They are seven games under .500 after beating the New York Knicks Sunday night 106-101 at the Izod Center.
What makes this so extraordinary is that after trading Jefferson during the offseason and Jason Kidd during last season, this was thought to be a rebuilding year. Maybe it was, but somebody forgot to tell head coach Lawrence Frank and the players.
The starting point for this season's success is Nets is All-Star point guard Devin Harris, who is averaging 22.3 points per game and is 10th in the NBA in that category. Completing the highest-scoring backcourt in the NBA is Vince Carter, who with his 20.7 PPG average is 18th in the league.
Harris was obtained from Dallas in a trade last season for Jason Kidd—who at the age of 35 looks as though his best days are behind him, while the 26 year old Harris still has the better part of his career in front of him. The fans showed their gratitude for Dallas owner Marks Cubans last season’s panic move by chanting “thank you Cuban” when Dallas visited the Izod this season.
The center position for the Nets has gotten very strong, When third-year starting center Josh Boone got hurt earlier in the season the Nets turned to their seven-foot first-round pick rookie center Brook Lopez. He is averaging 12.5 points and 8.1 rebounds and has started every game since Boone got hurt. He seems to be gaining confidence every game, and at 20 years old looks like he could develop into one of the league’s premier centers.
The power forward position is still a question mark. Yi Jianlian—in his second year in the NBA—at times seems lost on the court. His 9.7 ppg average is probably less than Coach Frank was hoping for. Earlier in the season he appeared to be gaining momentum, but during the 37th game of the season while on the road in Milwaukee against his former team he was injured and missed 16 games.
This seemed to slow down his progress and the team’s ability to win. The Nets went 6-10 during his absence.
Assuming that he really is only 21 years old there could be a lot of potential in Yi. Either the Nets felt that at the age of 28 Richard Jefferson, whom the Nets traded to get Yi, had peaked and there was more of a future in Yi—or maybe it was a pure salary dump. Like many teams, the Nets are trying to clear cap space for the 2010 LeBron sweepstakes.
Last season them Nets had a very weak bench. This problem was definitely solved this season. Boone, after being demoted to backup center, was demoted again when Sean Williams was released from Coach Frank’s doghouse. Williams has performed very well as the new backup center, especially on defense.
Since Williams was inserted into the rotation, the Nets are 4-3—with the three losses coming to New Orleans, Boston, and Orlando by combined 10 points. Williams is only in his second season and after his recent stint in the D-league appears to be ready for prime time.
Also on the Nets bench are Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling, who are averaging about 18 points between them. When Dooling is in the game very often the Nets move Harris to the two guard and Carter to the small-forward spot, which seems to be very effective.
And Dooling has hit some big three point shots in key situations. The bench is not costing the Nets wins this season.
Rookie Ryan Anderson has definitely made significant contributions as a starter and as a backup. However, his inconsistency, coupled with the return of Yi, has earned him a spot on the bench next to Josh Boone and rookie Chris Douglas-Roberts—who has touched the ball less than the ball boys have. Anderson adds depth to the Nets bench for when he is called upon again.
Putting this all together it appears that the Nets have a great shot at the playoffs. On paper it seems more than likely that if they made the playoffs they would be eliminated in four by whichever of the big three win the Eastern Conference.
But remember,—last season the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks took the eventual-champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round before losing. And in 2007, Golden State as the eighth seed eliminated number-one Dallas in the first round of the Western Conference in six games. Nothing can be assumed in the playoffs.
While nobody is suggesting that the Nets can or will become the NBA champions this season, they certainly are over achieving based on preseason predictions. Regardless of what happens this season, they have managed to stay competitive, rebuild, clear salary cap space and play exciting basketball.
New Jersey Nets fans can’t ask for more.