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How Do The Nets Surprise Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

“How Do The Nets Surprise Thee? Let Me Count The Ways.”

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, probably.

On paper, the Brooklyn Nets’ record might look disappointing after two weeks, currently sitting at 4-6 after a face-palming loss to the New York Knicks, plus two heartbreakers against the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans. Still, they responded well with gritty, deserved victories versus the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers, two teams above them in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. As of Monday, the Nets sit cozily in the postseason’s final and eighth seed — right where most pundits had hoped they’d be at year’s end.

While much of their early successes are owed to Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and a cast of reliable characters, they’ve been joined by some positive contributors this year. If the Nets want to stay in the hunt for the playoffs, they’d be happy for these trends to continue. So without further ado, here are five of the Nets’ biggest surprises through the first ten games of the 2018-19 season.

1. Shabazz Napier, Bench Microwave

The former UConn star was fashionably late to the party for his fifth season in the league, missing the first three games with a hamstring injury, but since he’s taken the court he has looked every bit like another Sean Marks Steal of a Signing™.

Quicker than a hiccup, Bazza — I’m Australian and determined to make this nickname stick — came off the bench against both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Pelicans, hitting some timely buckets in limited minutes. There has been some rust evident, particularly from beyond the arc and also with a less than optically pleasant 1-for-7 effort against the Dubs, but Shabazz is looking like the kind of off-the-bench microwave the Nets haven’t had since the halcyon days of Lobster Mac n’ Cheese — aka Marcus Thornton himself.

Watch this breathtaking drive to the hoop, but don’t blink:

Or, try on this absolute dime to Dinwiddie for dessert. Either way, you get the point: This Napier fellow can really play. He’s brought the grit to Brooklyn too — speaking of which, did anyone else get a large serving of proud-dad goosebumps watching him go after Larry Nance Jr. — nearly a foot taller than him — after the point guard was pushed into the bench on a fastbreak?

With his quickness and clever play so far, if Bazza’s 3-point shot starts to drop more frequently he’s going to give head coach Kenny Atkinson some very pleasant headaches regarding minutes distribution in an already sardine tin-packed backcourt rotation.

2. Rodions Kurucs, The Greatest Latvian in New York City?

Who saw this one coming?

Most, including myself, would have had the Rod Warrior (2-2 on Aussie-themed nicknames) lighting it up on Long Island for most of the season. Apparently, not so. The 6-foot-10 forward has looked like the first round talent he was originally billed as before Barcelona bolted him to the bench last season: Hustling, rebounding, dunking, dishing, driving, and knocking it down from deep.

Kurucs was electrifying and belief-defying before the Basketball Gods remembered that one of the 12 Ball Commandments is that ‘Thy Nets shall not have nice things,’ delivering the plague of a minor ankle sprain that saw him sidelined for six games. Of course, he’s back, however, and the Nets are winning again — albeit just 3:09 in Sunday’s blowout victory against the 76ers, but we’re looking for narratives here, people.

In just 11.5 minutes per off the bench, Kurucs has averaged 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds, shooting a clean 36.5% from deep. The days are early yet, but Rodi looks like he could be capable of filling that young, springy stretch four role the Nets haven’t had since, uh…

*rifles through ancient scrolls of parchment*

Ryan Anderson? Really?

I’ll never ask for anything again if I get a steady dose of Kurucs doing this:

3. Jared Dudley Playing Solid Starter Minutes

How many Nets fans in 2017 would have recoiled in horror had they heard the words ‘Jared Dudley has been a linchpin for the Nets as a starter’? Enes Kanter certainly didn’t believe, dismissing Dudley and his ‘retirement body’ in a verbal scrap last season, yet here we are and 2018 isn’t done being ridiculous yet.

Most Nets fans looked at Dudley’s signing to be for the role of veteran presence in the locker room alongside the overwhelming youth movement, with maybe some fun minutes in garbage time. With DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both losing time to injury to start the season though, it was Jay-D (like Jay-Z but with a D, it’ll stick, promise) who stepped up in a huge way.

