TBG Roundtable: Thoughts as All-Star Break closes

Photo courtesy YES Network

The Brooklyn Nets go back to practice on Wednesday, thus ending their time off. With the players getting back to work, and Spencer Dinwiddie bringing an All-Star Skills Challenge trophy back to Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Game put together thoughts of the season thus far and adjustments that can be made in the final 23 games. 

Photo courtesy YES Network

What has been the biggest surprise so far this season?

Charles Maniego: The biggest surprise for me has been the play of Spencer Dinwiddie. Going into the season, he was essentially the third point guard in the Nets’ rotation with Lin and Russell ahead of him. I was expecting him to play about 15 minutes per game this season. His rise may not have been under the best of circumstances, but Dinwiddie has definitely shown that he is a piece the Nets may want to keep for the long-term.

Jimmy Espinal: Spencer Dinwiddie’s emergence as a starter in the NBA was the biggest shock. Going into the season, fans did not know where he would fit with Brooklyn’s crowded backcourt. Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell were slotted to be the driving forces of this team but the injury bug derailed the Nets’ plan and paved the way for Dinwiddie to show the league what he can do. He has been phenomenal in their absence and has proved to be a vital piece of Brooklyn’s future.

Sandy Mui: By far, Spencer Dinwiddie overachieved. It’d be an understatement to say it has been difficult for the Nets with Jeremy Lin out for the season and D’Angelo Russell (who’s since returned) out for almost 10 weeks, but Dinwiddie has been stellar at filling in the gap. Since we are coming right out of All-Star Break, his win in the Skills Challenge was pretty much the icing on the cake for his breakout year. The NBA will @ him, eventually…

Who overachieved/underachieved?

Charles: Other than Dinwiddie, two of the “salary dump” Nets, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll, are on opposite ends of the spectrum for me. I just love the way Carroll plays. He may not be shooting super efficiently this season, but he does so many of the little things. He hustles on the offensive boards, he’s usually there to defend the opponent’s best players and he’s a veteran leader the Nets need — especially during their recent run of losses. Carroll’s hard-nosed play is one to emulate by other Nets.

While Crabbe may have had a few hot games before the break, he has been a disappointment to me for most of the season. He came into the Nets as a shooter — and simply did not shoot well. Whenever the Nets needed a big basket to take a lead, Crabbe would seemingly be a little off. To top that off, he really would disappear on offense at times and was hot and cold defensively. He has looked good recently, and Nets fans hope he can keep up his strong play post-All-Star Break.

Jimmy: Allen Crabbe underachieved. The Nets paid a hefty price for Crabbe’s services, and while he caught fire before the break, he has not been what Brooklyn gambled for. He has shot 35 percent on the year from deep but has struggled to hit the wide open shot when the Nets need it. It was worth a shot being in the position the Nets are, but the gamble on Crabbe has not worked out as of yet.

Elizabeth Swinton: DeMarre Carroll was expected to be a leader for this team, but I did not think he would contribute as consistently or as much as he has. Posting the same amount of double-doubles this season than he did in the rest of his career combined (eight), he has been impressive. His hustle and attention to second chances give Brooklyn an entirely different edge, and he fits in with Brooklyn grit to a T. 

What were the best/worst moments?

Charles: Best moments, for me, have been watching the young players shine. Jarrett Allen has really come into his own, which is surprising considering that many people called him a “project” at the time of the draft. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson look great at times. Those are all homegrown Nets and should be big parts of the future.

The Nets’ current seven-game losing streak hurts but watching the injuries that have plagued the Nets has to be worse. The Lin injury in game one was depressing to watch and really doomed the season seemingly from the start. Russell’s injury was such a mystery, and it was difficult to predict his return. With so much optimism going into the season, it is a bit of a bummer that we will never get to see the Nets truly at full strength.

