Last Year’s Record: 38-44 (8th in East)
Projected Roster (with Last Season’s Stats)
PG- Jarrett Jack 12.0PPG-4.7APG-3.1RPG-0.9SPG
SG- Bojan Bogdanovic 9.0PPG-0.9APG-2.7RPG-36%3P
SF- Joe Johnson 14.4PPG–3.7APG-4.8RPG-36%3P
PF- Thaddeus Young 14.1PPG-2.3APG-5.4RPG-1.6SPG
C- Brook Lopez 17.2PPG–7.4RPG–1.8BPG-51%FG
G- Shane Larkin 6.2PPG-3.0APG-1.2SPG
G- Sergey Karasev 4.6PPG-1.4APG-2.0RPG
F- Wayne Ellington 10.0PPG-1.6APG-37%3P
F- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ROOKIE
C- Andrea Bargnani 14.8PPG-1.6APG-4.4RPG
B- Markel Brown 4.6PPG-2.3RPG
B- Thomas Robinson 5.7PPG-5.6RPG
B- Donald Sloan 7.4PPG-3.6APG
B- Ryan Boatright (ROOKIE)/Chris McCullough (ROOKIE)
B- Quincy Miller (2.9PPG-2.0RPG)/Willie Reed (DNP)
Also waiting promotion: G/F-Juan Vaulet, G-Xavier Thames
KEY ADDITIONS: F/C-Andrea Bargnani, G/F-Wayne Ellington, F-Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, G-Shane Larkin, F-Thomas Robinson, G-Donald Sloan, and combination of summer league pickups and late draft picks
KEY LOSSES: PG-Deron Williams, F/C-Mason Plumlee, G-Alan Anderson, F-Mirza Teletovic, G-Darius Morris, F-Cory Jefferson, C-Jerome Jordan, F-Earl Clark
The Scoop: The first noticeable flaw in the Nets the amount of assets who departed in free agency. Despite a bigger-than-necessary contract, Deron Williams made them a better team last year, and his presence on the floor was one of the few stable parts of a team of constant disarray. Say what you want about D-Will and his awful attitude, but he’s an upgrade over increased minutes for Jarrett Jack and then Shane Larkin off the bench. He never lived up to his contract, but at least he was a serviceable starter. Now, the Nets are in danger with a handful of departed position players who played a big role on this team’s playoff run last year. Youngster Mason Plumlee is gone, as are bench scorers Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic, only to be replaced by oft-injured Andrea Bargnani, Wayne Ellington, and rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Furthermore, the Nets lack a first round pick next year, so it’s not as if the team can successfully tank. The Nets are left in one of the worst spots a franchise can be in, good enough to not tank, but not good enough to really compete in the playoffs.
The move to acquire Hollis-Jefferson may turn out to be a win, to infuse this team with youth, but when you look at the team beyond the familiar starting lineup (featuring Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, and Brook Lopez), the team is mostly youth and veteran garbage that will never really matter in the NBA. Coach Lionel Hollins is from a different time, and stockpiling players like these is just creating a band-aid roster, refusing to make the sacrifices necessary for the next-level jump. There are some capable veterans here, and the team will win 30 games, but it will not really contend for a playoff spot in an improved east, and without a pick next year, the Nets’ future looks pretty dark.
The Point Guards: With the aforementioned point guard Deron Williams leaving via a buyout, the Nets now turn for short-term fix from last year’s backup Point Guard and sixth man Jarrett Jack. Jack has a solid offensive game, based mostly on pull up jumpers and floaters, and tends to operate in the mid-range very well. For short spurts off of the bench, Jack can provide very quality minutes, and this is evident from last season’s stats of 12 points and 5 assists. The problem arises when he gets run for much more than that. Jack’s defensive abilities are severely limited, and among other things, his mindset of being mostly a score-first change-of-pace player hurts his ability to successfully run a first team unit over long periods of time. Last season, when Lionel Hollins got frustrated with Deron Williams, Jack would begin seeing Point Guard minutes, and the offense (and defense) would immediately become less efficient. Jack doesn’t have the kind of game that translates into being a starting point guard, Nets fans may want to start looking out for a free agent signing or youngster to take the reigns.
The bench point guards are mostly young guys trying to carve out a chance at playing time behind Jack, fully knowing that he cannot be a 30 minute per game player. The first is Shane Larkin, who was drafted by the Mavericks before spending last season with the Knicks. Larkin had a chance to play backup Point Guard minutes last year, and New York did not see him as a future puzzle piece. He may just be too athletically inferior to some of his brethren, and at only 5-11, he has to work extra hard to score, something that he never was really good at. His collegiate strengths haven’t really translated to the NBA, and Larkin remains one of the weakest guards in any team’s main rotation. Sensing this, the Nets brought in two free agents, one is Donald Sloan, an Indiana Pacers product who finally saw some playing time last year and ran with it, posting a pretty decent season as a rotation player. The second is Ryan Boatright, the UConn standout who went undrafted, but played top of the pack during the summer league which earned him a training camp invite. Neither Sloan, nor Boatright is a lock to make this team, but considering the dearth at Point Guard, the Nets should keep all four and try to work out a usable rotation.
