2016-2017 Brooklyn Nets Season Preview: Up From Below

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(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

The Brooklyn Nets 2016-2017 Preview: Up From Below

“Cause I’ve already suffered, I want you to know God
I’m riding on hell’s hot flames, coming up from below.”
— Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes

Last year, the Brooklyn Nets, by any liberal definition of the word, were an absolute trainwreck. Surely, expectations had plummeted after the organization finally cut the cord on Deron Williams, dealt their best prospect since Brook Lopez for another raw rookie, and hired the cagey, old-school Lionel Hollins to coach a young, immature Nets team. Unfortunately, nobody could’ve been prepared for half a season with Donald Sloan and Shane Larkin manning the point — so things, got, well, dark.

To jog your memories — since you’ve often pushed them down deep inside of you — here’s a quick rundown of the awful things that happened in 2015-2016:

— Deron “Made me question if I even wanted to play basketball when I was done with that contract.” Williams was bought out.

— Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired after a 10-27 start and Tony Brown, the interim replacement, didn’t fare much better — winning 11 games the rest of the way.

— General manager Billy King was fired alongside Hollins, finally in too deep of a hole to coax his way out of another time. The Nets re-assigned him within the organization and the last time we heard from him, he was still claiming he’d have turned the franchise around with more chance.

— The Nets gave up 120 points or more on seven different occasions — their highest total allowed was a whopping 139 points to the Orlando Magic in March — and, on the flip side, they held their opponents to under 100 points just 16 times. Of those 16 games, the Nets’ record was just 9-7, which is to say simply this: there was no concrete formula to victory for that uninspiring team.

— This was mostly because the Nets carried, at one time or another, six players that are currently not on an NBA roster — Andrea Bargnani (Spain), Markel Brown (free agent), Sergey Karasev (Russia), Shane Larkin (Spain), Donald Sloan (China), and Henry Sims (free agent). As of publishing, Thomas Robinson has officially survived the final roster cut with the Los Angeles Lakers, and both Wayne Ellington and Willie Reed signed with the Miami Heat this summer.

— Joe Johnson was bought out in February after averaging 11.8 points with Brooklyn over a way-too-much 33.9 minutes per game. He then signed with the Heat and bumped his total to 13.4 PPG and his FG% leapt from 40% to 52%.

— Again, this roster depended on Andrea Bargnani for a scoring punch off the bench and that was after the Nets handed the injury-riddled, no defense-chucker a player option in year two. Thankfully, Bargnani requested a buyout in February as well, stating that the Nets had promised him more playing time — but, you know, people break promises when you make us put your trigger-happy shooting to Ante Up.

— The Nets averaged just 6.5 three-pointers per game, good for 26th-worst in 2015-2016. Additionally they handed out 14.8 turnovers every contest, 19th-worst, and their pace was, unsurprisingly, painfully slow and tied for the 20th-slowest mark at 97.4.

This made for sloppy, boring, and ineffective basketball.

— They lost more games in the first half than I could count — or dare to recollect — and I eventually revolted, writing our game grades on snow-related items, running diaries, and Shel Silverstein-inspired poems.

But, finally, it’s a new season with new — err, or lack thereof — expectations. As they always say, it’s the darkest before the dawn, right? (Or, for as long as Andrea Bargnani is on your roster — one or the other.) The dismissal of Hollins and King lead to the hiring of Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks; Hollis-Jefferson, the returning piece of the aforementioned Plumlee deal, seems like he might be a defensive force; and the Nets landed Jeremy Lin in free agency.

However, it’s not all coming up Milhouse for the Nets in 2016-2017 — they still don’t have a bench ready to succeed, the system may have surpassed Brook Lopez, and, well, Trevor Booker alone isn’t going to fix a defense that bled points and nearly came in dead-last for efficiency last year.

