Brooklyn Nets Mediocre Season

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 8: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets handles the ball against the New York Knicks during a preseason game on October 8, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

With only a month remaining in the 2017-18 regular season, the Brooklyn Nets, for the third consecutive season, find themselves in a too-familiar position; not in playoff contention. Their current 21-45 W-L mark has exceeded their 20 wins from last season, and equals their 2015-16 total, and even though it’s not headline-worthy, it is progress, something Nets fans can feel hopeful about.

Early-season injuries (Jeremy Lin/knee/October, D’Angelo Russell/knee/November) severely tested Brooklyn’s backcourt, not only robbing them of two probable starters, but also at the expense of skill, experience and depth. Lin’s season-ending injury took away a veteran, steady floor leader, while Russell’s explosive athleticism was sorely missed during his three-month absence. The injury situation provided opportunities for Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, Allen Crabbe, Nik Stauskas and Joe Harris, and although they all show signs of becoming serviceable NBA’ers, none of them; A– cause opponents sleepless nights, and B– are distributors/point guards. Even if Lin returns relatively healthy, upgrading the team’s playmaking capability should be an offseason priority.

Brooklyn’s wing and frontcourt players aren’t as big an area of concern, with a fairly impressive mixture of veterans (DeMarre Carroll, Timofey Mozgov) and young talent (Jarrett Allen, Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jahlil Okafor). The low-post trio of Allen, Mozgov and Okafor is particularly intriguing and reason for optimism. Allen’s rookie stats (8.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) haven’t been dazzling, but he’s scarily athletic, plays hard, and won’t turn 20 until April 21st. Okafor, the #3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, has thus far been a disappointing underachiever as a pro, but he’s still only 22. The Nets are hoping a change of location will provide a fresh start for the former Duke star, who possesses the rarest of skills for a 21st- century big man, a genuine low-post game. If he can turn things around, he and Allen could become the league’s next feared “Twin Tower” duo.

Questionable trades in recent seasons haven’t worked out in Brooklyn’s favor, most notably in the number of draft picks they’ve dealt away. Barring another trade, the Nets have first-round picks through 2021, an indication that the front office has taken note of the path taken by the (suddenly relevant) 76ers, patiently building through the draft, allowing their young players to develop.

Despite Brooklyn’s mediocre W-L mark, they can’t be accused of ‘tanking’ or not giving maximum effort, with head coach Kenny Atkinson primarily responsible for the “never-give-up” attitude. Maintaining that mindset, avoiding major injuries, promoting player development, and smart drafting are all critical components for NBA success, and along with a few lucky (and long overdue) breaks, the Nets could very soon find themselves relevant once more.