The Brooklyn Nets have shown already through just the first 5 games that they are ready to contend every night and have all the makings of a team that could will themselves into the playoffs.
It has been three seasons since the Barclays Center has seen playoff action, though it feels much longer. The last time the Brooklyn Nets found themselves in the postseason, they were an eighth seed, led by Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, who managed to take the first seed, a 60-win Atlanta Hawks team, to six games before getting knocked out of title contention.
It’s been a wild ride for Brooklyn following that series, claiming only 69 wins over a three season span and some major roster turnover. As contemporary philosopher DeMarcus Cousins once said, though, “one thing about them tables … they ALWAYS turn”.
Brooklyn is off to a 2-3 start for the season and could absolutely find themselves positioned to make the playoffs for the first time in the Kenny Atkinson era. Much of the East’s current construction is to their advantage and could help them lock up a back-end seed.
While Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Indiana are most assuredly locks to make the playoffs, this leaves three open slots.
The Cleveland Cavaliers sans LeBron James seem to have taken a major step back and could miss the playoffs (with their first-round top-10 protected pick owned by Atlanta, it may be in their favor to underperform).
The Washington Wizards could be another team that struggles to make its way into the top eight of the Eastern Conference, much to the benefit of the Nets.
In addition to a more heavily stratified Eastern Conference landscape, Brooklyn’s start to the season gives promise that the team is ready to take its first step. Brooklyn is playing genuine quality basketball.
This is evidenced by their ability to hang with a squad like New Orleans, who almost received their first loss of the season if not for Jrue Holiday finding his rhythm and some last-second mishaps. The Nets are showing they have the makings of a playoff team.
Despite hopes that it would be D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn has a go-to guy, and his name is Caris LeVert. LeVert has hit the ground running this season, leading the team in scoring. What’s most impressive, though, is how he is doing it.
While not the best 3-point shooter (currently shooting 27.8 percent on the season), he is making the absolute most of his drives and looks up close, shooting an impressive 59.6 percent on his 2- point attempts and converting 70 percent of the time when shooting from three to 10 feet.
Even if he sees some regression towards his 48 percent from last year, he will still be a reliable scorer for them down the stretch. Players like Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie are providing reliable contributions as well.
Russell has been showing a decent ability to run the point, posting 6.5 assists on just under 30 minutes, but has experienced early season struggles shooting the ball, prior to catching fire last night in New Orleans.
As the season continues and he finds his shot with more regularity, he will become a legitimate second threat and more available source of buckets for Brooklyn. Dinwiddie has found success with the second unit and gives the Nets a big advantage facing other team’s reserves.
No one should take lightly the Nets’ ability to shoot the 3-ball, which is a must for any serious team in today’s game. The placement of Joe Harris and Jared Dudley in the starting lineup has seen incredible success.
While Harris should see some regression (he is currently shooting 58.3 percent from deep), his effect on their game cannot be understated. Just about any lineup he is inserted into sees a drastic increase in offensive production.
Despite being a little undersized, Dudley has been working magic for them starting at the 4 and is currently making 1.8 3s a game at a semi-sustainable 45 percent.
More importantly, the way he stretches the floor for them gives LeVert more room to operate in and near the restricted area where he excels.
Even off the bench, Brooklyn is seeing great shooting from deep from players like Shabazz Napier (45.5 percent on 3s) and rookie Rodions Kurucs (40 percent on 3s), who are nailing a combined 3.8 3-pointers a game.
Though they aren’t putting up eye-popping offensive numbers, Brooklyn has been scoring efficiently, currently 11th in the league on field goal percentage.
Despite being the sixth-fastest team in terms of pace last season, Kenny Atkinson has them slowing things down this year (they are currently 26th in pace).
The change-up in speed has allowed them to lock in defensively and preserve energy to make sure they are prioritizing shutting opponents down.
This slower pace has been effective, as they are holding opponents to a 44.2 percent shooting (ninth in the league) and an elite 46.7 percent on 2-point attempts (fifth in the league). Much of the credit for Brooklyn’s bolstered defense, especially down low, goes to Jarrett Allen.
In his second year, Allen has become an exceptionally reliable rim protector, starting the season with two four-block games (averaging 2.4 on the season) and holding opponents to 39.2 percent on field goal attempts.
Not only is his defensive presence contributing to their success, he has been a factor for them on the offensive end as well. Scoring 11.4 points on just eight attempts per game (shooting 60 percent overall), he has been a solid scoring option in the paint for Brooklyn.
It cannot be overlooked, however, that he is also getting to the corner and has become a viable 3-point threat. Though only logging in 0.4 attempts a game, he is shooting a respectable 40 percent, further opening up the lane for the rest of his team.
This is by far the most complete Brooklyn Nets team the NBA has seen in some time. Made for the current game, they are able to not only score with the best of them, but also more than hold their own on the defensive side of the ball.
The Nets shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone as a serious threat to the be in the mix come April to suit up for some playoff basketball.