And yet, after a full summer of drama, signings, and a lackluster preseason, it’s hard not to be excited about dusting off the cobwebs for another go-around on the carousel of impending Nets nausea. Without further ado, here’s your super-mega cheat sheet for the upcoming season — bookmark and save it to impress your co-workers at the watercooler — or don’t, whatever, because everybody is going to make fun of you for the pick swap with the Boston Celtics anyways.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Brooklyn Game Player Previews

Jorge GutiérrezEgidijus Mockevicius, Yogi Ferrell, Chase BudingerBeau BeechJeremy Lin, Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, Greivis VasquezJoe Harris, Randy Foye, Bojan BogdanovicRondae Hollis-JeffersonAnthony BennettChris McCullough, Trevor BookerLuis Scola, Justin Hamilton, Brook Lopez

Miscellaneous Posts of Interests

Nine Thoughts To Keep Your Spirits Up Heading Into The 2016-17 Nets Season

TBG’s Far Too Early Fantasy Basketball Cheat Sheat

Roundtable: Uncovering the Brooklyn Nets’ best lineups

Did the Nets actually improve their bench this offseason?

Mazzeo: Atkinson was key component in Nets landing Lin

Bojan Bogdanovic predicts playoff berth for Nets

Brook Lopez is the lone Net in Sports Illustrated’s Top 100

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Analyzing Kenny Atkinson Through Preseason

by Ryan Carbain

The team hasn’t played a single minute of basketball that counted this summer and fall, but new head coach Kenny Atkinson has not been shy about the offensive style he wants to run. “[T]his will be a little bit more Atlanta-San Antonio style,” Atkinson told ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo, “A little bit more touches from other guys.”

So what’s that mean? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Atkinson is trying to install the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks’ version of the motion offense. For those of you that are uninitiated, a motion offense is a free-flowing offense governed by a certain set of rules. These rules emphasize ball movement, floor spacing, cutting, weaving, and screening. In the case of what the Spurs and Hawks try to run, pace also plays a critical role.

The goal of the offense is to find the best shot available by taking advantage of what the defense gives you. So, if Jeremy Lin moves the ball to a gifted shooter on the weak-side and he’s open, that player is free to launch early in the shot clock. (Bogdanovic does so at about 1:38 here.) However, if Trevor Booker receives the ball as a dive man on the pick and roll and he sees a help defender coming to clog the lane, he might consider swinging it out to a player rotating to the corner for an open three.

There’s really only one cardinal sin of the offense: hesitation. Failing to pop a clean look or make a quick movement is the easiest way for a player to get an early hook.

The Spurs and Hawks play both 4-and-1 motion and a 3-and-2 motion sets and we’ve seen the Nets try those styles under Atkinson already as well. These numbers refer to the number of players outside the paint and then those in the post. A 4-and-1 motion offense, the more commonly used option, will begin with just one player in the post, typically the big man who gets into position first. Hence, you’re seeing Brook Lopez start a lot of possessions outside the paint, as he’s a few ticks too slow to be one of the first out the gate.

The 3-and-2 set, as you likely guessed, means there are two post players in the paint — one in the high post and the other lurking in the weak-side low post. Theoretically, a lineup like that might see Booker playing at the nail, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson lurks the baseline.

There are no set plays, so Atkinson isn’t calling much from the sideline and whomever has the ball will dictate most of the action. While it may seem like random improvisation, it’s not and you’ll probably see Lin pass to the player on the weak-side, immediately curl around somebody in the post, get himself the ball back, and then attack a now off-balance defender. Or after the pass, Lin may cut to the corner while the new ball handler initiates a pick and roll with the post man — these will not be coincidences.

The actions in a motion offense will always require another. So, if Lin is cutting to the weak-side corner, then a player stationed there may cut to the top of the key or set a screen for another cutter. Obviously, the subtle nuances take getting used to and anticipating the movements of your teammates doesn’t always come naturally — so expect many hiccups early on (and you’ve probably seen plenty of them in the preseason).

That freelancing is complex as is, but the Spurs and Hawks throw in a lot of counters and misdirection on top of it all. For example, there’s the “Hammer Action” that the Spurs are notorious for. Brett Koremenos, a former Grantland writer described the motion: “[I]n which, a ball handler drives toward the baseline on one side of the floor in order to make a pass to a shooter floating toward the opposite corner with the help of a back screen, is a classic example of San Antonio sleight of hand.”

Yeah, I can hear you thinking: but what about the pick and roll? All summer, we’ve all read a host of articles guaranteeing stellar symmetry between Lopez and Lin — but through the preseason, that itch was largely left unscratched. But, rest assured: pace, floor-spacing, and the pick and roll are critical to what Atkinson is trying to do here. Whether it was Koremenos for Grantland or Mike Prada analyzing the burgeoning Hawks when Kenny Atkinson was an assistant there, these offensives have been well-loved over the years. Both the linked analyses point to one key similarity: an attacking point guard working out of the pick and roll often, so don’t freak out quite yet.

