The Brooklyn Nets have played 21 games, about a quarter-season, and while they’ve improved in many ways from last season, things are oddly similar.
The Brooklyn Nets are proving an old saw true this season. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Of the 17 players on the current roster — including the two-way contracts — more than half of them, nine in all, are in their first season with the Nets.
That’s a lot of changes.
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Sunday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers marked the 21st game of the season for Brooklyn, roughly the quarter mark of the 82-game schedule, with the Nets at 8-13. Last season through 21 games, Brooklyn was … 8-13.
That looks pretty much the same.
There’s another eerie parallel between the two seasons at this point. In 2017-18, D’Angelo Russell came out of the gate fast, leading the Nets in scoring at 20.9 points per game before injuring his knee on Nov. 11, 2017, in Brooklyn’s 13th game of the season.
He missed two months before returning, but was not the same player after the injury, averaging 13.7 points per game in 36 games after coming back to the active roster on Jan. 19.
This season, Caris LeVert came out of the gate fast, leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game before dislocating his right foot on Nov. 12, in Brooklyn’s 14th game of the season.
While there has been no timetable set for LeVert’s return, some medical experts say LeVert could be back in two to three months.
That’s just downright spooky.
In many ways, the Nets are better this season than they were a season ago at the same point.
Last year, Brooklyn was averaging 110.1 points per game and allowing 113.2 per night, a minus-3.1 point differential. This season, the Nets are averaging — wait for it — 110.1 points per game.
But they are allowing just 111.5 a contest, with the differential less than half of last season’s at minus-1.4 points per game.
Those numbers should equate to at least one more victory. But here the Nets are at the same 8-13 as a season ago.
Simple math says the Nets are on pace for a 31-win season at this rate. With their 5-7 road record, they are on pace to finish 17-24 away from home. Now 3-6 at home, that equates to roughly a 14-27 record.
Last season, Brooklyn had also played 12 away and nine at home in their first 21, but were 4-8 away from home and 4-5 at Barclays Center.
In the first 21 games of the 2017-18 season, the Nets had a team slash line of .445/.348/.728. This season it’s .450/.353/.730 — improvement across the board. Just not, you know, a lot.
Through 21 games last season, Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 105.7 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rating of 108.3 on a pace of 104.38 possessions per game.
Their pace this season is much slower at 99.77 possessions per game, with ratings of 110.1 and 111.0 respectively.
And while they’ve gotten better as an offensive rebounding team — with a 30.0 percent offensive rebounding rate this season compared to 25.3 percent at this point in 2017-18, their defensive rebounding rate has gone from a fairly weak 74.5 percent to an abysmal 69.0 percent.
For all the discussion about how the Nets have cur their turnovers from 15.3 to 14.4 per game, much of that is attributable to the change in pace — their turnover rate has dipped from 14.7 percent to just 14.4 percent, which is not a huge difference.
There is one key statistic — the bottom line — that is slightly better even as the record remains the same.
In 2017-18, the Nets were 13th in the Eastern Conference at 8-13, three games behind a mosh pit that included the Milwaukee Bucks (10-9), New York Knicks (11-10) and Washington Wizards (11-10) in a virtual tie for eighth.
This time around, 8-13 has Brooklyn in a virtual tie for ninth place with the Wizards and Miami Heat (both 7-12), two games behind the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets (9-10).
There are three 2018 playoff teams — Washington, Miami and the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-14) — that would miss the postseason based on the current standings.
The three non-playoff teams from a season ago that are in the mix as of now are the Detroit Pistons (10-7, in a virtual tie for fourth), the Orlando Magic (10-10, tied for sixth) and the Hornets in eighth.
But it’s also worth pointing out that a strong start isn’t a guarantee of a postseason berth, either.
Last season at this point, the Pistons were 14-6 — second in the East. They finished ninth at 39-43. And of course the Knicks, in that eighth-place grouping, wound up 11th in the conference at 29-53.
Still, in a season in which the Nets have publicly disavowed tanking despite having possession of their own first-round draft pick for the first time in what feels like 275 years, Brooklyn is still much closer to the lottery than it is a postseason berth.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.