The Brooklyn Nets would probably rank second on a list of the most hyped teams coming into the 2012-2013 NBA season. By trading for Joe Johnson and resigning Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace, the Nets have put together one of the most talented rosters in the NBA.
This slideshow will examine some of the aspects of this Nets team that fans and basketball junkies alike have come to realize. The Nets are currently 25-16 and sitting pretty as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, but can they realistically contend for that championship—which they believed in—come playoff time?
Although his numbers and inconsistent play towards the beginning of the season proved otherwise, Johnson is showing why the Nets traded for him the in the first place.
The difference between the common NBA player and an All-Star is that the All-Star wants the ball in his hands in the most important moments of the game and delivers the victory by making the basket or setting up teammates for great shots.
His stat line of 17.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 3.5 APG on 42.7 percent shooting have all been his lowest in nine years, and they certainly don't scream out "All-Star".
But the fact of the matter is, the Nets would not be where they are right now without Johnson. The numbers don't lie. The Nets were never even close to making the playoffs for the last five seasons. With Johnson, they are not only a team in the playoff race now, but also one with championship aspirations.
It wasn't that long ago when debates flooded the internet about who the best point guard in the NBA was—Chris Paul or Deron Williams. With Paul's MVP-caliber play this season, and Williams simultaneously having the worst season since his rookie year, there's no question who the best point guard in the league is now.
When the Nets stumbled to a mediocre 14-14 record in the middle of December with Williams playing mediocre basketball, he attributed his struggles to the system employed by Coach Avery Johnson. Coincidentally, Johnson got fired shortly after.
It was a similar situation two years ago during his tenure with the Utah Jazz. The tension between Williams and Jerry Sloan was obvious, and he ended up running Sloan out of town before being dealt to the then-New Jersey Nets.
By no means does this mean Williams is a terrible player, but sometimes he should take some of the blame for himself.
During his previous one-and-a-half seasons with the Nets, where the team finished near the bottom of the conference, Williams wasn't blaming Coach Johnson's system for their failures. Now that the expectations are high and Williams isn't playing up to par, he had to find a reasonable scapegoat for his struggles.
I'm not willing to go as far as calling Lopez the best all-around center in the league—that title goes to Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah—but he has certainly proved this season that he's the most skilled offensive big man in the league.
Through 34 games, Lopez is playing just 29.5 minutes per game, but also registering the highest PER of his career at 25.2 and highest among all active centers (per Basketball Reference).
His rebounding could still use some work, as he's only posting 9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes with a rebounding rate of 15.0. As a legit 7'0" center with incredible length, he has the potential to drastically improve in that category. However, one possible reason for his low rebounding numbers is because he shares the floor with two rebounding machines in Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries most of the time.
Nonetheless, it's impossible to deny Lopez' offensive prowess and his ability to score from every angle below the three point line.
For a guy who was waived last season due to a lack of conditioning and bad temperament, Blatche is playing the best ball of his career as a Net.
He's registering a career high PER of 23.4, which is surprisingly tied with Kobe Bryant for the eighth highest PER rating out of all qualified players in the NBA. On top of that, he's averaging the highest field goal percentage of his career (50 percent) and is the Nets' best option off of the bench.
Blatche is a rare big man in the league with the ability to dribble, pass and score points from either face-up or post-up situations. Confusingly, he's only getting around 20 minutes per game—less than that of both Reggie Evans (21.9) and Kris Humphries (21.6).
Enough of this "core four" talk; let's give some credit to the Nets' role players instead.
Sure they have four elite, or borderline, All-Star players in their starting lineup, but it's the rest of the players who are going to help push this team from a playoff contender to a championship contender.
C.J. Watson, Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and Andray Blatche (as mentioned earlier) are the players who will elevate this star-studded roster to the next level. They all have different roles and can contribute to certain aspects of the game to cover up the mistakes of the core four.
Evans and Humphries are both dynamic rebounders who neutralize Brook Lopez' mediocre rebounding ability—although he has been working on that as of late.
Humphries is a tad better scorer, but they both recognize their respective roles on this team and know their limits.
Brooks is an energetic, young scorer who hasn't seen much action recently but can still light up the scoreboard at any night if given the opportunity.
Blatche is capable of starting on most teams, so it's definitely a luxury to have a guy like him producing from the bench. Watson proved last year that he was capable of handling starting point guard duties after starting 25 games during Derrick Rose's various injuries, and he's another player that can provide valuable minutes on any team.
Keith Bogans is still a decent defender at his age, and Jerry Stackhouse is nowhere near contributing at the high level he maintained earlier in his career, but he's a great locker room presence and a tested veteran that every team would love to have as the ninth or tenth man on the roster.