So, then, the Nets will have a top offense in 2016-2017? Well, not so fast. After all, it took Mike Budenholzer a full season to turn it around in Atlanta before he won 2014-2015’s Coach of the Year Award. And, frankly, the Nets do not have the cast of shooters that either team boasts.

However, the pace will be quick, the ball will move, and sometimes the Nets may actually shoot a team out of the building. It’s not going to be a Spursgasm on day one, but it will loads more fun than the Nets’ long-standing reliance on Iso-Joe.

And, really, that’s all you can ask for in a lost season like this.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Matching Up Against the Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics quietly finished 48-34 last season, as they continued to earn more headlines for what they could be (largely due to the picks that are owed to them by the Nets) rather than what they are — the 4th-best defensive team in the NBA. They made a splash this offseason by signing Al Horford (inarguably the second-best free agent on the market), and landed one of the top-five talents in the draft in Jaylen Brown. The Celtics play aggressively on both ends of the floor and may well be the model that the Nets strive for in the coming years. As for this season, it’s difficult to suggest that the Nets have the depth or athleticism to match the rotations that elite head coach Brad Stevens has at his disposal. 
— Domenic

Toronto Raptors
Despite the Celtics’ bounty of the aforementioned Horford, the Toronto Raptors still have the most talented team in the Atlantic Division. The Raptors’ All-Star backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will continue to dominate games and, alongside DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas, their starting five is better than any other in the division. Athletes like Norman Powell will stifle Brooklyn’s shooters and the Nets’ lack of two-way threats will be their undoing against a team that is likely to be the Cleveland Cavaliers’ biggest obstacle en route to a third-consecutive NBA Finals trip. — Andrew

New York Knicks
While the New York Knicks have made some glamorous additions, Carmelo Anthony is still their best player and the franchise continues to pin their big playoff hopes on him. Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, and Courtney Lee are all good signings — if they can stay healthy — but there are some fair questions about the Knicks’ paltry depth chart. Although it’ll be Anthony hitting the last-second shots and Noah doing the dirty work down below, this team will only go as far as Kristaps Porzingis takes them. For the Nets, a good focus would be to force Anthony into making tough choices and shots — hi, Rondae! — and to limit the Porzingis fever whenever these two rivals play. — Simon

Philadelphia 76ers
Processing . . .

Believe it or not, the Philadelphia 76ers are still going through the process phase following the abrupt end of the Sam Hinkie era last season. Ben Simmons, the no. 1 overall pick, is another top lottery pick to have their rookie season delayed before it even started for Philadelphia and it’s all starting to feel like a bad dream. The 76ers made some veteran signings during free agency, bringing in Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez to go along with Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor.

The Nets were 2-2 against the 76ers last season, one of them coming after Bojan Bogdanovic’s 44-point game. Even with another year of low expectations for both sides, there’s no reason why the Nets can’t go 3-1 against their fellow cellar-dwellers. — Jerry

(AP Photo/R Brent Smith)
(AP Photo/R Brent Smith)

