This article was written Jan. 6th, 2019, therefore team record and player stats are valid as of that date.
Ask any basketball fan if the Brooklyn Nets have any shot at winning the championship this year, and it’ll be a unanimous no. But that doesn’t mean they can’t contend in the near future. In fact, the Nets are possibly much closer to contending than most people realize. I predict that the 20-21, 7th seeded Brooklyn Nets will continue their playoff push, and make the playoffs this season as the 6th or 7th seed in the East. Since December 7th, the Nets have won 11 of their 14 games. What can cause a team that only won 28 games last season to have such a high trajectory this season?
The first key ingredient is having a strong veteran presence. Kenneth Faried was only signed recently, having played in just 10 games this season. However, his presence provides a toughness that every team needs, while his experience is also critical in helping the development of younger players such as Jarrett Allen. Alongside Faried is Ed Davis, another vet who brings experience to help mentor younger players, along with being a nice scoring option off the bench. Demarre Carroll and Jared Dudley are the key vets on this Nets team. They both have lost a step or two over the years, but their leadership is what helps this team run. They both bring 9+ seasons of NBA experience, which is critical in the development of younger players.
Given the importance of having vets, their role is limited to leadership and development purposes; the young guys are the stars on this team. With the star player, Caris LeVert being injured and only playing 14 games thus far this season, the floor has opened up to unlikely heroes. The most significant is Spencer Dinwiddie, who comes in off the bench. Dinwiddie is scoring a career-high 17.4 ppg this season while shooting a career-high from the field at 46%. Dinwiddie is a versatile scorer, with the ability to hit the 3 (37%) and to take seemingly any defender off the dribble. His scoring ability paired with his willingness to pass the ball (5.2 assists per game) make him a deadly offensive threat.
D’Angelo Russell has stepped up in LeVert’s absence as well, averaging a team-best (minus LeVert) 18.2 points per game, and a team-best 6.4 assists per game as well. The second overall pick of the 2015 draft is finally showing flashes of his talent, as the game is coming to him naturally. He has great skills finishing near the rim, has a smooth mid-range jumper, and is hitting 35% of his 3-point attempts as well. Pairing with Russell in the starting backcourt is Joe Harris. Harris, like Russell and Dinwiddie, is averaging a career-best 13.8 points per game. Even more impressive, however, is that he is shooting 51.5% from the field, and a scorching 49% from 3, which leads the entire NBA. He is a steady contributor on both ends of the floor, bringing some toughness in the paint as well.
Jarrett Allen is one of the most pivotal assets, if not the most, as the Nets move forward. The second-year center is averaging 11.8 points per game this year, 8.3 rebounds per game, and a team-best 1.4 blocks per game. Despite being so young, Allen is an elite rim protector with elite athleticism, contributing to his immense value. If Allen can continue into a stronger player and can polish his offensive skills a bit, he could potentially be a centerpiece of the franchise.
This seasons biggest surprise for the Nets is a rookie that they drafted with the 40th overall pick. Rodions Kurucs is a 6’9, 20 year old small forward from Latvia. This kid has an extremely impressive skill set for such a young player. He has the ability to hit the 3, despite only shooting 29% from downtown, and he is athletic enough to finish around the rim through traffic. He is only averaging 8.6 points per game, but most second-round draft picks hardly see the floor at all, let alone start. With the strong veteran presence and the amount of playing time he receives, the potential is endless. In the next 2 or 3 years, Kurucs could become a major offensive threat.
The Nets have all of the makings of a contender except for the superstar player (or 2). Vets and young players with potential are exactly what is needed to build a winning team. But the Nets have one more factor in their favor. The salary cap for the NBA this season is $99 Million. With a look at the Nets payroll, they only have $54 Million under contract for next season. That leaves $45 Million plus in free cap space which is plenty to sign at least one star player. If the Nets can pitch themselves properly, they will have a chance at landing some major free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, or Jimmy Butler. If they could secure one of those guys, the sky is the limit for the Nets moving forward.