more of a mentorship role. This includes key rotation pieces such as Dinwiddie (a potential trade candidate given his upcoming unrestricted free agency), Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris, all players that are solid if unspectacular starters.
This Nets season likely boils down to the team figuring out what they have with their young pieces and deciding on a plan for 2019 free agency. Are they focused on attracting a star player? If so, they’ll likely be looking to be as competitive as possible. If they realize that plenty of other teams will have cap space to throw around, Brooklyn would be best suited to trade their veterans for assets and work to maximize their own draft pick next year.
Throughout that process, identifying who Russell and Hollis-Jefferson truly are in the league will allow Brooklyn to properly evaluate them in restricted free agency. Based on what the two have shown throughout their respective careers, the Nets may look very different come next season, star players on the roster or not.