The Brooklyn Nets reworked their roster in the offseason, adding some veteran depth and some interesting youth and should win more. But how much more?
The rebuild of the Brooklyn Nets is on the right track.
The Nets improved from 20 wins to 28 last season in the second full season under general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson.
This summer, Marks was busy both upgrading the talent level of the current roster and planning ahead for further moves.
He managed to make a better ball club right now while also opening up enough cap space for next summer that Brooklyn could presumably offer not one, but two, max deals to prospective free agents.
From the roster that opened the season a year ago, eight of the 17 players remain. That’s a 52.9 percent roster turnover from year-to-year, for those of you scoring at home.
Two opening-night starters — Timofey Mozgov and Jeremy Lin — were traded over the offseason and the bench unit from the 140-131 loss at Indiana no longer includes Quincy Acy, Trevor Booker or Sean Kilpatrick.
Of the four players that were inactive on opening night 2017-18, none are Brooklyn Nets today. That includes Isaiah Whitehead (now playing in Russia), Tyler Zeller and the Nets’ first pair of players on two-way contracts, Yakuba Ouattara and Jacob Wiley.
Among the other interesting tidbits from that game a season ago: Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen were both DNP-Coach’s Decision recipients. Allen Crabbe, still working his way back from a preseason ankle injury (OK, so some things don’t change), came off the bench, as did Caris LeVert.
Spencer Dinwiddie played only 17 minutes.
It’s possible that only D’Angelo Russell will be in the opening-night starting lineup for the second straight year.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to play, but got no minutes in the preseason as he recovered from a strained left adductor sustained in early August while playing a charity game in China. DeMarre Carroll hasn’t practiced in nearly a week with an ankle issue.
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So, yes, the Nets look significantly different that they did roughly 365 days ago.
Ed Davis wasn’t a free agent that would move the needle for most teams, but for the Brooklyn Nets he is by far the most significant addition to the roster. With Allen now entrenched as the starter in the middle, Davis represents a huge upgrade at the backup spot.
Behind that pair will be Kenneth Faried, who will also run at the 4 for the bench unit. Faried is a former USA Basketball starter who fell out of favor with the Denver Nuggets because he’s not a floor-spacing 4.
With the revamped offense playing mostly 5-out sets now, the rest of the lineup throughout the preseason has basically been interchangeable.
Atkinson has run often with a big and four guards, essentially, and the starting lineup for the last two preseason games was a big, with three guards and a small 4 in Jared Dudley.
Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert have been on the floor simultaneously for significant stretches, giving Brooklyn three players on the floor who can initiate the offense.
The spacing with the 5-out has been mostly outstanding. The ball has popped around nicely when things are clicking. The Nets struggled with 3-point shooting in the preseason, hitting only 28.8 percent, but most of those looks were open and in rhythm.
The shooting woes can be written off as a small-sample size anomaly at this point.
What cannot be overlooked is Brooklyn’s NBA-worst 22.5 turnovers per game during the preseason. Ball security really wasn’t the Nets’ thing last season, when they ranked 25th in the NBA in turnovers and 23rd in turnover percentage (accounting for their sixth-ranked pace).
The Nets were also last in turnover percentage in the preseason at 18.7 percent (their figure during the regular season last year was 13.6 percent) and the team assist-to-turnover ration was a less-than-optimal 1.00-to-1.
That’s correct — 90 assists, 90 turnovers in four games.
The turnover issues are a definite concern. But the work the Nets did on the backboards indicated the potential for an astounding turnaround.
Brooklyn was 26th in the Association last season with a rebounding differential of minus-2.4. While sounding the small-sample-size alarm bell, it’s significant to point out that in the preseason, the Nets were in the top half of the league –14th — with a differential of plus-2.5.
So, yeah, having Ed Davis is making a difference. He led the Nets in the preseason with 8.3 rebounds per game while averaging only 20.7 minutes. Allen showed progress on the glass as well, averaging 6.8 boards a game, with 2.5 of those on the offensive glass.
Treveon Graham, one of the newcomers to the club, also had 10 offensive boards in four games and averaged 5.8 rebounds a game overall.
Kurucs is pushing for regular rotational minutes after stunning the organization with his energy and desire during the preseason.
Kurucs had 30 rebounds in only 48 minutes of playing time, including the most memorable putback of the preseason.
Another newcomer, Shabazz Napier, didn’t play in the preseason as he recovered from a strained right hamstring. He’s another ball-handling guard who signed with the club as a free agent.
There has been buzz about the Nets perhaps being in the playoff hunt. Given the state of the Eastern Conference, that is not a ridiculously high bar to shoot for.
But it should still take 38-40 wins to challenge for a postseason berth and the Nets just aren’t quite to that level … yet.
They’ll improve for the second straight season in terms of the bottom line — wins and losses — but they’re not a playoff team yet. Projected record: 34-48.