The Wings: It’s no secret that the Nets believe their best half-court/bailout option is Joe Johnson, the 34 year old swing-man who saw his stats dip to almost career-low levels last year, reportedly under friction because of Deron Williams, and an increased focus on feeding the post with a healthy Brook Lopez and new acquisition Thaddeus Young. It’d be foolish to expect another year of decline from Joe, who will be as relevant as ever to the Nets success. He can go on scoring runs with the best in the league, and although inconsistency got this best of him last year, don’t write him off as a valuable option. He could seek out a point per game average as high as 16, along with decent assist numbers and veteran leadership. Defensively, he has declined, but the offensive game, operating primarily in the mid-range, is enough to consider him an overall positive.
Second year player Bojan Bodganovic is the starting shooting guard opposite Johnson’s small forward, and with a strong second half, Bojan could be headed for 12 points per game here in his second season. He figures to split minutes with recent acquisition Wayne Ellington at the shooting guard position, as Ellington’s three-point stroke should prove valuable along-side Bogdanovic’s growing scoring touch, creating a revolving door at shooting guard that could actually work. Normally, when you talk about a platoon of players at a position, it means they’re weak, but considering both Bogdanovic and Ellington can cover small forward minutes as well, it opens up options for now-healthy Sergey Karasev (ineffective overall but showed flashes last year) and second-year player Markel Brown. Brown emerged as a hard-nosed defender and rotation player last season, and he should remain in the rotation now in year two. (Aforementioned rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will split minutes at small forward and power forward, so his analysis will be saved for the ‘bigs’ section)
The Bigs: The Nets enter 2015-2016 with one of the proudest starting frontcourts in the Eastern Conference. Newcomer Thaddeus Young was a huge addition last season, bringing grit and stingy defense to a polished post-game that complemented star center Brook Lopez very well. Young is a lock for 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block every single night out on the floor and the consistency in his game aids the inconsistency of the Nets as a whole. Young’s jumpshot is nothing to write home about, but he’s swift within ten feet because of a very polished left-hand that confounds defenders. Lopez, however, is not as smooth, but he has a great touch near the basket. With his height and size, he can always find a good opportunity near the hoop and in the second half, Lopez made his case for being an all-NBA caliber center once fully healthy. He’s a potential 20 point per game guy when entirely healthy, but the hope is that Hollins find enough balance in his offense where he won’t need to lean on his big guy for that much offense come time to compete. After Lopez and Young, the Nets made a huge offseason splash in signing another oft-injured center Andrea Bargnani, once a 20 point per game scorer regulated now to being a jumpshooter because of a lack of familiarity to the game. There was a time where Bargnani would cast his hat in for all-NBA third team center, but if he can stay healthy, he will be an amazing compliment to Young and Lopez. The three of them are all sparse rebounders, though, and that could hurt the final product of the team.
Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will play minutes at small forward and minutes at power forward, but in this now undersized league, Jefferson may be best off learning to guard and play at the 4 offensively. His game definitely needs polishing, but like I said before, he was a steal this late in the draft. Thomas Robinson (another steal) was signed for big-man minutes as well after posting crazy efficient numbers in Philadelphia last season. Let’s hope the maligned player has finally found a home here as a rotation player. Robinson will make the team, but a slew of other power forwards will also be competing. Willie Reed and Quincy Miller, young journeymen who lack sufficient NBA experience will compete in training camp, along with Chris McCullough, the Nets second round pick who will most most of the season with an ACL injury. These three guys will be on the Nets radar to fill out the bottom of the roster along with the above-mentioned Ryan Boatright and Donald Sloan.
Summary: Although the Nets have a solid starting lineup, they are too weak at point guard, and too flawed in their position players to make the same kind of run as last year. Their bigs are great scorers, but lack rebounding ability to compensate for inefficient wing play. Some guys, like Johnson, are welcome stand-outs, but with his time now past its prime, substitute minutes will be filled by mediocre players such as Wayne Ellington, Sergey Karasev, and under-polished youngsters Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Markel Brown, and Bojan Bogdanovic. Johnson is good, Thaddeus Young is good, Brook Lopez is good, but they all have inefficiencies to their games that can be exploited. The bench options do not fare better either. Finally, like mentioned before, having Jarrett Jack as your starting point guard, with bust Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan competing for back-up minutes, don’t expect to win too many games. The Nets have good fantasy/numbers guys, but the team here is not a sum of its parts. Issues masked from veteran point guard Deron Williams and hard-nosed Mason Plumee/Alan Anderson will be exposed now. They will land above 30 wins, but below the playoff cut-off line.
Players I Love: Thaddeus Young, Ryan Boatright (please let him make the team), Thomas Robinson’s nose for the ball, Joe Johnson’s scoring runs, and the steal of acquiring Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Players I Hate: Jarrett Jack, (dribble dribble dribble dribble dribble dribble), Shane Larkin, the Quincy Miller/Willie Reed scrub combo, Andrea Bargnani’s injury history, and Wayne Ellington siphoning playing time from Markel Brown.