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Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez: Good Enough for the NBA Playoffs?

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Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin

Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin

About Last Year: 21-61

The Nets were bad last year, and their lack of draft picks made it almost unbearably bad. Brook Lopez and Thad Young both put on valiant efforts for most of the season as the only guys who had the skills and desire to actually make a positive difference.

HOWEVA, towards the end of the year, things started to look up at least a little bit. The Nets appear to have found a diamond in the rough in Sean Kilpatrick, Chris McCullough finally got to see the court and looked alright, and the team in general just started to play harder and faster to the point that by the time the season was over the Nets were, dare I say, fun.

Offseason Changes

First they traded Thad Young for draft picks Caris Lavert and Isaiah Whitehead. Then they signed Jeremy Lin to a 3 year $23 million contract. They also added Trevor Booker, Greivis Vasquez, Luis Scola, Randy Foye, and Anthony Bennet.

They made (kind of absurd) offer sheets to Allen Crabbe as well as Tyler Johnson, both moves that I actually really liked, but both offers were matched and left the Nets in a bad spot, but the plus side is that none of the contracts given out were bad ones, and it is always nice to see that there is a definite plan in place. The Nets had some guys they targeted, and when they missed they didn't panic and give out some awful contracts to undeserving players.

Things to watch in the upcoming season

Screw the Celtics

This should pretty much be the rallying cry for the Nets. The Celtics have all their picks, and one of the Nets primary goals should be to win as much as possibly if for no reason other than to flip the Celtics the proverbial bird. I for one am totally on board with this, screw the Celtics, let's go Nets!

Brook Lopez, God of Brooklyn

Brook Lopez is really good and no one really seems to know it anymore, this is a travesty. Last season he was largely the only offensive threat on the team, and he put up really great numbers for the second season in a row. 22 points per game on a TS% of 56.2% is a rock solid number. Lopez also embraced having the offense run through him more by passing the ball at a much higher rate, even though it came with 2.4 turnovers, he also had 2 assists per game, after not averaging over 1 in the previous 3 seasons.

The biggest confusion with Lopez though, comes with his defense. The confusion comes from his poor rebounding and the fact that he looks like he is moving in slow motion, but by all numbers, Lopez is a rock solid defensive player. 1.7 blocks and .8 steals per game is comparable with any other center in basketball, and his rim protection numbers are solid as well.

Even though he can't really jump and he isn't very agile, he is so huge that he is a big deterrent at the rim. Lopez could legitimately be the 2nd best center in basketball (I think Cousins is pretty far ahead everyone else) and if the Nets are going to pull themselves from the ashes, they will be dragged by Lopez.

The good news for Nets fans is that Lopez is good enough that he might be able to do it. Throw in that Lopez has pretty much embraced being the face of the franchise, has a great attitude, was drafted by the Nets, and everyone other than the Celtics should be rooting for him to lead the Nets to some success.

Linsanity?

Jeremy Lin was the big pickup of the summer for the Nets, and he will join Lopez as the faces of the franchise for now. (They have already trademarked “Brook-lin” I think) And it will be very interesting to see how he fares being back in the spotlight with a larger role. Before I say anything else, I want to be clear that I like Lin as a player and a guy, and I like that Brooklyn got him.

What worries me is that he got a lot of hype this past season, when by many standards he is pretty much the same player he was in Houston and LA. In fact, there are standards by which Lin had one of his worst seasons last year, and the hype around him may have been fueled by the Hornets actually being pretty good instead of the depressing Lakers.

Last year he scored slightly more points per game, on his worst TS% since his rookie year, had (by a wide margin) his worst passing season to date, and had the worst PER of his career. Point is that I think Lin may still be a nice backup guard, not a starting PG who is your floor leader.

On the other hand, though, he absolutely did look better last year, especially on defense and he was a very important part of a winning team. In Brooklyn, he will get to prove that he really is a starting guard, but the plus side is that even if he isn't a great starter, his salary is pretty comparable to other good backups now so it won't be a disaster.

Can one of the young guns take a step?

The Nets have found themselves with a few different guys who are projects, but could end up being very good. Caris LaVert was a lottery pick before injuries (and as a UofM fan, he was deserving of the lottery hype), Chris McCullough is a similar story as well.

They appear to have found a late draft gem in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a guy who is a monster defender and athlete, and even though he can't shoot he can score inside a bit and also not a bad passer. (TS% of 51.9, and more assists than turnovers) Isaiah Whitehead is a rookie with less upside but still a rookie, throw in Sean Kilpatrick as a possible late bloomer and there is some promising youth on the team.