Sandy: I’ve found myself on the edge of my seat for really tight Nets games, which (unsurprisingly) fall under some of the best and worst moments. For best moments, there was Dinwiddie’s buzzer beater against the Pistons on Jan. 21. For worst moments, they are typical Nets moments — when the team fails to pull out a victory, despite a major comeback. The first game that comes to mind is that insane double-overtime loss to the Pelicans on Feb. 10.

Elizabeth: The Dinwiddie game-winners and close finishes have been fun, but the biggest deal for me this season was Dinwiddie’s win in the All-Star Skills Challenge. Even though some are salty about it and refuse to acknowledge it (Kristaps Porzingis, looking at you), the come-from-behind efforts in the first two rounds emulated Brooklyn’s season with the best result. For Brooklyn to come away from All-Star Weekend with a thrilling win was about as fun as any game this season. 

The team finished before the All-Star Break on a seven-game losing streak. Is the team going to stay in the slump? What needs to change?

Charles: The losing streak is really a sign of growing pains for the Nets. I think the Nets will get over the hump eventually. Their next two games against the Hornets and Bulls should be winnable as both teams are under .500. The Nets will need stronger defensive performances from everyone in order to win. Brooklyn’s offense looks competent (sometimes), but the defense has really, really looked bad. That needs to be fixed. But also, the return of Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — just because of their talent — could help the Nets snap the losing streak.

Elizabeth: We have yet to hear if LeVert and RHJ will be back, but those are two of Brooklyn’s key weapons that I think will single-handedly get Brooklyn back on track. While the rest will benefit all teams, it may especially recharge the Nets and remotivate them to match and break last season’s win total of 20 victories. 

Does Kenny Atkinson have to do anything differently?

Charles: I’d like to see more integration with Dinwiddie and Russell. Those are the Nets’ two best players, and I think that they would work pretty effectively. Especially with the return of LeVert, the Nets’ second unit should be good to go if Atkinson goes with a Dinwiddie-Russell starting group. A lot of the Nets’ issues come from their lack of true size, but I don’t think Atkinson can really do anything with that just because of the roster construction and the (current) flaws of Allen and Okafor in the middle.

Elizabeth: I agree with Charles that rolling with a Dinwiddie-Russell lineup more often would be interesting to see. Atkinson has had to get creative with the injuries, so with his full arsenal back soon perhaps he can play around with different matchups. The ultimate goal is to finish the season with strong team chemistry, and healthy bodies will be needed for that. 

Predictions for the rest of the season?

Charles: I’m expecting a more exciting rest of the season for the Nets. To be honest, the Nets’ last few games have followed the same script — where they go down big, attempt a comeback, but ultimately lose. They miss shots and let one person on the opposing team go off. It is a repeating pattern, but with the Nets possibly being the healthiest they have been since…November, I’m expecting games to be way more exciting — and give more optimism for the future. The 20th win is close!

Jimmy: I still believe the Nets can get to 30 wins on the season. That would require Brooklyn to play around .500 basketball for the rest of the season, and I think the team is capable of that. Injuries have hurt Brooklyn all year long. The Nets are on a seven-game slide at the moment and the absence of Hollis-Jefferson plays a big factor in those results. RHJ’s return coupled with a return to form of D’Angelo Russell can give the Nets the boost they need to finish this season on a high note.

Sandy: Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should be back soon, which should translate to more wins for Brooklyn. Much caution comes with that statement of course since Brooklyn can blow out the Wizards on one night, then get blown out by the Knicks on another. As it stands, the Nets are 13th in the East with a 19-40 record and 24th in the league. At the very least, I still see them finishing outside of the bottom five. (Sorry Cavs fans.)

Elizabeth: I expect the Nets to win their first game back against the Hornets on Feb. 22 and to go on a New Years-esque run after that. I don’t know if Brooklyn will reach 30 wins, but Dinwiddie and Allen will continue to develop at a high level. I expect more close games as no matter the roster, the team will always revert back to that identity. 

I also look forward to the Nets playing spoiler to teams looking to make the playoffs. That is the best, and most consistent, part of every season.