Brooklyn Nets offseason review

Photo by Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images   Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Photo by Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images /

As the NBA offseason plows ahead we’re taking some time to pause and assess the work each team is doing, building for the present and future. Today, we’re looking at the Brooklyn Nets.

The Brooklyn Nets have a long hill to climb. With a roster largely bereft of competitive talent they are tasked with rebuilding without the benefit of draft picks — this year’s pick was owed to the Boston Celtics, who also have the right to swap picks with the Nets next season and own Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick outright. So, how does one rebuild a roster with limited assets?

Inputs: Caris LeVert (SG, NBA Draft pick No. 20); Isaiah Whitehead (SG, NBA Draft pick No. 42); Jeremy Lin (PG, signed for three years, $36 million); Trevor Booker (PF, signed for two years, $18.5 million); Justin Hamilton (C, signed for two years, $6 million); Greivis Vasquez (PG, signed for one year, $4 million); Luis Scola (PF, signed for one year, $5.5 million); Anthony Bennett (PF, signed for two years, $2 million); Randy Foye (SG, signed for one year, $2.5 million); Joe Harris (SG, signed for two years, partially guaranteed); Yogi Ferrell (PG, signed for one year, partially guaranteed); Beau Beech (SG, signed for one year, partially guaranteed); Egidijus Mockevicius (C, signed for one year, partially guaranteed)

Outputs: Thad Young (PF, traded to the Indiana Pacers); Henry Sims (C, unsigned), Thomas Robinson (PF, unsigned); Willie Reed (PF, signed with the Miami Heat); Shane Larkin (PG, unsigned); Sergey Karasev (SG, unsigned); Wayne Ellington (SG, signed with the Miami Heat); Jarrett Jack (PG, signed with the Atlanta Hawks); Donald Sloan (PG, signed overseas); Markel Brown (SG, unsigned)

Retained: None

Pending:  None

The Nets traded back into the first round this season, sending Thad Young to the Indiana Pacers for the No. 20 pick. With that pick they took Caris LeVert, a lottery talent who had missed most of the last two college seasons with foot injuries. If LeVert can stay healthy he could be a foundational piece, a versatile wing who can score and create shots for his teammates. The Nets other first round pick, Isaiah Whitehead, is another high-ceiling prospect — a hyper athletic wing who ran some point guard for Seton Hall last season, can shoot threes and has flashed some defensive potential.

The Nets filled out the rest of their roster with two types of players — low-risk veterans on short-term deals and low-risk fringe prospects. The fringe prospects are flotsam, perhaps the Nets stumble into a rotation player, if not they can all be jettisoned easily. The veterans provide some structure for the present, both on and off the court, and scaffold around the younger players.

Of the veterans, Jeremy Lin is the most significant. He’s an experienced point guard coming off a strong season for the Charlotte Hornets. For now, he and Brook Lopez’s post game can be the organizing forces for the Nets offense giving them something to start plugging the young players in around. This is not a playoff team but, given an extremely limited menu of options, they did a fairly nice job upgrading for the present and future.

3 Big Questions

To really dig deep on Brooklyn’s offseason, I’m leaning on friends with some Nets expertise. Jay Siskin (@jaysisNBA) is the editor of FanSided’s Nothing but Nets. Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) is a regular contributor to Today’s Fastbreak, BBallBreakdown and FanSided’s Hardwood Paroxysm. Tom Lorenzo (@TomLorenzo) is one of the site managers for SBNation’s Nets Daily.

Jay, Bryan, and Tom were nice enough to help out by answering three big questions about Brooklyn’s offseason.

How important is it to have a veteran core — Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, etc. — to help develop the younger talent?

Jay Siskin: I think having an experienced core will always help. Young NBA teams tend to struggle to win basketball games, we saw it with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. We all know the Brooklyn Nets are going to be in the bottom tier of the league season, but I think the young group will learn a lot behind veterans. Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick and Caris LeVert have a good opportunity to pick the brains of Lin, Vasquez and Foye. Basketball is game of learning. The Nets won’t win a championship with these specific veterans, but Sean Marks is using this as an opportunity that might help his young talent and payoff years down the road.

