It’s almost 2 weeks into the season (and it’s not even November yet!!), and the Brooklyn Nets are still fun to watch.
Every time I go to NBA.com (still having PS4/NBA League Pass issues – and still not happy about it), I take a look at the games played over the last few days. And every time I find myself thinking the Nets game is the best game to watch – whether it was the win over the Cavs (sans D’Angelo Russell), or losses to the Magic and Nuggets, I can’t help but look at the games and think ‘at least this will be fun to watch’. There are really only two other teams I get that same type of feeling for – the Philadelphia 76ers, and all their process-related intrigue, and the Milwaukee Bucks, because GIANNIS!
I want to do a bit of a further look into why – why are these Brooklyn Nets so intriguing, so entertaining to watch. I already mentioned how much I love their uniforms/color scheme/court combination. And it really is great – black and white, so un-creative, yet so fresh and so clean clean. Ain’t nobody dope as Brooklyn.
They also have one of the best broadcast teams out there – Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok are great, but the whole crew is good – Ryan Ruocco and Jim Spanarkel on Sundays keep the fun going. Whether it’s a nice edition of Wear Brooklyn At?, or the ongoing competition of Who Am I?, the Nets put together the best production on NBA League Pass.
But there is more to it then that – the Knicks, with Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier, Clyde Frazier’s suits, and Clyde Frazier’s rhymes and dimes, also have a great broadcast. Dawn Staley joining the Wizards crew has given their broadcast a bump up the rankings (even as beloved as Phil Chenier was, Staley has been a rock star in her first full season.).
There are other crews and uniform combinations around the league that do good work as well, but none of them pull me in quite as much as Brooklyn. So let’s take a deeper dive – why are the Nets so much fun to watch?
All stats are courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted
Ask any casual or die-hard NBA fan which type of game they prefer – a slow, walk-the-ball-up-the-court defensive battle, or a fast-paced, back and forth points-fest – and almost all will say the latter. It’s no surprise, then, that the Nets lead the league in my personal watchability rankings, and also lead the league in pace.
Now, pace is not to be confused with actual, quality NBA basketball. We know at this point, with all of the efficiency stats at our hands, that a high scoring game does not mean there were two great offenses duking it out. Nor does a low-scoring game mean that the offenses were Charlotte Bobcats-esque.
But from a pure aestethic stand-point, fast paced games feel better. They seem more fun. They look more like the games we play at the rec center or on the playground. No one wants to be on the team that walks the ball up the court; when you’re playing at the highest levels, you’ll do whatever it takes to win – but if given a choice? Every one would get out and fast break every play.
That’s one of the reasons the Nets are so easy on the eyes. Trevor Booker or Quincy Acy will grab a rebound at the defensive end, turn and race up the court in all their Ben Simmons-wannabe beauty.
Their efficiency (what actually should define what a good offense is) isn’t too bad at this point in the season – currently 11th in the league. That’s the same rank as their True Shooting percentage as a team.
The rest of their offensive numbers are ho-hum, bottom-third-of-the-league type stuff, but who cares? For a team with no expectations, I love that they are just going for it, and running at every chance they get. This team will likely not win a lot of games, but its clear they are having fun playing this way. Trevor Booker might be my favorite player in the league to watch on a play-by-play basis. He plays so hard, and he definitely tries to do things offensively that most good teams would bench him for, but on this team? He perfectly exemplifies who the Nets are – not exactly good, definitely NBA-level talent, outta control and crazy at times, but a helluva lot of fun to watch.
I used to play NCAA Football 2012 a lot when I was in my 20s and single. What I used to do is play Dynasty mode, and my favorite thing was to take some sad sack football program like Duke or Colorado and turn it into a national powerhouse – raking in the 5 star recruits every year, and in such quantities, you’d think I’d get bored after the 12th National Championship in a row (I never did).
There was always a point in building those dynasties, usually after year 2 or 3, when you could start to see the quality of your recruits go up. Instead of targeting 2 and 3 star recruits, you might attract the attention of some 4 and, if you’re lucky, a 5 star recruit.
