Brooklyn Nets: 4 reasons why Nets are a playoff team at the break

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

In year three of their infamous rebuild, the Brooklyn Nets are back. After winning just 28 games a year ago, the team sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break. Here are four keys to the Nets’ quick turnaround.

The Brooklyn Nets are on pace for their first winning record since 2013-14 and their first playoff berth since 2015. Here are four reasons why:

1.       The ‘Markinson’ Combo

General manager Sean Marks has done an outstanding job building this Brooklyn Nets roster. Late first-round picks, taking on bad contracts for an asset, second-round picks, G-League players … you name it, Sean Marks found it.

His ability to identify talent and culture fit with such limited resources can’t be understated. Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rodions Kurucs, DeMarre Carroll … the list can go on and on.

Coach Kenny Atkinson was tasked with developing the players Marks brought in and boy, has he done that. Other coaches laud his coaching style, players love playing for him and he’s seeing results.

The Nets have a league-high four players representing them at All-Star Weekend. Both Marks and Atkinson deserve to be in the conversation for end of year awards at their respective positions.

2. A (super?)star in the making

At the beginning of the year, this may have been referring to LeVert. After he went down with a foot injury (and has since return) his backcourt-mate, D’Angelo Russell, took over the reins and has developed into a legitimate star at the point guard position.

Since Thanksgiving, he’s averaging 21.3 points and 7.2 assists per game, while developing into one of the best closers in the league. He’s hit shot after shot in crunch time and can take over games at will. When he gets hot, his long, high-arching three pointers are a sight to see.

While he’s known as a scoring guard, his handles and ability to keep his teammates involved has also improved tremendously this season.

Still just 22 years old, Russell will be making his first All-Star Game appearance this weekend. If you hear him in interviews, everything is about the team and winning games. Everything that he got knocked for as a Laker seems to be in the rear-view mirror.

As a restricted free agent this offseason, Russell has earned himself a big contract. The Nets will have the ability to offer and match anything in order to keep him and the way he’s been playing, there’s no reason they won’t.

3. Finish, finish, finish

Over the previous two years, the Nets had major issues closing out games as a team. The 2017-18 season in particular saw them play in numerous close games, while coming up short much more often than not.

That trend looked like it was going to continue into this year particularly early. After a loss to the Thunder that dropped Brooklyn’s record to 8-18, even Bill Simmons commented on the team’s lack of fourth quarter execution:

Since that tweet, however, the Nets have gone 22-11 and re-written the narrative of their season. It’s not just Russell. Dinwiddie, Carroll, Joe Harris and LeVert have all come up clutch to win games for Brooklyn this year.

4. Next man up

The 2018-19 Nets certainly haven’t gotten to this point without overcoming adversity. Caris LeVert suffered the biggest injury when it looked like he was on his way to an All-Star season.

At first it looked like his season was over, but LeVert has return to a Nets team that managed to go above .500 in his absence. Spencer Dinwiddie seemingly took his place, suffering a thumb injury that will keep him out until mid-March.

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Carroll, Allen Crabbe and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have each missed stretches due to injury as well this season. The Nets depth off the bench has kept them afloat and players like Kurucs, Harris and Ed Davis have seen even larger roles as a result.