Bryan Toporek: As the Philadelphia 76ers learned the hard way last season, some modicum of veteran talent is invaluable during a full-scale rebuild. That’s especially true at the point guard spot, as turning your team over to a rookie floor general rarely goes smoothly. Having Jeremy Lin, Greivis Vasquez and Randy Foye in the fold will reduce the immediate pressure on Sean Kilpatrick and rookies Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, allowing the latter pair to acclimate to the NBA at their own pace. Seeing as Chris McCullough has started four games in his NBA career, throwing him into the fire right away also could have ended disastrously. Luis Scola won’t play huge minutes, but he’ll teach McCullough some tricks of the trade to help prepare him for a larger role as the year goes on.

Even with Lin, Vasquez, Foye and Scola on the roster, the Nets will likely struggle to crack the 20-win threshold, but those veterans can impart some invaluable wisdom upon Brooklyn’s young up-and-comers.

Tom Lorenzo: I think it’s less about having a veteran presence to help develop the young players and more about having “character guys” on the roster to help build a culture. Sure, those two things tend to go hand-in-hand, as we determine “character guys” based on their resume and tenure in the NBA. But it feels more about teachable moments, culture, and leadership and less about on-the-court development. Consider the fact that Deron Williams was a veteran, a presumptive leader of the Brooklyn Nets, yet he did nothing to help develop young players. He was, if anything, a net-negative — both on and off the basketball court. Head coach Kenny Atkinson, whose strength is developing young players, and his staff will take the lead in the development process, while the veterans like Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez and the like should help more in building a culture within an assumed 20-win team’s locker room.

Anthony Bennett will be                         this season.

Jay Siskin: Fighting for playing time. We all know how majority of NBA fans view Bennett: The biggest bust in NBA history. But what most fans haven’t been able to see is the fact Bennett is working his tail off to resurrect his career. He may not be the All-Star caliber No. 1 overall pick people are used to seeing, but with an aging Scola and a developing Chris McCullough, AB will compete for some playing behind Trevor Booker. I think playing with Team Canada will benefit him. Brooklyn is Bennett’s fourth team in a four-year stretch, which is very uncommon with a former No. 1 pick. His rookie year for the Cavaliers was bad to say the least. Hopefully this time is different.

Bryan Toporek: Battling for his NBA future. Now on his fourth team in four seasons, this may be the former No. 1 overall pick’s last chance to prove that he’s capable of sticking in the Association. He lasted just 84 minutes this past season with the Toronto Raptors before being waived in March, mostly bouncing back and forth between their D-League affiliate for much of the year. The Nets’ depth chart at the 4 is crowded with Scola, McCullough and Booker, so Bennett is facing an uphill battle for playing time as is. Even if he can’t force his way into the rotation early on, he’ll need to stay motivated and make the best of his developmental time with head coach Kenny Atkinson to have any chance of resurrecting his NBA career.

Tom Lorenzo: House money. The Brooklyn Nets’ strategy this offseason was based almost solely on trying to turn bunt singles into doubles, as was evident with Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe offer sheets. Bennett is much more low-risk than Johnson and Crabbe were, but as a team with no immediate future and little lightning in their bottle, Bennett allows them to try and shoot for the stars and hope that he works out. If he does, great, they’ll have a serviceable power forward at just over $1 million (which, in this new NBA is essentially free money). If not, they move on and don’t pick up his player option for next season. That said, I see no reason to believe that he’ll be much more than serviceable, and, at that, with only flashes and little consistency. But, still, if he does show flashes, play 12-15 minutes per game, at $1 million, that’s pretty much like giving the Nets house money.

How are you feeling about the Caris LeVert pick?

Jay Siskin: Man, oh, man… I was shocked to see the Nets take him so high. I am a huge fan of the Indiana Hoosiers, so I got to watch this guy play plenty of times for Michigan. He’s a guy who has first-round talent, but can he stay on the floor? Can he develop his game and his body further if he is able to stay on the court? LeVert’s size is a valuable asset. At 6-7, he can guard multiple positions. LeVert has the playmaking ability to fit both backcourt spots in an NBA offense. LeVert’s height is one of his best attributes as a NBA prospect, and one of the main reasons Brooklyn loved him. LeVert has the ability to play anywhere from point guard to small forward. Defensively, LeVert has the capability of being a solid defender for Atkinson. His height and wingspan will allow him to go against bigger guards, but he must gain weight on his frame, because bigger guards tend to go through him when driving to the paint. This might have been a bit of a reach on LeVert, according to fans. But last season he was projected as a potential lottery pick, but his injuries impeded from being a top prospect.

