NBA Season Preview: Brooklyn Nets

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 35-37 (.486%), 7th in Eastern Conference, Lost in 1st Rd.
Head Coach: Kenny Atkinson (28-34) & Jacque Vaughn (7-3)

Despite having to play the whole year without their superstar acquisition in Kevin Durant, as well as getting only 20 games out of Kyrie Irving, the Nets were surprisingly decent last year. Brooklyn struggled offensively throughout the year, and when the season stopped due to COVID, they ranked in the bottom six in field-goal percentage (44.4%, 26th), 3-point percentage (34.0%, 26th), and free-throw percentage (74.4%, 25th). Brooklyn’s defense kept them in game all year, as well as the play of Spencer Dinwiddie (20.6 ppg and 6.8 apg in 64 games)  and Caris LeVert (24.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.8 apg in the 17 games after the All-Star Game). Unfortunately, Dinwiddie opted out of the Bubble and the Nets were easily swept by the Raptors in the 1st Round of the Playoffs.

How will the KD/Kyrie Duo Work?

With both players coming off season-ending injuries (Kyrie – shoulder surgery last year, KD – torn Achilles, June 2019), there are some concerns about how they will hold up moving forward. That concern is legit. Even Durant said that the rehab for his Achilles was totally different than any other rehab he’s had. 

I have been through surgeries and injuries before, but the longest recovery was three months. The first phase of the Achilles [recovery] was three months. You can't walk around, you have to use a scooter.

If there’s concern about chemistry between the two, there shouldn’t. They have been rehabbing together in LA since the summer months. They both have played on the same court with other superstar players before and understand what it takes to play within the system designed as such. With a career average of 27.0 ppg, KD is 6th all time in league history in points per game, so don’t expect him to fall off that pace – his pure shooting as a 7 footer is a perfect fit in today’s stretch NBA. Here is a great read that articulates how KD will be just fine. With no disrespect to LBJ, this will be the first time Kyrie plays with a pure scorer like Durant, and we may see his finest playmaking season of his career. Don’t be surprised to see Kyrie average a career high in assists and KD to move his already impressive career scoring average up.

How will the Supporting Cast Fare?

Both Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie broke out last year, and will play important roles for the Nets in the upcoming season. With Irving out, Dinwiddie was the primary ball handler and distributor for the Nets, which should make the transition to backup easier for him. He’ll be able to go up against the other team’s backup point guard and win the battle most nights. When Irving sits out games on “load management” the Nets know what kind of production they’ll get from him in the spot start. While Dinwiddie will come off the bench, LeVert will still be in the starting role and relied upon to be a 3rd option on offense behind KD/Kyrie. Again, this is a great position for the Nets to be in – LeVert averaged 27.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg & 6.0 apg in games played in March before the COVID shutdown (albeit a small sample size of 5 games). Regardless, LeVert has shown not only scoring ability but the willingness to be a playmaker. Look no further than the 4 game series against the Raptors in the 1st round in which he dished out 15, 11, 6 & 6 assists – not bad for a SG/SF. Joe Harris will also continue to provide value, especially if he can continue to shoot above 40% from 3-point land, something he’s done for 3 straight years.

How will Steve Nash do as a Rookie Head Coach?

Although a first-time head coach, Nash will have plenty of help from his assistant coaches. At his disposal, he has the services of Mike D’Antoni (his former head coach in PHX and 2004-05 NBA COY), Amar’e Stoudemire, Jacque Vaughn (the Nets interim head coach last year), Tiago Splitter and Ime Udoka. All his coaches have playing or coaching experience in the NBA and should be able to assist Nash in his transition from Hall of Fame point guard to head coach. He has made it known that D’Antoni will be the “offensive coordinator” and Vaughn will be the defensive counterpart, which seems like a shrewd move. He’s also spoken about his intention to give KD and Kyrie nights off, as they work themselves back from serious injury – another smart move from the rookie head coach. As a master floor general in his playing days, Nash should have no problem getting through to players – he’s not too far removed from his playing days that young players won’t respect him and he should be able to get into the players’ ears, which is immensely important – look what happened in Cleveland last year when the opposite took place. Many star players (across all sports) find it difficult to translate their on-court success to coaching or management, but look for Nash to thrive in his coaching career. 

Photo Credit: John Jones/Icon Sportswire