Sure, the miles on him occasionally get exposed matching up against younger, quicker bigs but Dudley has played with the highest IQ on the court by a long way. His fastbreak steal and save into a timeout against the Pelicans was the veteran-iest of moves that calmly averted a looming disaster — well, for a few more possessions anyway… Watch this breakdown via Half Court Hoops of Dudley disrupting a potential Knicks game-tying possession if you’re doubtful of how clued in he is out there:

He’s also provided the floor spacing the Nets sorely lack when Hollis-Jefferson starts at the 4, hitting a bunch of those savvy old-man-at-the-YMCA high-arcing three-pointers, often right as the Nets have desperately needed them. Naturally, his 4-for-5 effort against the Cavaliers was a clinic in the agelessness of shooting. 

Dudley is that archetypal player everyone but the fans of the team he plays on dislikes passionately. For many fans in Brooklyn, that was the same case: But thanks to his vocal love for the city, his forthright transparency and interaction with people on social media, and his solid on-court performances, I’m personally on a steady diet of crow.

I love this man dearly.

4. Jarrett Allen, Defensive Devourer of Souls

Ah, my large adult son Jarrett Allen. He made a name for himself last season by dunking people like Lauri Markannen all the way back to pre-pubescence, as well as being an utterly fearless but-oftentimes-unfortunate posterized guest star himself.

We Frovians, no… Frobanites? No, no, no… Fro-nuts — there we go! — as Allen fans shall be henceforth christened, expected great things from his sophomore season, but this?

OR THIS?

I am openly weeping.

The Knicks claim that Kevin Knox is injured but secretly Jarrett Allen actually blocked the love for basketball out of his soul. If Blake Griffin previously had a house in the paint, Jarrett Allen repossessed it, and then hammered an eviction notice into the emergency studio apartment he had to move into because Allen is the landlord of everything now. Rumor is, Allen has written a strict ‘no posters’ clause into the tenancy agreement for his paint.

He’s averaging 1.9 blocks per game so far, good for sixth-best in the league and nearly double what he averaged last season.

In just a season and change, Allen has racked up 100 of them already. Obviously, these showstoppers are what get the eyes of the league popping, but his defense as a whole looks even better than last season. He’ll have to work on some of the gambles he takes away from the paint and he has still been bullied a little by larger centers down low… but so far his defensive presence has been game-altering for a Nets team that has languished on that side of the court for years.

P.S. Here’s Richard Jefferson’s already-iconic “WHOSE BABY IS THAT?” call from that unfortunate Knicks game because I need it right now.

5. Caris LeVert, Actual Warlock

I’m not one for early season overreactions and their innate ability to turn into jinxes but…

*inhales deeply*

CARIS LEVERT IS ALBUS DUMBLEDORE WITH A JUMPSHOT.

CARIS LEVERT INVENTED THE RUBBER BAND BY USING HIS OWN BODY AS A PROTOTYPE.

CARIS LEVERT COULD BE THE FIRST PERSON TO WIN AN OSCAR, EMMY, GRAMMY, AND TONY FOR A SINGLE SEQUENCE OF BASKETBALL.

THEY WILL BE REPLACING WASHINGTON, JEFFERSON, LINCOLN, AND ROOSEVELT WITH LEVERT, LEVERT, LEVERT AND, ALSO, YES, LORD, IT’S LEVERT ONCE AGAIN, ON MOUNT RUSHMORE, TO BE RENAMED MOUNT CLUTCHMORE.

THE BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY HAS HENCEFORTH DECREED THAT ALL TORNADOS ARE TO BE KNOWN AS “LEVERTS”.

CARIS LEVERT IS THE REASON BEES ARE NO LONGER DYING AT ALARMING RATES.

If Caris LeVert wins Most Improved Player this season, as more than a few people have noted an extended breakout season like the one he’s currently having will put him right up there in contention for, then I will never, ever stop screaming like this.

Three years ago, some Nets fans were aghast that the franchise traded Thad Young to draft LeVert, now he’s the best player on the team, the lead option in crunch time, and an absolute joy to watch.

From here on out, the elevator only goes up.



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