The Nets desperately need one of these guys to be a killer pickup, whether it is McCullough or LeVert shaking off the injury stuff without any issue or Rondae learning to shoot, if one of them could develop into at least a borderline All-Star type it would be a boon to the Nets.

On the flip side, if these young guys largely go bust (also a distinct possibility) and never get better than “fairly competent NBA players” it would be a huge hit for the team. They have almost no picks, and no one wants to sign with a team that is so lifeless. They need one (or better yet, 2 or 3) of these guys to explode and inject real lifeblood into the team.

Finding the right pace to bring along the young guys

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The good thing for all the young guys mentioned is that they will not be asked to do too much right off the bat so they can take their time. Foye, Scola, and Booker (tentatively throw in Vasquez, even though he was awful last year) are not exactly world beaters or even starters on most teams, but they are proven veterans who should give at least a solid 20 some minutes per night, Booker, in particular, is the type of high-energy player who could be great at injecting some life into the team.

The trick for the Nets will be balancing the veterans with the young guys, to play the young guys enough that they can develop and come into their own, but don't make them overreach and cause the team to loose games.

Can Bojan make another step?

Bojan made a nice step forward in year 2 of his NBA career, improving nearly everything in his game. I would not peg him as a particularly high ceiling guy (especially since he is already 27) but if he could take another step forward he could be a “really good star” type (clearly not an All-Star, but definitely better than a run of the mill starter) and once again, that would be a boon for the team that can use any good players on the roster, not to mention that he is the most proven shooter on the team.

Shouldn't the Nets trade Lopez for picks or something?

No. I am only addressing this because many different outsider types seem to think this is something that should and/or is definitely going to happen.

The Nets should not make him untouchable, because if someone were to get desperate and make some sort of godfather offer in which the Nets could get a haul of picks and young assets they are in a position where they can't turn that down.

But other than that, their best current hope to return to relevance is to get back to some competitiveness this year and throw money at guys next offseason, and Lopez is currently the only thing that is standing between the Nets and the abyss.

If they trade him they are essentially giving up on building back up through free agency and going with young guys, and since they have no picks for a while, they can only do that if they get a huge haul in return because sucking will do them no good.

Without Lopez, they basically have to pray that they got hugely lucky on several of their young guys, as in McCullough and LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson all become borderline all stars. That is not a good plan. On top of that, Lopez is a potential Nets lifer and that means something, especially for a team that is in as dark a place as the Nets currently are.

Having Lopez on the team means a lot to the fans and the organization in general I think. So no, they shouldn't trade him unless they get a huge haul in return.

Best case scenario for the Nets

Brook Lopez has another career year which includes lowering his turnovers while keeping his assists up and Jeremy Lin really did find something in Charlotte and his PnR abilities are a boon for the young team.

All of the veterans do veteran type things and are rock solid all year (including a revival for Vasquez and Anthony Bennet being an NBA player) and the young guys all make good progress in the various forms that they need. The Nets are secretly a super entertaining team of athletes that play their tails off every night with the monstrous steadying presence of Brook Lopez in the middle. They win 40 games, putting them just outside the playoffs but Lopez gets 3rd team All-NBA and they have a real team that free agents are looking at with real interest.

And by the way, they beat Boston in the 2nd to last game of the year to put the finishing touches on a disaster season for the Celtics in which they miss the playoffs.

Worst case scenario?

Jeremy Lin fooled everyone again, and he is very underwhelming and none of the young guys really manage to make a meaningful impact and cause the veterans to get overstretched causing them to break down later in the season.

Brook Lopez soldiers on through another depressing season but people start to wonder if they should trade him for his sake and the Nets win 22 games with their pick winning the Lottery causing riotous celebration in Boston.

So in conclusion...

Wink knowingly at your friends if:

  • Brook Lopez is quietly getting some MVP consideration.
  • Sean Kilpatrick scores more than 20 per game.
  • Jeremy Lin's hair takes over Brooklyn.
  • The Nets are monsters on defense with an army of young athletes.
  • The Celtics go up in flames.

Run for the hills if:

  • Brook Lopez gets hurt.
  • Jeremy Lin looks overmatched against starters.
  • Caris LeVert never gets on the floor, McCullough sucks, and RHJ still doesn't offense so well.

Opportunities for me to look stupid:

  • Brook Lopez doesn't make an All-NBA team but all smart basketball people know he should've.
  • Lin-sanity does not have a revival but he plays fine.
  • Chris McCullough looks really good and breaks out as a young stud on the team.
  • RHJ makes some nice improvements but looks to be mostly a defensive/energy savant.
  • The Nets win 35 games.

What do you think? How will the Nets do? Will any of their young guys pan out? Let me know! We all get smarter!