• Erik Slater

Brooklyn Nets 2018-2019 Season Preview

The Brooklyn Nets will turn the page to a new chapter as they head into the 2018-2019 season.

With a plethora of cap space next summer, this season will give several key players a chance to prove that they belong in Sean Marks' future plans. Marks will look for Brooklyn's young core to make a noticeable improvement as they push for a playoff spot.

Offseason Review

Acquisitions:

Departures:

Once again, Sean Marks made a handful of moves to set Brooklyn up for the future. The most important of which was undoubtedly the Timofey Mozgov trade. Marks traded Mozgov and two second-round picks to the Hornets for Dwight Howard, who was later bought out.

This trade was a colossal win for the Nets as they shed the remaining two-years, $37 million on Mozgov's contract, opening up nearly $70 million in cap space for next offseason.

Brooklyn drafted Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs with the 29th and 40th picks in the draft. Musa is a crafty ball-handler with a smooth shot and great size (6'9"). The Bosnian will likely play shooting guard or small forward for the Nets.

Kurucs is an adequate three-point shooter who could eventually develop into a stretch four in Kenny Atkinson's pace and space offense. Musa, 19, and Kurucs, 20, are both extremely raw and will likely spend some time in the G-League this season.

In free agency, Marks resigned sharpshooter Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million deal. Harris has become a fan favorite in Brooklyn following a breakout season in which he averaged 10.8 PPG on 41.9% shooting from three.

The Nets also brought in Ed Davis (1-year, $4M), Shabazz Napier (2-year, $4M) and Treveon Graham (2-year, $3M).

Davis was among the best backup centers in the league last year with the Trail Blazers. The eight-year NBA veteran was a locker room favorite in Portland and could serve as a mentor to Jarrett Allen. Napier quietly had the best season of his career last year alongside Davis.

The 27-year-old averaged 8.7 PPG on 37.6% shooting from three coming off the bench. The former final-four MVP shoots well in the mid-range off the pick-and-roll and has shown ability to finish at the rim.

Napier will contribute solid minutes off the bench as a third option to D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie.

With no desire to overpay for any big-name free agents, Marks wisely took on Kenneth Faried's one-year, $13.7M contract from Denver, receiving a 2019 first-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick in return.

The trade was a no-brainer as the Nets got a first-round pick without jeopardizing their cap flexibility for next offseason.

Brooklyn brought in several players who could have a very positive impact this season. While these signings could prove to be solid moves in the short term, clearing cap space and acquiring a first-round pick from Denver were the real wins this offseason.

Projected Depth Chart

PG: D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Shabazz Napier

SG: Allen Crabbe, Joe Harris, Shabazz Napier, Dzanan Musa

SF: Caris LeVert, DeMarre Carroll, Treveon Graham

PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Rodions Kurucs

C: Jarrett Allen, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried

If there's one thing the Nets have, it is versatility. Kenny Atkinson has the ability to play a staggering number of different lineups with this roster.

D'Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe will once again be the starting backcourt in Brooklyn. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris will see a ton of minutes off the bench. Shabazz Napier will be inserted wherever he is needed as he can play on or off the ball.

The interesting decisions Atkinson will have to make lie at the forward positions.

Caris LeVert has reportedly blown away teammates and coaches with his improvement over the offseason. If this holds true, he will likely be the starting small forward. With LeVert at small forward, Atkinson will likely want a floor spacer at power forward.

DeMarre Carroll will be the man to fill that role. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will likely be the starting power forward to begin the season, but Carroll will see plenty of minutes at the four.

Atkinson has been known to play small ball in his pace and space offense. He will wisely take full advantage of Brooklyn's surplus of guards. He told Nets.com:

"You just see a lot of guards out there. That was part of the thinking of tweaking the offense a little bit where it fits a four-guard system. I still like having that big guy out there, that one, Jarrett or Ed, just for rebounding and that rim-roller. But I definitely think we could see some more four-guard lineups," Atkinson said.

The Nets have been frequently using a five-out offense in their preseason games. This offensive philosophy works in conjunction with the four-guard lineup. By spreading the defense out, the guards have more space to drive and kick to shooters.

Jarrett Allen will man the middle for Brooklyn with Ed Davis backing him up. Kenneth Faried's minutes will likely come as the third center as he is not a great fit at power forward in Atkinson's offense.

While the four-guard system will be heavily used, there will be times that Atkinson opts to go with a bigger lineup. Allen, Davis, and Kenneth Faried could be paired alongside one another to offer better rebounding and rim protection.

