The Brooklyn Nets entered the season as the preseason title favorites, and after getting off to a slow start, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Durant is Brooklyn’s offensive leader, to no surprise, but the other starters haven’t been putting up points consistently. James Harden is gradually working his way out of his early-season slump, but he’s yet to be the scorer that the Nets need him to be.
As long as Kyrie Irving continues to remain away from the team, Brooklyn’s going to have to find ways to try to make up for his elite production. If the Nets don’t make a trade before the Feb. 10 deadline, and if Irving still isn’t with the team when the playoffs start in April, Brooklyn’s not going to be able to rely on KD and Harden alone.
While they’re the team’s top-two leading scorers, behind them are two players that have spent the majority of the year coming off the bench. The Nets surely didn’t expect to get such a big offensive boost from these members of the second unit, but that’s been the case.
Brooklyn Nets: 2 surprise players who will be key for the playoffs
2. Patty Mills
Patty Mills has been in the league since he began his career with Portland in 2009-10. He entered the offseason as a free agent and agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with Brooklyn and is off to one of the best start’s of his 13-year career.
The 33-year-old is averaging 12.3 points per game on 46.5% shooting from the field and 50% from the 3-point line, the best on the team. Mills dropped a season-high 29 points against Oklahoma City on Nov. 14 and went 10-of-16 from the field.
He became a starter after playing against the Thunder due to Joe Harris suffering an ankle injury. In his six games in the starting lineup, Mills’ is averaging 16.7 points per game and is shooting 56.3% from the field. His performance has brought up the question of if Brooklyn’s better with him as a starter.
Mills has done more than positively impact the Nets’ game on the court. He helped San Antonio win a championship in 2014, and his leadership will also be key for Brooklyn in the postseason. Nobody can match the loss of Irving, but Mills maxing out his production certainly helps.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
Who saw this coming? LaMarcus Aldridge played in only five games for Brooklyn last year before he abruptly retired in April due to a heart condition. During that time, he averaged 12.8 points and 26 minutes per game, but the Nets had to navigate the playoffs without him.
However, Aldridge returned to Brooklyn during the offseason once he was medically cleared to play and signed a one-year, $2.6 million deal. The 36-year-old has been a game-changer (literally) for the Nets. He’s third on the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game.
Aldridge is the mid-range king. He’s shooting 58% from the field and 37.5% from long. The 17-year veteran has made a solid case as to why he should replace Blake Griffin in the starting lineup. He’s even said that he’s not entirely comfortable coming off the bench, but being the player that he is, he also made it known that he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him.
Steve Nash said that he’s limiting Aldridge’s minutes because he wants him to be in “optimal form” later on in the season. He’s averaging 21.4 minutes per game and if Nash’s strategy works, he’ll be at his best by the time April rolls around. Brooklyn could’ve used him last year during the playoffs, especially after Harden and Irving were both hit with injuries. Nonetheless, Aldridge is back and ready to lead the Nets deep into the playoffs.
After spending six years playing together with the Spurs, Mills and Aldridge are together again in Brooklyn.
Do you think that Gregg Popovich is proud? Even though it’s probably a little bittersweet, two of his former players are excelling in their new roles with the top team in the East.