Searching for Silver Linings in Nets’ Small Sample Sizes
The Brooklyn Nets are not a good basketball team right now, even considering most any measure. They’re in the NBA’s bottom-ten for ORtg and DRtg and they’re on-pace to win just 27 games — even though, to be fair, that’d be an improvement over the 2015-2016 season. As soon as the Nets traded Thaddeus Young in June, most knew that this would be a lost season, at least insofar as wins and losses are concerned. But that doesn’t make it easier to stomach, particularly so when Jeremy Lin is still sidelined for another handful of games.
It isn’t all bad if you’re willing to squint a bit though — so here are five tidbits that should make Nets fans either happy, hopeful, or, alternatively, downright amused.
1. They hung with Charlotte for 48 minutes, despite Lin’s absence
The Charlotte Hornets are a damn good team.
They won 48 games last season, and took the Miami Heat to 7 games in the first round of the playoffs. The majority of the faces remain the same this year, and they are out to a 4-1 start, their only loss came against the conference-contending Boston Celtics. They’re currently fourth in the NBA for points per game allowed, and fifth in DRtg.
And, even then, the Nets took them to the limit on Friday night. This, with Bojan Bogdanovic and Sean Kilpatrick combining to shoot 9-32 from the floor (4-16 from deep), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fouling out.
That has been a low-key story of the season to-date, as three of the team’s four losses have been by five points or fewer. They were blown out by the Bulls, to be sure — but that is the exception through the first couple of weeks; not the rule.
2. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson woke up
Through five games, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was shooting .174/.000/.750 and averaging 2.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 24.6 minutes — that was bad. And then, in the first game with Lin on the bench, he gave us a peek at the player that one TBG writer fawned over just under three weeks ago.
In the aforementioned game against the Hornets, Hollis-Jefferson posted the following line — 11 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 0 turnovers in just over 32 minutes. Perhaps even cooler, the sophomore was 4-5 from the field, including 2-2 beyond the arc. Most importantly, he looked comfortable with the ball in his hands, creating both for himself and others.
This is the version of Hollis-Jefferson that the Nets have been dying to see; hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
3. Trevor Booker looks like a bargain
Trevor Booker will make just over 9 million this year and next, and he has been worth every cent thus far. The 28 year-old is averaging 8.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in 26.5 minutes per game, and he plays with the tenaciousness that the Nets sorely lacked last season. And, as per NBA.com, he’s holding opposing players to a 31.9 FG% — a mark that is 15.3 percentage points better than average.
The comparisons to Reggie Evans are unfair at best (and something that I am guilty of), as Booker has the look of a solid rotational player, if not a starter.
4. Brook Lopez can shoot the three-pointer
Heading into this season, Lopez was 3-31 from deep.
I don’t even know if I would qualify that as bad, considering that percentage breaks down to less than 0.1 attempts per game. We knew that his range would be tested this season, and we hoped that his sweet percentages on long two-pointers would translate to a reasonable three-point shot — he shot 41.8% from 16 feet or deeper over the prior two years, after all. Six games and 21 attempts in, he’s done just fine, shooting a league-average-ish 33.3% from deep.
Lopez is something of a dinosaur in this incarnation of the NBA, due to his sometimes underwhelming rim protection and shaky production in the pick and roll. However, his ability to hit from long range could be integral to his value — be it for the Nets, or on another team.
5. The Nets have a plan and they’re sticking to it
The Nets are playing at the fourth-fastest pace in the NBA this season, and have hoisted the 3rd-most 3-point attempts. They’re playing aggressively on both ends of the court, and allowing the rotation to sort itself out as eight players are seeing 22-plus minutes per game thus far. This is what Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks spoke about throughout the off-season, and it is essentially a complete 180 turn from last year’s team.
This is a situation where the results are not nearly as important as the process, as this is year one of a hard reboot. Sure, the Nets are shooting just 30.7% from deep. Yes, they’re turning the ball over quite a bit. And, no, they’re not getting to the line. In short, it hasn’t been pretty.
But, to steal and amend a popular Dragon Ball Z meme, this isn’t their final form, so have some patience — they’re coming, it just may take a while.