Brooklyn Nets 2019-2020 Season Preview
Coming off the biggest offseason in franchise history, the Brooklyn Nets enter the 2019-2020 season with something they have not had in recent years: high expectations.
The acquisitions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have generated a buzz around the new-look Nets. Several new pieces will have to fit into place as Brooklyn starts a new era.
The 2018-2019 season marked a turning point for the Nets organization. A surprise playoff appearance and fast-paced, unselfish style of play turned heads around the league.
This was the vision general manager Sean Marks had while eyeing the 2019 free-agent class. His wishes came to fruition when Irving and Durant agreed to max deals with Brooklyn in the opening hours of free agency.
While Irving and Durant are one of the best star pairings in the league, Marks did a great job surrounding the superstars with solid role players. Previous championship teams stressed two areas when filling out the back end of their rosters: shooting and defense. This was clearly a point of emphasis for Brooklyn this offseason.
The most important acquisition outside of Irving and Durant appears to be 25-year-old forward Taurean Prince. Brooklyn acquired Prince in a trade that sent Allen Crabbe to Atlanta and opened the cap space to sign their two stars.
Brooklyn displayed a clear confidence in Prince this season when they signed the forward to a two-year, $29 million extension Monday.
Prince possesses a similar skill set to DeMarre Carroll as a three-and-d wing. The Baylor product shot 39% from deep on 5.7 attempts per game last season and has shown flashes of an elite on-ball defender early in his career. To bring his game to the next level in Brooklyn, Prince will need to improve as a ball-handler to take pressure off Brooklyn's backcourt.
Garrett Temple and David Nwaba bring similar defensive talent to the table. Temple, a 35.3% career three-point shooter and solid wing defender, was reportedly recommended to Brooklyn by Irving, who made a list of wings he wanted the Nets to sign.
Nwaba is among the best defensive players on Brooklyn's roster but is more of a project offensively than Temple or Prince. The 26-year-old is limited as a ball-handler and shot 32% from deep last season in Cleveland. At 6'5", Nwaba's strength and ability to guard multiple positions could make him a valuable plug and play player.
Wilson Chandler will provide depth at power forward once he returns from a 25-game PED suspension. The 11-year NBA veteran shot 37.3% from three last season and could fill a similar role as Jared Dudley last season.
Chandler is far more athletic than Dudley, but it remains to be seen whether he will provide a similar defensive IQ that proved invaluable for Brooklyn last season.
DeAndre Jordan came to Brooklyn as the third-wheel in the Irving and Durant signings. The former all-star gives Brooklyn a big-body in the middle, something the Nets were missing last season.
Jordan spent the end of last season across the river with the Knicks after being traded from Dallas. The 31-year-old averaged 11.0 PPG and 13.1 RPG but appeared to have lost a step. Playing for a competitive team alongside two of his best friends could spark a resurgence from the big man.
Brooklyn selected Nic Claxton out of Georgia with the 31st pick in the draft. The 6'11" rookie has already shown flashes of the versatility he displayed in college.
Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson compared the rookie to Chris Bosh in post-draft interviews. Claxton shot 30.6% from three in two seasons at Georgia and frequently handled the ball in transition.
The 20-year-old will need to improve his strength significantly but has already shown flashes of offensive versatility that Jarret Allen has yet to develop two seasons into his career.
Brooklyn added a top-10 talent in Irving and several role players who will need to step up until Durant returns.
The talent added to the roster should garner improvement from last season. The chemistry between Kyrie Irving and his teammates in the new system will determine the level of success the Nets can expect this season.
Projected Depth Chart
PG: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Theo Pinson SG: Caris LeVert, Garrett Temple, Dzanan Musa SF: Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, David Nwaba PF: Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs, Wilson Chandler C: Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Jordan, Nic Claxton
The Nets will head into this season with several new faces in the rotation. The starting five is set with Irving and Caris LeVert in the backcourt, Joe Harris at small forward, Prince at power forward, and Allen down low.
Irving brings a new dynamic to the offense that will spark some changes.
D'Angelo Russell thrived last year as Brooklyn's floor general in a pick and roll heavy offense. Russell ranked second in the league in pick and roll possessions per game while Brooklyn ranked fifth in the league as a team.
Irving ranked 27th in that category. Despite the disparity in the number of pick and roll sets, Irving got to the basket more frequently than Russell, taking 22.6% of his shots around the rim (0-3 feet) compared to 13.7% for Russell.
