Brooklyn Nets 2017-2018 Season Roundup
A tumultuous 2017-2018 Brooklyn Nets season has come to a close. The Nets saw noticeable improvement under the direction of Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, but the team is clearly a work in progress.
Despite a subpar record, several positives can be drawn from this season.
The Nets player development staff worked wonders with several young players. Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all saw huge jumps in production.
Jarrett Allen played more minutes than expected and showed flashes of brilliance. The 20-year-old has incredible shot-blocking and finishing ability using his 7'6" wingspan.
Allen Crabbe struggled to find consistency but showed raw ability to heat up in a hurry from behind the arc. Nine-year NBA veteran DeMarre Carroll had perhaps the best season of his career after being labeled a salary dump.
Brooklyn remained competitive in games against some of the league's top teams. The Nets played 33 games decided by six points or less. They were 14-19 in those contests.
There are still several glaring problems with the Nets, as one would expect of a 28-win team.
Defensive woes plagued Brooklyn down the stretch of games all season. Atkinson's squad allowed the third most points per game in the league.
A large part of that problem was pick and roll defense. The Nets' guards, particularly D'Angelo Russell, had trouble and often lacked effort getting over the top of screens.
Finding scorers to close out games was another problem. Although players like Dinwiddie, Russell, LeVert, and Crabbe showed promise at times, consistency was a major issue on the offensive end.
With the season coming to a close, we look back on the season leaders and award superlatives.
Points: D'Angelo Russell (15.5)
Assists: Spencer Dinwiddie (6.6)
Rebounds: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6.8)
Steals: Caris LeVert (1.15)
Blocks: Jarrett Allen (1.22)
MVP: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
The Nets front office could not have asked for much more out of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in his third season. The 23-year-old showed incredible improvement on the offensive end while remaining the defensive force he had been in his first two seasons. The knock on Hollis-Jefferson's offensive game had always been his lack of a jump shot. The Arizona product spent his offseason with the Nets staff working on his mid-range jumper, and it paid off. Hollis-Jefferson shot 47.7% on shots from 10-16 feet after shooting just 34.7% last season. This improved midrange game led to openings for drives off of a sneaky hesitation move. Hollis-Jefferson's defense continued to be vital for Brooklyn this season. He can guard any position on the floor and often drew the toughest assignment. In terms of all-around value, no player meant more when on the floor this season than Hollis-Jefferson.
Most Improved Player: Spencer Dinwiddie
Spencer Dinwiddie really gave the Nets front office something to think about this offseason. The 24-year-old blossomed into an offensive presence after taking over the point in wake of D'Angelo Russell's knee injury. Dinwiddie averaged 12.6 PPG and 6.6 APG, a huge leap from last season. A lightning-quick first step and smooth step-back three were on full display. The second-year Net showed poise late in games, draining numerous game-winners for Brooklyn. While Dinwiddie broke out after stepping in for Russell, he regressed upon Russell's return. He began settling for contested jump-shots far too often, restricting his offensive game. This led to a drop in his shooting percentage and scoring. Dinwiddie is at his best when his drive sets up his three-point shot, not vice versa. He also looked uncomfortable from the mid-range, often forcing drives rather than pulling up for open jumpers. Despite this late season regression, Dinwiddie's season was spectacular. Sean Marks will certainly have some decisions to make at the point guard position this offseason.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Joe Harris and Caris LeVert in this category. While Dinwiddie made the most drastic improvement, Harris and LeVert both took huge steps in their games.
Harris looked like a completely different player this season, averaging 10.8 PPG on an incredible 41.9% shooting from three. He showed confidence and a quick trigger from behind the arch while looking much stronger going to the basket with impressive finishing ability at the rim. There was also a big improvement on the defensive end out of Harris. The 26-year-old will be in line for a big raise this offseason as he becomes a free agent.
LeVert made strides on both ends of the floor this season. The 23-year-old looked smooth on the offensive end while using his length to cause fits on the defensive end. His three-point shot looked improved and he used his quick first step to get to the basket and dish off to big men. Most importantly, LeVert looked much more under control and composed at the end of games.
Future Building Block: D'Angelo Russell
D'Angelo Russell's first season with the Nets was open to interpretation. There were times when Russell looked like the franchise player the Lakers thought he would be out of college, and there were times where he left you scratching your head. Despite this, Russell still has the highest upside of any Net due to his wide array of skills on the offensive end. The 22-year-old showcased superb court vision when running the point. He has a great feel for when cutters are open or when defenders are late getting back to big men off of screens. However, there are times when Russell gets careless with the ball leading to sloppy turnovers. Russell can score in a variety of ways from various points on the floor. This forces defenders to guard him tightly which creates openings for himself as well as his teammates. Russell displayed an impressive ability to score from the mid-range. He knows how to probe off of high ball screens by keeping defenders on his back hip and either pulling up for an open jumper or dishing off to a big man. He shot 46.7% from 10-16 feet this season after shooting 35.2% last season. Russell showed aptitude from behind the arc this season, but still only shot 32.4%. The low percentage from three can be attributed to poor shot selection, which should improve. Russell will also need to improve his finishing at the rim. He will need to work on absorbing and finishing through contact from big men. Most importantly, Russell will need to work on his decision making, especially late in games. There were times at the end of games when you questioned whether Russell had any situational awareness. He often tried to force unnecessarily tough passes leading to turnovers at crucial times. Russell is still very young and this feel late in games will come with time, but it must improve if he wants to be the Nets franchise player. Despite his shortcomings, Russell has incredible potential and plenty of time to mature given the Nets current situation.
Biggest Disappointment: D'Angelo Russell's defense
As good as D'Angelo Russell can be on offense at times, his defense is very hard to watch. Russell is very quick with a 6'9" wingspan. He has all the tools to be a very good defensive guard, but the effort is not there far too often. Getting over screens is Russell's number one problem on the defensive end. He frequently gets screened on or off the ball very easily, leading to open jump shots or drive opportunities. Rather than working hard to get over the screens, Russell often resorts to switching, leading to mismatches. His problems defending the ball start with his defensive stance. He stands straight up, leaving him on his heels. This leads to slow reaction time and trouble beating his man to the spot. Russell has all the tools and intangibles to be a solid defensive player. He simply needs to give much more effort on the defensive end. Until he does, the Nets can't trust him to be their franchise centerpiece.
The 2017-2018 Nets season showed promise. This season's success would not be measured by the win-loss column, but rather by the development of young players and culture.
Brooklyn remained competitive and began to develop a gritty, passionate culture. Several young players made huge improvements after working with the Nets player development staff.
Sean Marks will have several tough decisions to make this offseason.
The point guard position is crowded with Russell, Dinwiddie and Jeremy Lin all set to return this season. Joe Harris will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and will surely gain interest from several teams.
The Nets are in need of help in the frontcourt with Jarrett Allen being the only viable center on the roster. Jahlil Okafor will be a free agent. Will Marks let him walk based off of his limited opportunities or give him another chance to prove himself?
Although there are many questions surrounding Brooklyn, fans can finally see some structure in the decision making. The Nets are a work in progress, but the franchise is trending in the right direction.