Allen has been working on his outside shot with the Nets staff this offseason. If the seven-footer can shoot from three with any kind of consistency, it will open up a whole new element to Atkinson's offense.

Brooklyn's versatility is its greatest asset. With a roster that can go 12 deep, the possibilities are endless. It will be fascinating to see the lineups that Kenny Atkinson rolls out this season.

Player to Watch: D'Angelo Russell

This season will either make or break D'Angelo Russell in the eyes of the Nets' front office.

The time for making excuses for Russell is over. He has had sufficient time to acclimate himself to the NBA and now has a full offseason with Brooklyn's staff under his belt. It is time for him to make the jump from a good player to a star.

Brooklyn has nearly $70 million in cap space next offseason. The timing is fortuitous for Russell as he will be a restricted free agent next summer.

If Sean Marks is going to allot a large chunk of Brooklyn's valuable cap space to Russell, he will need to see a tremendous improvement from the 22-year-old in several areas.

Last season, Russell showed flashes of the raw ability that led to him being selected second overall. He has a smooth handle along with a solid mid-range shot. He uses his ball-handling ability to probe off the pick and roll and find rolling big men.

Russell also has exceptional court vision that allows him to find cutting teammates in the halfcourt and transition.

While there is no doubting Russell's offensive ability, his defensive effort and decision making were questionable last season. He averaged a career-high 3.1 turnovers per game last year. The third-year guard had issues taking care of the ball in crunch time. The 22-year-old also struggled with shot selection, posting a career-low 32.4% shooting from three.

Defense has been Russell's most glaring issue since entering the league. He often looks uninspired on the defensive end, showing little effort getting over screens and frequently getting beat backdoor. Russell's 111.7 defensive rating was the worst on the team last season.

The flaws in Russell's game are evident, but they can be easily fixed. Turnovers and shot selection improve with experience and maturity while defense comes down to hustle and determination.

Russell's time for maturing is up. This season is his opportunity to prove that he can be a centerpiece in Brooklyn for years to come.

Dates to Remember

  • Oct. 19 vs. New York Knicks: The Nets make their home debut against their crosstown rival. With two rebuilding teams racing back towards relevance, who currently has the leg up?

  • Oct. 28 vs. Golden State: The back to back reigning NBA champions travel to Brooklyn for the first of two matchups with the Nets. How will the Nets young players match up against the best? Will they back down or come out fearless?

  • Jan. 7 @Boston: The Nets match up against the Celtics for the first of four matchups. How will Brooklyn's new look roster stack up against the Eastern Conference favorites?

  • Feb. 8, NBA Trade Deadline: Who will be on the move for Brooklyn?

  • Feb. 17, NBA All-Star Game: Will the Eastern Conference All-Stars feature a Brooklyn player for the first time since in four seasons?

Predictions

Brooklyn should improve with the acquisitions of several role players and the development of its young core.

D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen now have an offseason with the Nets player development staff under their belts. This staff completely transformed Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into new players.

If Russell, Crabbe and Allen can make a similar improvement, the Nets could find themselves in playoff contention.

The Nets must find a way to close out games this season. Brooklyn had 36 games last year decided by seven points or less. Atkinson’s squad was 15-21 in those contests. This team needs someone to step up as a closer.

D’Angelo Russell and Caris Levert showed flashes of clutch scoring last year, but the Nets will need consistent offensive production late in games if they hope to make a playoff push.

Brooklyn’s defense must also see improvement. The Nets allowed the third most points per game in the league last season (110.3).

Pick and roll defense was a noticeable issue for Brooklyn last year. The Nets were scored on 42.9% of the time when covering the pick and roll. That percentage was the highest in the league.

Brooklyn’s guards must make a more consistent and determined effort getting over the top of screens to prevent open jump-shots and lobs.

Atkinson’s fast-paced offense gives opposing teams plenty of offensive opportunities, but his team must improve defensively if they want to stay in games.

The Nets’ strengths lie in their versatility and outside shooting. If D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert emerge as stars and the new faces fit into the system, Brooklyn could challenge for the eighth seed in a watered down eastern conference.

Projections

  • Record: 35-47

  • Standings: 10th in Eastern Conference

  • Leading Scorer: D’Angelo Russell (20.4 PPG)

  • Assists Leader: D’Angelo Russell (6.0 APG)

  • Rebounding Leader: Jarrett Allen (7.0 RPG)

  • Blocks Leader: Jarrett Allen (1.8 BPG)