Once you got that first 5 star recruit, the rest would soon follow. Instead of winning 6 games and losing in the bowl game, all of a sudden the Blue Devils were conference champions.
That’s where the Nets are right now – they’ve got their 5-star recruit (D’Angelo Russell) and have a bunch of promising 3 star recruits and maybe a couple of 4 star recruits. They are exciting to watch this year, but even moreso in the ‘I wish I could simulate this season and get to next year’ kind of way.
As an NBA fan agnosticist (is that a word?), I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of teams. As I mentioned previously, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wizards, as I lived in D.C. when I was an intern during college, and they were my first NBA game I ever went to (I grew up in Iowa, not the ideal spot for going to NBA games). But now, aside from the Wizards, I find myself gravitating towards the teams with promise, young players that might not be that good now, but could be good in a few years. Those teams that remind me playing NCAA Football 2012 (RIP).
I like to keep an eye on the teams that are good now – the Warriors, Cavs, Rockets, Spurs, and the like. But I also like to keep a strong eye on the young, up-and-coming teams, and try to predict which ones will ‘pop’ next.
With the Nets, they have nothing but interesting pieces. Sean Marks and the rest of the front office have done a remarkable job of putting together a roster that has lots of intrigue across every position.
The first piece of that is obviously D’Angelo Russell. I discussed him briefly in a previous post, but the more comfortable he gets, the better he plays. His court vision and passing ability might be his best attribute. He’s one of those passers that makes at least one ‘oooh shit!’ pass every game. Like what Nikola Jokić was last year. He sees angles that most players don’t. He has that Jason Kidd/LeBron James/Manu Ginobili type vision where he can he can make passes other players don’t even know exist.
He also has a James Harden-like ability to draw files. To do this, he pulls from lots of different tricks: he has the LeBron James ‘I just got shot in the back’ head-snap, the Harden ‘I’m going to hold the ball out at weird angles and then fling a shot up when you reach for the ball’ move, and he even created his own ‘I’m going to put the ball in my right arm and pretend like I’m shooting with the left’ move:
It doesn’t work in that clip – he doesn’t get the call – but the craftiness he displays in drawing fouls shows an IQ that might not have been evident watching him play for the LA Shit Shows the last two years. I think Jeremy Lin getting injured was a blessing in disguise for him – I’m not sure how the two of them would have fit in the backcourt together, and there would have been a bit of a logjam had Lin stayed healthy.
Aside from Russell, the Nets also have promising guards/wings in Allen Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. All 3 guys are long – per Draft Express, Crabbe is 6’6″ tall with a 6’11″ wingspan, Dinwiddie is 6’6″ tall with a 6’8″ wingspan, and LeVert is 6’7″ tall with a 6’10″ wingspan. Combined with Russell’s 6’5″ and nearly 6’10″ wingspan, there are a ton of lineup combinations that head coach Kenny Atkinson can sample.
Those four together have yet to see that court at once, but the Russell/LeVert/Crabbe combination has seen 17 minutes together so far this seen, and the Nets had an Offensive Rating of 112.3 and a Defensive Rating of 96.3, per nbawowy.com. Those numbers would have ranked second and first, respectively, last season. The season is still very young, and with so few minutes there’s obviously a ton of noise there, but there is a ton of promise in the Nets backcourt.
I’m really excited about LeVert especially. As Zach Lowe mentioned in his column on Friday, his shooting numbers have yet reflect that of a quality NBA player. But the rest of his game is there – he’s going to be good, you can just see it.
Dinwiddie is the most unheralded of the four; a second-round draft pick out of Colorado by the Detroit Pistons in 2014, the 24-year-old started 18 games for the Nets last season, and averaged 7.3 points per game on 44/37/79 shooting splits. With his size at point guard, the Nets can be ultra-switchy, though, and cause lots of problems for opposing teams.
Up front, there are two players that could be part of the next Nets playoff team – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen. Hollis-Jefferson is in his third season, and starting to come into his own. Known as a defensive stopper with a Tony Allen-level bad jumper coming out of Arizona, RHJ missed most of his first year with a broken ankle, and posted 43/22/75 shooting splits in his second season.
