Sean Marks and the Nets player development staff working wonders
After consecutive seasons in which the team won a combined 42 games, the Brooklyn Nets are finally beginning to turn the page.
The Nets are 18-29. However, that record does not do this Nets squad justice. There is a completely different feel to this team as opposed to the past two years. There is a feeling that they can win any game on any night, no matter the opponent.
Sean Marks and the Nets’ player development staff can take credit for the newfound culture in Brooklyn. Since Marks' hiring there has been a complete roster reboot. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the only player from the 2015-2016 season that survived Marks' roster purge.
Marks parted with several talented, but aging, players in exchange for young pieces with upside. The development and jump in production of some of those young players from last year to this year are indisputable.
Players such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, and Joe Harris have undergone complete transformations after working with the Nets’ player development staff.
Head Coach Kenny Atkinson praised his players for being coachable, "We talk about being coachable. These guys are coachable. They're so thirsty and hungry to get better, and that's a coaches dream. I am in the perfect situation, right time, right place, right group of guys. I come to work with a smile on my face and that's great," Atkinson said.
Dinwiddie has gone from a G-League pickup to a potential star. The 24-year-old is averaging 14.6 PPG and seven APG since taking over the starting point guard role in wake of D'Angelo Russell's injury.
The second-year Net has also taken the reins as the Nets go-to guy in clutch situations. He has thrived in that role. Dinwiddie is tied with CJ McCollum for the league lead in baskets to tie or take the lead in the final minute (6).
A great combination of size and athleticism allow Dinwiddie to make tough plays look easy on both ends of the floor. He uses his 6' 6" frame to stay in front of opposing guards and contest shots while protecting the drive. His size also serves him well on the offensive end, allowing him to get to the basket quicker with long strides and finish at the rim.
Dinwiddie is an adequate three-point shooter. He is converting on 34.1% of his three-point attempts. His three-point shot forces defenders to cover him tightly from the outside, opening space for drives.
A number of defenders are now moving under screens on pick and rolls to defend against Dinwiddie's drive. This gives him space to pull up in the mid-range. However, he is not nearly as comfortable shooting from the mid-range as he is from three.
This will be the next step in developing Dinwiddie's game. A reliable mid-range jump shot will allow him to score consistently at all points on the floor, making him a lethal scorer.
Some are labeling Dinwiddie's breakout as a lucky break for Brooklyn, but it is far from that. Sean Marks had a vision when he kept Dinwiddie over Yogi Ferrell. The Nets player development staff has made that vision come to fruition.
Joe Harris, another NBA castoff, has transformed from a spot-up three point shooter to a solid all-around player. Harris has improved in all phases of his game, often doing the little things that so frequently go unnoticed.
Harris can now drive to the basket, pass, rebound and defend to go along with his three-point shot. He continues to be a solid three-point shooter, shooting 39% from deep.
Harris' confidence is at an all-time high in his fourth year. The Virginia product does not hesitate to pull the trigger on his quick release when given space.
The hustle, tenacity and IQ Harris brings each time he checks in is making it harder and harder for Kenny Atkinson not to keep him on the floor. The 26-year-old is proving to play a vital role in Brooklyn's success.
Caris LeVert, the Nets' 2016 first-round pick, has revitalized his season after a slow start. The second-year Net has found his touch on outside shots, opening up his game. LeVert's three-point percentage is up to 34.4% after shooting just 22.2% in the month of October.
The 23-year-old also uses his lightning quick first step and long strides to blow by defenders and finish at the rim. His ability to lose defenders with his crossover and accelerate out of the move is special.
Throughout his rookie year and the beginning of this season, LeVert looked out of control at times. He would drive to the basket and force, often resulting in a turnover. He now drives to the basket under control, using long strides to create openings to dish off to big men or finish at the rim.
Most importantly, LeVert looks more comfortable and composed at the end of games. This was evident in a recent win over the Heat in which he iced the game with two baskets in the final minute.
No player has changed more about the makeup of his game than Hollis-Jefferson. The third-year Net has always been a solid defensive player. He is often asked to guard the opposition's best player, regardless of size.
However, his offensive game was a constant question mark. This year he looks like a completely different player on the offensive end of the floor.
A vastly improved mid-range jump shot has brought a new element to his game. Hollis-Jefferson is nailing more than 50% of his jump shots from 10 to 16 feet. This allows him to score in a variety of ways. He can get to the basket using a deceitful hesitation move, hit a jumper if the defender plays against the drive, or knock down a turnaround after backing into the post.
The question moving forward with Hollis-Jefferson is whether the Nets want to keep him at power forward. The third-year Net is a tough defensive player, but at 6’7" he struggles to cover and rebound against seven-footers.
Marks could move Hollis-Jefferson to small forward. However, in today’s NBA small forwards need to be able to knock down the three-point shot. If the Nets were to bring in a talented power forward Hollis-Jefferson would likely see time at both positions depending on matchups.
Marks will have more work cut out for him this trade deadline and offseason as he stays in "talent acquisition mode". The creative GM will look to bring in more young talent and/or draft picks for his staff to work with.
Dinwiddie, LeVert, Harris and Hollis-Jefferson are evidence of what can happen when this Nets player development team has an offseason to work with players. They have completely opened up each player's game by adding a variety of tools to their skillsets.
This staff will now have an offseason to work with the likes of D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen. Nets fans will be hoping for similar improvement out of this talented group.