The Brooklyn Nets have followed up a 3-game losing streak with 3 wins in 4 games, including back-to-back blowout wins. Is it the start of something?
With a 104-82 win over the Phoenix Suns to start their four-game road trip, the Brooklyn Nets are just a game shy of the .500 mark, having put together three wins in four games since dropping three in a row in late October.
It’s how the last two were won that should have fans feeling optimistic going forward, because something has definitely clicked on the defensive end for the NBA’s fifth-youngest team.
Over the last four games, in particular, the team is getting solid contributions up and down the rotation and the group seems to be meshing the new parts with the returning ones.
Throw in the emergence of a legitimate go-to scorer for the first time in the Nets’ rebuilding process, with Caris LeVert averaging a team-best 20.5 points per game, and the possibilities for this current group are intriguing.
Among players qualified for the league lead in scoring, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the Nets’ leading scorer last season at 13.9 points per game. Three players this season — LeVert along with D’Angelo Russell (15.4) and sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie (14.1) are better than that mark.
Brooklyn is developing an offensive identity. Atkinson’s goal of 40 3-point attempts per game isn’t quite the norm, but the Nets are averaging 34.9 attempts per game through 11 games, the second-most in the NBA, and their 37.0 percent accuracy ranks ninth in the league.
This is happening with the backdrop that Nets’ general manager Sean Marks said in the offseason that playing to improve their lottery position (a lengthy way of saying the uglier term “tanking”) was not in the cards.
Marks has created a lot of cap space for next summer’s free agency sweepstakes — to be fair, many teams are going to have significant space — and the thinking was that playing well this season could be a lure for star-caliber free agents to want to attach themselves to a rising power.
In the age of fantasy sports and somewhat realistic simulation games, it’s only natural for fans to start playing the “what if” game with regard to potential trades to upgrade the roster.
Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen are in their second seasons with Brooklyn. LeVert and Joe Harris are in their third full seasons, while Dinwiddie joined the club in December 2016.
Which is why the team’s play over the last couple of games has been so intriguing. The defensive intensity has gone up significantly. The players seem to be not just playing with more effort on defense, they also appear to be trusting the guys they are out there with more.
The hesitation that was plaguing the Nets, particularly in deciding what to do against the pick-and-roll, has been replaced quick, sure choices that have taken away some of the easy options that had been there for opponents.
At the offensive end, ball movement has been a constant for most of the season and over the last two games, in particular, those lulls where the ball slows down and the offense gets stalled have been much less frequent.
So while it might be fun to speculate about trading for Player A or making a deal to add Player B, it might be wise to remember that this team has basically been together for 11 regular-season and four preseason games and appears to be locking in on something good.
At 5-6, the Nets are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference — the fringe playoff contender most of the preseason projections forecast for Brooklyn.
Given the corner this roster seems to have turned, it might be more fun to see what this group can do, at least for a little while yet.