Predicting the First Month of the Season

10/26 @ Boston Celtics
About a week ago, I watched the systematic destruction of the Nets at the hands of the ruthless and relentless Boston Celtics. Certainly, the Nets were sloppy at times and couldn’t buy a bucket through long stretches of the game, but that’s just a testament of how great everything is for Boston right now. Great draft picks, great coach, great stars, great system, great fans — which is all why there’s no way the Nets can pull off the upset on opening night. — Ben
10/27 vs. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers’ shiny new acquisitions of Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson add to the already electric core of Monta Ellis, Paul George, and Myles Turner, making the franchise an even more difficult team to take on. Oh, and of course, Nets fans won’t have to wait long for the return of Thaddeus Young, who they traded for, essentially, Caris LeVert on draft night. If the Nets hope to win, they’ll need a big game out of Lopez, who, in three games against the Pacers last season, averaged 20.7 points. In fact, a late-March victory against Indiana last season saw Lopez put up 23 points with 9 boards and 4 assists, can he replicate that success?  — Jesse
10/29 @ Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks feel like a lock for the playoffs, yet I’m not quite sure how justified that is. They lack three-point shooting and shot-blocking, and will sorely miss Khris Middleton as the offense clusters into the post. Of course, the Bucks have more raw talent than the Nets do — particularly with wunderkind Giannis Antetokounmpo at the point — but this, nevertheless, feels like a winnable match-up for the Nets. Most of the holdovers from Jason Kidd’s short stint as the head coach in Brooklyn are gone, but these showdowns always seem to bring something new. Domenic
10/31 vs. Chicago Bulls
Although the Jeremy Lin/Rajon Rondo and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson/Dwyane Wade match-ups are juicy enough on their own, this is your first Lopez/Lopez bowl of the 2016-2017 season. Prepare for tons of shots of Deborah, the twin’s mother, going splitsies on the shared apparel before realizing that, even without a stunning lack of three-point shooters on the Bulls’ roster, this game is gonna be all trick and no treat. — Ben
11/2 vs. Detroit Pistons:
The Detroit Pistons were the only team the Nets beat in the preseason, so that has to count for something, right? The main issue lies within matching up against Andre Drummond. In the four match-ups against the Nets last year, Drummond averaged exactly 20 points & 14 rebounds per game — or, godlike numbers. Lopez, who has been abused by the former University of Connecticut standout before, will need constant help from Booker to even try and nullify the opposing center. At home, you’d give the Nets a good chance to win, but the Pistons probably steal this one on the back of a 25/25 game from Drummond. — Simon
11/4 vs. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets stand to take a step back this season after losing important pieces like Courtney Lee and Lin in free agency, replacing them with Ramon Sessions and the unproven Jeremy Lamb. They still figure to be in the playoff hunt, however, and they (still) match-up well against the Nets. Lin, while an underrated defender, doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of Kemba Walker and the Nets’ lack of rim protection will allow the speedy point guard to get into the lane and find open shooters like Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams. The Nets hang here, but ultimately lose a close one. — Andrew
11/8 vs. Minnesota Timberolves
The scariest thing about the Minnesota Timberwolves is that their hype is fully deserved and the Nets will suffer because of it. Last year, the Nets lost their two games to the now-Tom Thibodaeu led Timberwolves by an average of 14.5 points and they’ll be even better this year. Karl-Anthony Towns has the tools to shut down Lopez and Andrew Wiggins is laterally quick enough to stifle Lin. Even with improved guard play from the Nets, the Timberwolves are built to hurt them in their few areas of strength. — Ben
11/9 @ New York Knicks
Ah, the first annual Battle of the Boroughs — an always welcomed distraction from their recently poor on-court play. While the match-up has lost some of its luster since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett moved on, the continued growth of Kristaps Porzingis makes this a must-watch. When Lopez is cooking — as he has in the past — Noah will struggle to stick with the offensively-elite prankster. And besides, who would miss the Nets’ best chance to take down one of the league’s “superteams”? — Liz