He’s gotten a lot more comfortable in his mid-range jumper this season, and improved dramatically at the free-throw line. He’s currently 31 for 35 (88%) from the charity stripe. He’s shooting over 51% from the field in over 25 minutes per game. His advanced numbers are not very good (-13.2 Net Rating), but of course those have the ‘its still early’ caveat. If he can get settled on defense and live up to his pre-draft billing, the growth in his offensive game makes him an incredibly intriguing prospect when the Nets get good.
The other front-court player I’m incredibly high on is Jarrett Allen. He looks like a caricature of a 70s ABA player – afro, wispy mustache, tall and skinny. You could definitely see him playing with the red, white and blue ball. And he seems lost at times, both on offense and defensive. His only offensive move appears to be going to set a ball screen after a teammate has held the ball for more than 3 seconds. When you watch him, you can almost see him learning to play the game in real-time.
But he’s got a ton of potential – he’s long and athletic, standing 6’10″ with a 7’5″ standing reach (again per Draft Express). You can see the potential for a center in the Tyson Chandler mold – set a high screen for Russell, with LeVert and Crabbe split wide, with Hollis-Jefferson lurking along the baseline for cuts, and dive to the rim. There’s a mantra in today’s NBA that everyone must be able to shoot, for shooting creates spacing and opens up everything else. But really, its gravity that creates spacing, and hard-rolling center diving to the rim can have a similar effect as it relates to gravity and spacing, as someone bombing away from 3-point land.
Defensively, however, is where his potential really intrigues. Along with the length of the backcourt and wing players that will allow them to be ultra-switchy, and the defensive-stepper potential of Hollis-Jefferson, Allen is what could bring it all together. He has the length to be an effective rim deterrent, but also appears to have the ability to switch onto guards and wings on the perimeter – even for a short period of time.
I’m not going to even bother to pull up or look at stats since he’s played so few minutes, and is clearly (as mentioned earlier) just learning how to play the game, but the potential is almost anxiety-inducing for Nets fans – can we just simulate this season and see what everyone’s ratings are next year already?
You have to use your imagination a bit though, to see if Allen really does have the potential to switch onto guards on the perimeter. The Nets defensive scheme calls for their big men to play conservative on the pick-and-roll, sit back in the paint and concede the mid-range jumper. This philosophy makes sense considering their other bigs – Timofey Mozgov, Booker, and Acy – and is also one of the reasons they rank 28th in defensive efficiency.
The Nets defense is bad, but that’s also a reason why they are fun to watch. I mentioned earlier that fast-paced, high-scoring games don’t necessarily equal good basketball, and slow, low-scoring games don’t necessarily equal bad basketball. But high scoring games do equal fun basketball!
The Nets are bad defensively, and one of the main reasons is their pick and roll defense. Their conservative defensive strategy is a bit too conservative. Mozgov drops so far back in the paint that it’s basically as if he’s not there at all, and the ball handlers are having free reign to get into the paint. The domino effect starts when a second Net has to help from the weak side, starting a series of events that usually results in a basket for the opposing team.
Watch this defense here by Mozgov and the Nets:
And now watch this defensive series here by Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. Jokic and Denver are not exactly the mid-2000s Spurs, but they execute the strategy the Nets are trying to employ much better here:
I’m really curious to see what would happen if the Nets tried playing a bit more aggressive on the pick and roll when Jarrett Allen was playing center. I’d love to see the Allen-Russell-LeVert-Crabbe-Hollis-Jefferson fivesome go into Warriors mode and try switching everything. I think it would be good reps for Allen to get used to defending on the perimeter and rotating back to protect the rim.
In the meantime, the poor defense the Nets are playing just adds to their entertainment value – fast paced, plus lots of made buckets, combined with the intrigue of young players and thinking about what the future may hold, means the Nets will remain a fun League Pass team the rest of the year, regardless of whether the win/loss record would seem to justify it.