This one was over early — and we mean early.
After going down 14-0 to start and never posing a threat, the Nets looked uncharacteristically disengaged. The thrashing the Nets experienced against the Sixers in Game 5 was a cruel way to finish to an expectation-beating, All-Star-forming, 42-win season.
There was no storybook ending, but looking at the way the season ended is an unfair way to judge the progress made in 2018-19. That’s why we’re using this grades post to take a look back at the progress made this season, and what to look forward to.
We asked how our followers would remember this season, and many mentioned bouncing back from the 8-18 start to the season. That was the point many thought the Nets should tank — especially after Caris LeVert went down with what looked like a gut-wrenching season-ending injury.
But the team continued to prove it was meant for more. Brooklyn responded to that slow start with a 7-game win streak, with the breakout of players such as D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie to lead the way.
The no-quit style of play became the Nets’ signature, and boy was it fun to watch. Brooklyn drew fans in by its gritty, no-quit play, including some dramatic come-from-behind wins to show that tanking was not a possibility. The heroics to beat the Rockets and Kings were two of the most thrilling games to witness in recent Nets memory and showed the league what the team was capable of.
The Nets also experience the comeback of LeVert, who most thought would not see the court again this season. Instead of crumbling without him, the Nets came together and responded with competitive basketball in his 42-game absence. Brooklyn also finished out the final stretch of the season as Dinwiddie healed his thumb. Players stepped up as others fell, and that depth was a strength of Brooklyn’s year.
On their way to a 42-win season and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the year far-and-away exceeded expectations. A group that enjoyed working with each other, led by a dedicated coaching staff, can go a long way. The 14-win increase from the 2017-18 season was just one landmark of that.
Then came the playoffs, the first appearance for Brooklyn since 2015. The sixth seed was well-earned, and many thought Brooklyn could give the Sixers a run for their money. An impressive Game 1 on the road gave hope, but the Nets lost some tough ones at home. While the opportunity to even up the series will always hang in the balance, the lessons learned (and the blood boiled) in this series will have a lasting impact.
We’ll get to individual players’ improvements below, but this season was all about setting a foundation. Pieces will move in the offseason, and a big free agent may come, but this was a season that showed what has been brewing in Brooklyn — and what this can grow into. It was special, and can continue to be.
As Kenny Atkinson said in his post-game press conference, “Seasons like this don’t come around much in sports.”
The pain of loss ended in a season of opportunity, sooner than most expected.
After finding success and reaching the playoffs, are better things to come? It’s pretty difficult to not think so. Even with moving parts, the development made and the plan in place cannot be denied.
Game 5 did not show what the Nets proved this year, and it’s always tough to say goodbye to a team (especially to the All-Star YES Network broadcasting crew) — but it’s just another step for what’s next. After a season of surprises and statements, the Brooklyn Net have the tools to accomplish greater things.
And in typical Nets fashion, the extent to what they achieve will catch us all by surprise.
The stats: Season averages: 13.7 PTS, 3.8 REB, 3.9 AST
Caris’ return from his gruesome injury this season was stunning enough as it was, but his return to form for the end of the season into the playoffs was just as incredible.
Caris started the season looking as Brooklyn’s best player, and finished it as the team’s most consistent talent. Even in the Game 5 blowout, Caris was the only player to make a threat in the first half with his teammates not finding success.
The way Caris finished the year just brews more excitement into what he can become. Nets fans always knew he could be special, but the fruits of the coaching staff’s labor truly showed this season. Caris is making himself into a household NBA name, and if he keeps it up next season — potentially an All-Star.
The stats: Season averages: 10.9 PTS, 8.4 REB, 1.4 AST
The Fro had himself a highlight-filled season, specifically on the defensive end. His block on star after star helped make a name for himself and carve a niche in the NBA.
Jarrett can still grow in terms of battling the stronger big men he faces, but he showed this season he can be a franchise big man if he continues on this path. When his guards get him involved, he works seamlessly in the offense and his second-chance snags were key in Brooklyn’s comebacks this season. His contributions were even acknowledged in his involvement in the Rising Stars game of All-Star weekend, where Jarrett played against Rodions Kurucs.