11/12 @ Phoenix Suns
Brooklyn last faced Phoenix in February of 2016, the first game after the Nets bought out Joe Johnson’s contract. In that game, Bogdanovic scored a team-high 24 points in the Nets’ 116-106 victory and they’ll need to lean on him here again. If Lin and Bogdanovic can contain the young, athletic backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, they’ve got a good chance of stealing a road win. — Justis
11/14 @ Los Angeles Clippers
Honestly, the Nets don’t stand much of a chance in this match-up — and the idea of Luis Scola guarding Blake Griffin makes my head spin — but I’m very excited because it’s the second game of a mini-road trip that knocks out a solid amount of those dreaded 10:30PM EST tip-offs. Usually saved for February, there’s nothing worse than being freezing cold and staying up until 2AM watching the Nets mercilessly practice as alley-oop dummies.
However, there is no saving the Nets from Chris Paul — but, unsurprisingly, I’m more than happy to get this game out of the way nice and early. — Ben
11/15 @ Los Angeles Lakers
The first Kobe Bryant-less Nets-Lakers showdown in almost 20 years should be a fun watch, if only because the lesser LA squad is one that Atkinson and company can actually take down. Although last year saw D’Angelo “I got ice in my veins” Russell hit 8 (not a typo) three-pointers in the Barclays Center to win one of the Nets’ fleetingly close basketball games, he’ll have to face Lin instead of the likes of Sloan and Larkin this time around. Thomas Robinson revenge game? — Liz
11/18 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
No game in Oklahoma during 2016 will measure up to Johnson’s epic buzzer-beater in 2014, that’s for sure — but, believe it or not,  the Nets still don’t match-up well, even after Kevin Durant’s big departure. Russell Westbrook, who will look to average a triple-double in a permanently manic rage, should have no problem against Lin. Should they put Hollis-Jefferson on Westbrook, they’ll have to pray that Victor Oladipo doesn’t catch fire either. The hard-nosed Steven Adams is a good test for Lopez,  and the potential for a Enes Kanter versus Luis Scola showdown should provide plenty of no-defense comedy.– Michael
11/20 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
It’s hard to see those Rip City uniforms without remembering that the Nets essentially gave away Damian Lillard for a single year of Gerald Wallace. Who then, after re-signing for way too much, eventually manifested itself in the godforsaken Celtics trade that we’re still digging out of today. While that painful memory is rough enough on it’s own, the 40 plus points he’s likely to drop in this game will hurt even worse. — Jesse
11/23 vs. Boston Celtics
Not much will have changed since their first October match-up, but in the holiday spirit, we’ll toss a bone to the Nets. However, they’ll need the near-perfect Brad Stevens to miss the game after thoughtfully donating his time to charity work the day before Thanksgiving and for Horford to pity his old coach by not playing at all if the Nets want to win this one. But if people can convince me that the Macy’s Day Parade is still worth watching on Thanksgiving, then you can convince yourself that the Nets will pull this one off. — Ben
11/25 @ Indiana Pacers
The issue this year with the Indiana Pacers isn’t that they’ve added another star to their starting lineup, but, instead, that their depth is out of this world. If you’ll recall, say, 2013-2016 or that frightening preseason performance, the Nets have had trouble with the bench contributions since they moved to Brooklyn. Once you start talking Harris, Kilpatrick, and Scola vs. C.J. Miles, Kevin Seraphin, and Al Jefferson, the differences between the Eastern Conference dark horses and the cellar-dwellers become clear.
Oh, and, to boot, they still have Paul George, a player on most analyst’s shortlist for a potential MVP run. — Liz
11/27 vs. Sacramento Kings
If the Nets want to take strides this season, they need to win the really gettable games and this has to be one of them. You’ve got a mostly dysfunctional Sacramento team that depends on DeMarcus Cousins to score 25 points every night and they’ll be toting around a nearly-extinct Ty Lawson off the bench for 20+ minutes a night. An up-tempo shooting style may give the Nets a chance to stretch their defense and make room for their surprisingly crafty post players go to work. This one will be a Nets victory — we’re that confident. — Simon