Irving's ball-handling ability could warrant an increase in isolation sets. This will affect how those around the point guard get their shots. Russell frequently dished off to rolling big men or found Harris for kick-out threes while probing in the pick and roll. The increase in pick and roll sets will be an adjustment for Irving.
Atkinson acknowledged that there would be some changes to the offense with Irving running the show via Kristin Winfield:
“I think the best coaches adapt to their players,” Atkinson said. “You have to understand the players you have and put them in the best position to succeed. Those are part of the tweaks. I don’t think they’re monumental changes but subtle changes that will help our team come together quicker.”
The chemistry between Irving and LeVert will heavily play into Brooklyn's offensive success. LeVert found success late in the season as a pick and roll ball handler. He will still get these opportunities and Irving should be fine playing off the ball as a 45.4% shooter on catch and shoot threes last season.
Harris and Prince will provide plenty of spacing as shooters on the perimeter. If LeVert can get comfortable as a catch and shoot threat and moving off the ball, Brooklyn could have one of the best backcourts in the league.
Another question is whether Spencer Dinwiddie will play alongside Irving, LeVert, or both. Dinwiddie excels as an isolation player with the ball in his hands. This makes it questionable for him to play alongside both Irving and LeVert as he is better served with another shooter on the perimeter. However, the trio of guards could find themselves on the floor together depending on matchups.
Dinwiddie will be the sixth man off the bench, Jordan will backup Allen, and Rodions Kurucs will see time at both forward positions. A big question in the rotation will be who will get the minutes as the final guard off the bench?
It will be a competition between Temple and Dzanan Musa. Temple is a solid defender while Musa has more ability to create on the offensive end.
Can Musa hold up as a defender against NBA level guards? Can Temple shoot and handle the ball consistently enough from the outside to warrant defensive attention?
Nwaba's defensive ability could help him see minutes early in the season. The 26-year-old will likely be used as a fill-in defensive stopper similar to Treveon Graham last season.
Marks did a solid job of filling the roster with unselfish, defensive-minded players who will fit well into Brooklyn's system. It will be extremely important that Irving and LeVert find their chemistry early and get others involved as the Nets look to take advantage of a favorable schedule early on.
Dates to Remember
Oct. 25 vs. New York Knicks: The Nets make their home debut against their crosstown rival. How will Kyrie Irving's Brooklyn debut be remembered against a Knicks team with a chip on their shoulder?
Nov. 27 @ Boston Celtics: Kyrie Irving makes his return to Boston. How will he react to a likely hostile crowd? How do the Nets stack up against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference?
Feb. 5 vs. Golden State: D'Angelo Russell makes his return to Brooklyn. What will his reception be like? How does he stack up against the man who took his position?
Feb. 6, NBA Trade Deadline: Will Marks look to make any moves to improve the roster or stand pat?
Feb. 16, NBA All-Star Game: Which Nets will be selected in the Eastern Conference? Can Caris LeVert make the jump and earn his first appearance?
The Nets should see improvement this season after upgrading at several positions.
Brooklyn now has a top-10 player in Kyrie Irving running the show. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen will benefit from playing alongside Irving and take steps forward as more experienced players.
Joe Harris will continue to be an elite shooter from deep in Atkinson's offense and Dinwiddie will contend for 6th man of the year while anchoring Brooklyn's second unit.
Atkinson and head of player development Adam Harrington will work to develop the games of young players like Prince and Kurucs while putting them in positions to succeed on the court. These players will refine their skills and fit into Brooklyn's fast-paced offense led by a trio of talented guards.
Garrett Temple, David Nwaba, Wilson Chandler, and DeAndre Jordan will drastically improve Brooklyn's defense, opening even more opportunities in transition.
The Nets' strengths lie in their offensive versatility, shooting, and depth defensively. Brooklyn has the necessary tools to be a top team in the East, but the leadership must be there to guide a team with several new faces. Irving, Jordan, Chandler, and even Durant will be huge in this regard as veterans in the locker room.
Barring any injury or unforeseen circumstances, the Nets could advance past the first-round and make some noise in the postseason.
Standings: 4th in Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Kyrie Irving (23.4 PPG)
Assists Leader: Kyrie Irving (7.1 APG)
Rebounding Leader: DeAndre Jordan (11.2 RPG)
Blocks Leader: Jarrett Allen (1.9 BPG)