It’s hard for the Nets to have asked for more growth from Jarrett this season, and there will be more big-time blocks from the Fro to come. “Oh, the Fro!” called by Ian Eagle will always be music to our ears.
The stats: Season averages: 21.1 PTS, 3.9 REB, 7.0 AST
Where to start with D’Angelo — All-Star, leader, most-improved candidate. Straight-up bucket getter. A player the Nets have missed and needed for what seems like an eternity.
DLo turned into the young stud the Nets’ coaching staff always believed he could be. After a slow start to the season, he stepped up in LeVert’s absence and carried the team on his back. He showed off both his high-arcing shot and his vision inside. He has moves that any NBA player had difficulty guarding.
The most disappointing part of DLo’s season was the playoffs, where he could not turn it on like he did in the regular season. D’Angelo willed his team to wins throughout the season, and there were moments where he looked like he could do so against the Sixers — but he never got it down.
Still, DLo (and many of these guys) can put their first playoff appearance under their belts. Any postseason experience makes a big difference, and that can be the case for DLo in the development of his game. He still became a joy and a thrill for Brooklyn this season, from leading runs to cheering the team on from the bench.
D’Angelo may not win most-improved player this year, but he embodied the Brooklyn culture, and it showed in spades. If he sticks around, his leadership can take the team far.
The stats: Season averages: 13.7 PTS, 3.8 REB, 2.4 AST
Joe Harris beating out Steph Curry in the All-Star three-point contest is right at the top of my list of the best moments this season. The thrill of him draining both his money ball racks and shocking the NBA (well, everyone outside Nets fans) was part of a thrilling All-Star weekend for the Brooklyn organization and the fans cheering him on.
And Joe showed that skill on the court all season. He led the NBA in three-point percentage and was a reliable part of the Nets’ lineup. Brooklyn fans will still wish that Joe did not go cold in the playoffs, though. A tough matchup against JJ Redick hurt Joe, and his 0-6 performance from distance in Game 4 was killer.
Still, Joe continued to show he can be a big-time shot-maker in the NBA. He may not be the go-to closer or part of the headline after a big win, but his consistency was a large part of the Nets exceeding expectations this season. His growth can only continue as he stays in Brooklyn.
The stats: Season averages: 16.8 PTS, 2.4 REB, 4.6 AST
While he was sidelined with a thumb injury near the end of the season, Spencer also took big strides this year. After a year where he put up a case for most-improved player, he earned himself a contract with the Nets, which was a testament to what he’s accomplished.
Even as D’Angelo started to break out this season, Spencer played into his role off the bench and led one of the strongest second units in the NBA. His deep threes and drives to the rim pulled Brooklyn out of ruts this season, and his three-point barrage to beat the Rockets is one for the history books of the year.
While he sometimes had quiet contributions, Spencer continued to grow his game and played his role to a T. The Nets were a playoff team because of their strong guard play, and Spencer sticking in Brooklyn will only show his next gear.
The stats: Season averages: 8.5 PTS, 3.9 REB, 0.8 AST
Who expected Rodions Kurucs to become a key part of Brooklyn’s regular rotation this season?
His growth from being played very little overseas to a key player on an NBA roster was one of the thrills of Brooklyn’s season. Not only did he earn his time in NBA, but he earned his spot out of the G League and onto the Brooklyn roster.
Besides being the lowest pick to be selected to the All-Star Rising Stars game, Rodi became a spark for Brooklyn this season (while also showing his opponents he wasn’t going to be pushed around). He even managed to be ejected in the final minutes of Game 5! Rodi never quits.
The playoffs were Rodi’s first experience playing in the postseason at any level of his career, which is incredible, and he will continue to experience success in Brooklyn’s system. The organization’s research on Rodi paid off, and his growth on the roster may be the most to look forward to among his teammates.
Talent, and toughness, is abound in Brooklyn. With his rookie season down, Rodi has more statements to make next year.