11/29 vs. Clippers
The return trip to Brooklyn should fare well for the Western Conference powerhouses once again. Paul and the Clippers remain in the league’s upper echelon, just a small tier below the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors and act as one of the few teams that may be able to dethrone their combined dominance. Additionally, their trio of DeAndre Jordan, Griffin, and Paul is better than any NBA-wide combination not comprised of players from the aforementioned Warriors. The Clippers’ athleticism will overwhelm Brooklyn in transition and Jordan’s defensive versatility will neutralize the Lin-Lopez pick and roll. The hometown version ends just as badly as the away trip does. — Andrew

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

2016-2017 Official Roundtable

How will Kenny Atkinson fare in his first season?
Atkinson is a likable guy who isn’t expected to win much this season due to the Nets’ lack of talent on the roster. He has an ability to connect with players and get the most out of them — Exhibit A: Lin when the two were part of the Knicks’ five seasons ago — and the team has shown in the preseason that win or lose, they’ll play hard-nosed team basketball. The Nets don’t figure to be a factor in the playoff picture but Atkinson will establish a culture where players will improve and become a stronger free agent destination next summer — baby steps, everybody. — Andrew
He’ll have to be patient this year, unfortunately. Although it’s a heavy change in roles and duties for Atkinson, the Nets’ FO understands that this year is all about progress and development. Atkinson boasts a modern-day offense for the Nets and — after stumbling slowly through the past two years — the quickened pace and the audacious amount of three-point attempts will, eventually, create a better product in Brooklyn. I have faith in Kenny. — Jerry
Who is Brooklyn’s most important player?
I’m tempted to go with Lin here, but I’ll stick with the ever-reliable Lopez. Still the team’s most gifted scorer and best player, Lopez has been leaned on time and time again since the team moved to Brooklyn. Becoming less reliant on Lopez would be a good thing for both sides, but the veteran center will forever be the one able to grab big buckets in even bigger moments. Lopez fitting into the new motion system may be the key for everything to click — but besides all that, you want your best player to be optimized in the offense, so our fingers are all crossed. — Simon
Trevor Booker — yeah, I went there. Remember this statistic?
“The Nets gave up 120 points or more on seven different occasions — their highest total allowed was a whopping 139 points to the Orlando Magic in March — and, on the flip side, they held their opponents to under 100 points just 16 times.”
Well, on most nights, it’ll be up to Booker to protect and help Lopez, gobble up rebounds the billion-dollar version of Reggie Evans, and provide the hard-nose passion that’ll close the Nets’ large gulf in talent. You saw the defense without him on the floor this preseason — so let’s pray that Atkinson has big plans for Booker in 2016-2017. — Ben
How does Brook Lopez fit into this run-and-gun, chuck-em-up system?
Admittedly, Lopez isn’t the perfect fit for the fast-paced style the Nets will attempt to play, but he should still work well. Lopez played just 17 minutes per game in the preseason, so you can expect his numbers to almost double once the games start counting for real. The seven-footer carried the Nets last year, playing the most minutes of his career since 2010 and scoring 20 points a game. With their breakneck speed, it would behoove the Nets to look for Lopez trailing the play for open jumpers at the top of the key. — Justis
This all feels oddly familiar for Lopez: a new coach wants him to play closer to the three-point line; Nets find no success with him that far away from the basket; then they move Lopez back to the hoop and he goes on to have his typically outstanding year. Which is to say: been there, done that — let’s just skip that process and go back to Lopez being dominant in the system that fits him best. — Jesse
Does Rondae Hollis-Jefferson take the next step?
My adoration of Hollis-Jefferson is going to become a running joke at some point, but I’m confident that we’re going to see some eye-popping defensive numbers from him this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if he finished in the top three on the team in rebounds, blocks, and steals, and he’ll definitely have the best defensive efficiency. And, given what he did at Arizona, I wouldn’t be shocked if he tossed-up a semi-efficient 12 points per game either. — Domenic
If the preseason is any indication, Hollis-Jefferson might’ve improved his jumper, after all. As a strong defender with incredible length, Hollis-Jefferson is relied upon to defend the opposing team’s star — your Carmelo Anthonys, Paul Georges, and DeMar DeRozans. The next step for him is a simple one: find a consistent enough shot to force defenders to respect it. His athleticism gives him the advantage while driving to the hoop and backing defenders down in the post. Ideally, we could see him orphaning into a mini-Avery Bradley — an elite defender who scores between 12-15 points a game. — Justis
Who were you most impressed with this preseason?
Jeremy Lin, hands down. Nobody is asking him to bring Linsanity 2.0 to the table, but everyone in Brooklyn wants to see him become a legit starting point guard in the NBA. After an impressive outing with the Charlotte Hornets, that chance is now here — sculpted as the perfect situation with Brooklyn. After taking the better part of 18 months to reconstruct his jump shot, it looked silky-smooth in preseason. Lin has the ability to get the best out of others and finish at the rim with poise and confidence — so what the Nets achieve this season will hang on him. — Simon
Trevor Booker really stood out to me this preseason, as his consistent hustle caused issues for inbound passers and lazy ball handlers in almost every game. His relentless effort on the offensive boards is something the Nets have lacked for a couple seasons now, so he’ll absolutely fit well next to Lopez. Personally, it seems as if he plans on taking full advantage of this starting role and, if he keeps up the solid play, he won’t be losing it anytime soon. — Jesse
I was easily impressed the most by Joe Harris. I have to give Sean Marks and Trajan Langdon credit for this signing that, at the time, seemed out of left field. Harris was a second-round pick by the Cavaliers in 2014 and didn’t play much but Langdon must’ve seen something during his team with Cleveland worth taking a flyer on. In case you missed it, Harris shot 62.5% (10-16) from deep in preseason — which suddenly makes him one of the most valuable commodities the Nets have. Korver-Lite? — Jerry
Where will the Nets finish in the Eastern Conference?
There’s already a new set of pressure on #TrustTheProcess down in Philadelphia, but things are looking a bit sketchy with Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel already missing extended time to start of the season. With Jerryd Bayless also on the shelf for now, they’ll need to rely on Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell to run the ship. Ultimately, in terms of conference standings, it won’t come down to what team is better, but which is worse. Without Simmons for the time being and Joel Embiid being slowly brought along, the Nets should finish 14th with a record of 27-55.
Is it shocking that 27 wins seems super optimistic? — Simon
Last, at 19-63. — Domenic

