The sky has been falling on the Brooklyn Nets for some time now. The sins of management’s past are coming back to bite the black-and-white. With the Nets’ first round pick in the upcoming draft slated to go to division rival Boston–unprotected at that–the spotlight is growing a little bit brighter. National pundits are piling on as the reality exists that famed prospect Ben Simmons could make a home with the Celtics.
While this is a hard reality to accept, the past is the past. All the Nets can do now is move forward with what they have available to them. All factors considered, the Nets are actually playing better than the perception. The 2-9 record is a black eye on a team already nearly unconscious on the ground, but Lionel Hollins is getting the most out of what is a lackluster roster.
The Nets’ five starters are very solid, as was evidenced in a 90-88 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night–the Nets’ second of the season. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are a formidable front court, and Joe Johnson shows flashes of his old self. While his shooting and athleticism have diminished, Johnson’s playmaking ability for his teammates has improved.
Despite shooting 5-for-14 from the field, Johnson added nine assists and seven rebounds in the win over the Hawks. He has backed down forwards and used that leverage for passes into the paint, which has benefitted Lopez and Young.
Unfortunately for the Nets, they have not been able to close out multiple winnable games. Much of that contributes to the label of “being a bad team,” but the Nets have mustered a lot of good in a lot of losses. Conservatively speaking, the Nets should have beaten Milwaukee (once), Sacramento, Golden State, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
As Joe Johnson noted following a heartbreaking 107-99 overtime loss to the Warriors, the team should have gone 3-0 on its recent road trip. While moral victories ring hollow after an extended period of time, not many teams in the league would have concluded the Nets’ first 10 games with a winning record. Even the best version of Brooklyn’s Nets would have stumbled out of the gate.
The Nets have vastly improved over three (mostly) non-competitive games to open the season. Following three losses to the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and Memphis Grizzlies–all of whom have lofty aspirations–the Nets have made significant strides. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has infused life into the starting lineup, and the team’s live-ball turnovers have dropped dramatically.
Improvement offers little solace to a team and fan base struggling to cope with the dismal future. But given the team’s lousy three-point shooting and an overall lack of athleticism in a run-and-gun league, the team has been better than expected.
The offense has played with far more structure than the early games. Multiple players are finding creative ways to get Lopez the ball for those “easy baskets.” In its win over Atlanta, Brooklyn matched assists (22) and turned the ball over nine less times. Considering the Hawks’ trademark is ball movement and defense, that’s a good sign.
The eye-test does not change the results, but as the schedule weakens, the Nets should pick up more wins. They’ll be more attainable, and the results will even out as the season picks up steam.