If LeVert can stay healthy, the duo of him and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can turn into a nice pair.

Bryan Toporek: As someone who steadfastly defends Philadelphia selecting Joel Embiid third overall in 2014, I love the LeVert pick. It’s high-risk due to his repeated foot injuries, but according to’s Nick Baumgardner, the Nets’ own foot and ankle specialist was the one who performed LeVert’s latest surgery. They knew better than anyone the extent of his health concerns and whether they would compromise his ability to have a lengthy NBA career. Assuming he can avoid any further setbacks with that foot, Brooklyn just stole a lottery talent with the No. 20 pick in what was perceived to be a weak draft.

Considering how bereft the Nets were of young, high-upside talent heading into the offseason, LeVert is the type of versatile, two-way player who was well worth the risk at where they selected him. He shot above 40 percent from three-point range in each of his final three seasons, went from averaging 0.8 assists as a freshman to 4.9 as a senior, and had the 10th-best career Offensive Box Plus-Minus in Big Ten history, according to Sports-Reference, ahead of guys like Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Gary Harris. He’s rail-thin at only 191 pounds, but at 6-7 with a 6-10 wingspan, he has the physical tools to become an above-average defender when (if?) he can fill out his frame.

Picking LeVert above the likes of DeAndre’ Bembry, Timothe Luwawu and Deyonte Davis was a substantial risk for Brooklyn, but the payoff could be enormous.

Tom Lorenzo: I’d be doing the readers a disservice if I tried to speculate much on what the future holds for LeVert, as someone who admittedly only saw flashes of him while in college. That said, the Nets had the same mindset with LeVert as they did with Chris McCullough a year earlier. The Nets took a flier with McCullough at No. 29 in the 2015 NBA Draft, who was coming off a serious ACL injury at Syracuse, since he was on their board as a lottery talent and knew that they could afford to wait him out. Same goes with LeVert, who the Nets looked at as a top-10 talent in the 2016 draft “if healthy,” and with no lottery pick this year, nor likely over the next two seasons, they were willing to take the flier in hopes that they could wait out his health concerns and walk away with a lottery talent at No. 20. If all goes as planned, the Nets “could” walk with two guys who they had slated as lottery picks — McCullough and LeVert — to go along with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as their core. Will it all work out? Who knows. But the Nets seem to be high on LeVert and with nowhere to go but up, it could work out in their favor.

Defensive acumen

The Brooklyn Nets only had the chance to see just over 600 minutes from last season’s first round pick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, before a fractured ankle ended his season. What they did see in those minutes was pretty fun. Hollis-Jefferson was billed as an aggressive and physical defender whose offensive game needed plenty of work. He was a pleasant surprise on both counts, finding some ways to contribute offensively off-the-ball and looking like a potentially elite defender.

Hollis-Jefferson was just the third rookie in the three-point era to play at least 600 minutes and record a block percentage about 2.0 percent and a steal percentage above 3.0 percent. The graph below shows all rookie seasons with at least 600 minutes from the three-point era, charted by their steal and block percentages. The color of each point represents their Defensive Box Plus-Minus (green is good) and the size represents the number of minutes played.

Here you can see what an outlier Hollis-Jefferson’s rookie season was. Of course, there is not a direct line from here to defensive stardom. The other two rookies to reach those steal and block thresholds were Carey Scurry and Robert Traylor, not exactly household names. Hollis-Jefferson played only 615 minutes last season so we’re dealing with a fairly small sample. However, his numbers compare favorably with the rookie seasons of players like Paul Pressey, Tony Allen, Ron Harper, and Eddie Jones, all of whom went on to become terrific perimeter defenders.

The Brooklyn Nets are looking for foundational pieces right now. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and his defense sure look like a big one.

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