Let’s pretend it’s December 21st, 2006. You’re probably freaking out, since you only have six years until the Mayan calendar ends and the world erupts. But as a Nets fan, you’re excited, because that means that 23-year-old Nenad Krstic has six years to keep being awesome. He’s broken out this year, averaging a 17-7 on 53% shooting, and has killed it in the last few games – a 26-14 against Golden State and 18 points on 8-10 shooting against Cleveland, both victories. He’s providing scoring from a 4/5 in a way the Nets haven’t seen this decade: a guy who’s comfortable both inside and outside on the offensive end and doesn’t have to rely on alley-oops from Jason Kidd to get his points. Needless to say, he’s been killing it – and even his defense has improved from “nothing” to “a little something.”
Let’s take a look at Krstic’s numbers before his ACL injury in 2006:
2004-05 (21 years old): 10 points, 5.3 rebounds, 49% from the field, 13.4 PER in 26 minutes per game
2005-06 (22): 13.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 51% from the field, 14.4 PER in 30 minutes per game
2006-07 (23): 16.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 53% from the field, 16.9 PER in 33 minutes per game (26 games)
2007-08 (24 years old): 6.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 41% from the field, 8.5 PER in 18 minutes per game
2008-09 (25): 9.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 47% from the field, 13.6 PER in 25 minutes per game
2009-10 (26): 8.4 points, 5 rebounds, 50% from the field, 13.7 PER in 23 minutes per game
2010-11 (27): 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 51% from the field, 13.1 PER in 22 minutes per game
Even considering his awful 07-08 year as just an adjustment, you’ve still got a guy with a derailed career — something all too familiar in Nets franchise history. Nenad is yet another Nets player that only scratched the surface of his potential, before fate — taking form as an ACL injury in this instance – unfortunately ended a promising career. (Krstic may still be playing, but his career is certainly no longer “promising.”)
He has never equaled his 2006-07 production, or even 2005-06. However, his level of crazy hit a career high last year, when he punched Sofoklis “Baby Shaq” Schortsanitis in the back of the head multiple times in a Greece-Serbia brawl, backed away frantically, then once he was at a safe distance, picked up a chair and threw it into the melee. Relive the memories!
(I’d also like to note that I have an enormous soft spot in my heart for Nenad Krstic, the first consistent scorer the Nets had over 7 feet in the 2000s, when I really became a fan. I patterned my game off his and was often called “Nenad” in high school. So, I love the dude, and there’s no level of crazy he can reach that will change that.)
The oddest thing about Krstic’s New Jersey career is that his injury was arguably a major long-term benefit for the Nets franchise. If Krstic doesn’t go down in 06-07, the Nets would likely have stayed stagnant as Krstic entered his prime while Kidd & Carter exited theirs. They probably wouldn’t have been championship contenders – not with the Celtics, Cavs, and Magic – but they would’ve been in Atlanta Hawks-mode, a perennial 48-win team defined by second-round exits.
Instead, in this universe the Nets play Josh Boone and Sean Williams over 3,000 minutes combined, Malik Allen and a post-usefulness Jason Collins somehow get consistent backup minutes, Jason Kidd demands a trade (for a multitude of reasons), they fall to 34-48, snare the tenth pick in the 2008 draft, and end up with… Brook Lopez, the by-default best center in Nets history!
So long-term, I guess it all worked out. Except for Nenad, who’s still carved out a decent career as a backup center. But like so many others, there’s no doubt it should have been more.