As the curtains close on another season of basketball in Brooklyn — one marked by disappointment, injury, and broken records — there’s just one question left to ask: What did we learn?
Brook Lopez, deservedly, became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in Monday’s loss to the Boston Celtics and Caris LeVert looks like a star in the making, but what else? With summer signing Jeremy Lin unluckily shelved for 46 games — the Nets went 5-44 between Nov 14 and Feb 24 — Brooklyn plummeted to the league’s worst record.
While most in the organization have turned their focus to the offseason, there was still one game left to play. Tonight is ultimately meaningless for the Nets but it’s still the ground floor plan that may bear fruit in the very near future. Coincidentally, it also answers our thesis question from above — what did we learn?
We learned that Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks have collected quite the group of talented youngsters despite their lack of draft picks. From forging in the D-League for potential keepers like Spencer Dinwiddie, Archie Goodwin, and Quincy Acy to targeting Isaiah Whitehead and LeVert in the draft almost a year ago, slowly but surely, there’s something here. What exactly that is, we’re unsure, but it no longer feels like a ship lost at sea.
In a season like this, that’s all anybody wanted.
We learned that even without three of the franchise’s best players, these Nets still work hard until the final whistle. We learned that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will still barrel into the paint with reckless abandon, all while looking more and more like the small-ball power forward of the future. We learned that Dinwiddie probably proved all of our sinking hearts just a little wrong — Yogi who? — and then nearly eliminated the two other teams that cut him last fall.
We learned that Lin isn’t quite a star, but that the Nets are 1000x, undeniably, implausibly far, far better with him on the court. We learned that Booker can be a one-man show, for better or worse, but he was the team’s hardest-working player on most nights too.
We learned that all you need sometimes is a chance — we learned that last year with Sean Kilpatrick too! — and McDaniels, Acy, and Goodwin have all responded strongly since the Nets rolled the dice on them. And yet, despite all that grind, effort, and #BrooklynGrit, tonight served as a harsh reminder that it’s still not enough. The Nets struggled without Lin throughout the season but without Lopez as well, the game was almost unwatchable at times.
After the first quarter, the Nets trailed 27-13, one team desperately searching for a final win, the other just searching for some simple chemistry. With Jimmy Butler looking game to drag his franchise toward a date with either Boston or Cleveland, the game was quickly out of hand — but in the grand scheme of the Nets’ big plan, it hardly mattered.
Will all these players be back next year? No, that’s pretty unlikely, but the nine remaining members of the Nets sure fought hard until the very last buzzer. Undermanned and outgunned for the majority of the season, these Nets struggled but there were always little glimmers of hope around every corner — a McDaniels dunk, a Whitehead spin cycle, or a LeVert fastbreak, whatever it may have been that night.
At 86-60 with 8 minutes remaining the regular season — the Bulls were on the verge of booking their postseason tickets, the Nets ready to go home. But, if you think about it, the Nets’ season is really just starting — the forthcoming months will decide the future just as much as last six months have.
With three upcoming draft picks and surely another summer dipping into restricted free agency, brighter days lie ahead for the Nets — and tonight, despite the result, proves that. Like we said, there’s something here, we’ll just have to wait a little longer before finding out just what.
Andrew Nicholson Power Forward
Yeesh, not the strongest way to begin and end your first year with the Nets, Andrew. While he couldn’t get off the bench for a struggling second unit in Washington, there was hope he could break through in Brooklyn and yet…
Well, let’s just assume that Atkinson will have him busy all summer and leave it at that for now.
Justin Hamilton Center
The whole contact fiasco over the winter really derailed Justin Hamilton’s strong start to the season and he never truly got back on track. When he’s hitting three-pointers, he’s a great asset to have — but when he isn’t… Hamilton is a major liability.
We’ll have to see if he’s in Atkinson’s long-term plans moving forward, but Hamilton proved useful as a cheap center whose game somewhat resembled Lopez’s.
Caris LeVert Shooting Guard
100% worth the wait.
While we didn’t get to see Caris LeVert until the holiday season, he may be worth the price of admission for years to come. Tonight, he struggled to really take over the game when the situation desperately called for it, but that’s OK. There’s just so much basketball ahead of LeVert and we’re excited for every second of it.
Isaiah Whitehead Point Guard
Two words: spin cycle.
After being thrown into the fire immediately, Isaiah Whitehead has been a source of excitement for Nets fans. While the jury is still out on his long-term potential, this second rounder has proven he belongs for the time being.
He’ll need to improve his three-point shooting and passing this summer, there’s plenty to be happy about in terms of Whitehead’s development.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Small Forward
Speaking of the jury, there may be no Net more polarizing than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — yes, even including Lopez and Lin. While many can’t agree on his position, he’s undeniably improved since his switch to power forward, some of that lost confidence has been partially restored. Yet, there’s still concern over his broken shot and that’s led to quite the debate all season.
Either way, he’s still a game-changer defensively for the Nets and his energy clearly helped the team through a handful of dry spells throughout the season. He’s still just 23-years-old and Atkinson certainly sees him as an important piece moving forward.
He may not have taken a huge step this season, but Hollis-Jefferson is here to stay.
Randy Foye Shooting Guard
Bless your season-long charity, Randy.
Good luck with whatever’s next.
Archie Goodwin Shooting Guard
In what was one of his best games in a Nets uniform, Archie Goodwin made a fantastic final showing in Chicago. He was aggressive, got to the free throw line, and dragged the Nets through this lackluster contest.
If he’s back next year, Atkinson will want to see him improve from deep, but he could be an easy and cheap replacement for Kilpatrick without much thought.
K.J. McDaniels Small Forward
It feels like K.J. McDaniels’ return is nearly guaranteed, given how cheap his contract will be for 2017-18. Since joining the Nets, he’s shot the three-pointer well and instantly became one of the team’s most athletic players. As a defensive force, he’s got some serious potential as well alongside LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson’s length.
Give him a full summer with Atkinson and McDaniels may have a real shot at sticking around.
Spencer Dinwiddie Point Guard
We’ll say it loudly one last time for the people in back…
After much of the basketball world flipped their lid about the Nets’ release of Yogi Ferrell, Dinwiddie quietly improved and thrived under Atkinson. While he’ll never be a full-time starter for the Nets, he’s turned into a quality playmaker, shooter, and floor general.
Oh, and single-handedly ruining your former franchise’s playoff hopes helps your season grade as well.
The Brooklyn Nets
To all our readers, thanks for sticking with us another year — y’all make the late nights and brutal winters worth it. This community of Nets fans are loyal, passionate, and knowledgeable, so give them a team with rooting for and this franchise will be a force to be reckoned with.
Thanks for reading, tweeting, and sharing our work, you’ve made this all possible once again. We’ll see you throughout the summer, so let’s regroup soon, OK?