I’m eight-seeding so hard right now. Hollis-Jefferson is a stud in the making, Lin ascended to god-tier status in New York, and Lopez starts hitting three-pointers at a 40% clip — why not, right? Atkinson may be a magic maker and he intentionally used as little Lin-Lopez pick and roll as possible this fall. If Bojan Bogdanovic chips in with some Rio-esque performances and Booker provides the rebounds that Thaddeus Young often didn’t grab last year — then there’s no reason to let your dreams die, kids.

8th seed, 41-41.* — Ben
*(Don’t @ me, bro.)
What will determine a success for Brooklyn in 2016-2017?
Wins and losses won’t matter come June — but development, culture, and, through the veterans, molding young players will be the Nets’ measurables this year. They can’t build through the draft or make any quick trades, so they must roll with the punches and improve through experience. If this is a season in which the Nets actually stay competitive and give young players the chance to develop, then Atkinson will be off to a smashing start. — Justis
The goal is to build, build, build. This year will be important to see players like Lin, Hollis-Jefferson, Bogdanovic, and Caris LeVert (eventually) develop and improve throughout the year. The Nets need their first round picks — LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson or Chris McCullough — to show promise for the future. Will hometown hero Isaiah Whitehead show the moxie to earn significant playing time off the bench? Will McCullough put some of that intriguing potential together? This year is about building something worthwhile for the future — so it’s Atkinson’s time to shine. — Jerry

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The End

The Brooklyn Nets likely won’t compete for playoff contention in 2016-2017 and that’s fine. In fact, they might even finish dead-last in the Eastern Conference — make no mistake, that’s certainly still in play. But, for once, there are no expectations of deep playoff runs or veterans anxious at the chance to leave the franchise. There aren’t D-Leaguers masquerading as starting point guards and, according to many, the bad taste and culture is out of the locker room and, believe it or not, the team actually enjoys spending time together. The Nets used to be one of the slowest teams in the league, stuck in a bygone era of three-point shooting under Lionel Hollins. This year, if Atkinson’s preseason offense is any indication, then, at the very least, they’ll be more fun.

So, when the losses are piling up and you feel like tearing your hair out over Scola’s matador defense — remember that word again. Fun.

No, really, think about it. The Nets will be a fun basketball team again. When was the last time they were fun? They made it to the second round once thanks to Paul Pierce’s epic block against Toronto — but was the rest of the season all that fun? Since moving to Brooklyn, the expectations have been either sky-high or boring as hell — but this? This is an in between we haven’t seen since they traded Jason Kidd in 2008, in all honesty. When you go straight from 12-70 to owner Mikhail Prokhorov promising an NBA Championship in five years or less, you’re either going to be happy or disappointed — full stop.

Whether or not the Nets even win more games than last year, the organization has the chance to give the fanbase something they haven’t felt in some time — and certainly not since they moved to New York — and that’s by creating a culture worth rooting for. Only one franchise wins a championship every season and the Nets won’t likely be contenders until they own their draft picks again in 2019 — but let’s start here.

With Atkinson and Lin, there are no more grandiose pipe-dreams, bloated payrolls, or inflated egos. Atkinson spent all summer signing those that actually wanted to play for Brooklyn and Marks went out of his way to unearth young, athletic prospects that could grow into something special down the line. It’ll take two more years or maybe more, but, for once, it’ll be fun to enjoy the ride.

The Brooklyn Nets will be bad in 2016-2017 and beyond — but, finally, they’re worth investing in again.