Does that put the Brooklyn Nets amongst the NBA’s elite?
The answer is complicated. It’s a little bit “No” and a little bit “Yes,” with some “Need to see more.”
Let’s start with “No,” the most obvious answer.
The Nets seemed to boast their greatest potential early on: from the preseason hype through the first 15 games of the regular season when they went 11-4.
After that, it’s been nothing but Jekyll and Hyde, marked by two tailspins with an uptick in between. Sure, the occasional downturn is to be expected over the course of a season for usually every team, but this drastic about-facing is not the sign of an elite squad.
Brooklyn went from 11-4 to .500 (14-14) in the space of a month, getting coach Avery Johnson canned.
Amidst rumors (and dreams) of Phil Jackson, P.J. Carlesimo righted the ship. The Nets went 12-2, upping their record to 26-16 and posing as a legitimate threat for at least the two seed, only to have their mediocrity exposed in those last 10 games.
Other than deserved All-Star Brook Lopez, just about the entire roster is under-performing, in particular the starters.
Joe Johnson is so far having his worst season in nine years. Williams hasn’t played this badly, relatively, since his rookie campaign. If it weren’t for intangibles, Gerald Wallace would be bringing little to the court, and $24 million man Kris Humphries has been relegated to the bench.
Reggie Evans has filled in nicely at power forward but cannot replace the rebound and point production of Humphries a la the past two seasons. C.J. Watson started out by putting his name in the hat for Sixth Man of Year, but has fizzled out completely of late. MarShon Brooks is in a serious sophomore slump.
The Nets, with what was claimed to be one of the most-talented and higher-scoring backcourts in the league, are 29th in the NBA in assists and 22nd in points.
Perhaps most foreboding is Brooklyn's thorough inability to handle the Miami Heat. In three drubbings, the Heat outscored the Nets by a total of 63 points and outplayed them in all aspects of the game.
But despite all of the above, the Brooklyn Nets are 30-22 and just a game out of third in the East. They’re just four games off the Heat in the win column, which forces us to examine the less obvious answer, “Yes, they might be elite.”
One thing is arguable: The Nets are an elite Eastern Conference team.
Why not? Barring something catastrophic, the Nets are on the way to the postseason. They could wind up with that third seed, at worst the five seed or at best, though a stretch, the No. 2.
Not only have the Nets beaten the Pacers, Celtics and Knicks twice, they’ve also taken down the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, proving they can handle six of the East’s top seven teams. They are 23-11 against the East overall.
Brooklyn has the 11th best record in the whole NBA, and Sports Illustrated has the Nets power ranked at 10—but fourth best among Eastern teams behind the Heat and twice-owned Knicks and Pacers.
Nabbing any of the top four seeds automatically makes the Nets, admittedly outside the Heat, a viable contender for an NBA Finals berth, and perhaps acutely, elite.
The Nets have one of the more intriguing benches in the league, too. The NBA’s Hang Time blog recently cited Brooklyn as having a top-eight bench, rooted with the respectable Watson and Humphries.
Andray Blatche has been a pleasant surprise and is considered one of the five most improved players by ESPN, and rookie Tyshawn Taylor is beginning to show a little something.
Finally, the Nets have something truly invaluable that gives them a hint of eliteness and an edge in the postseason. They have the 5th best defense in the league, yielding fewer than 95 points per game to opponents.
But, as of today, the Nets are not one of the league's elite.
Brooklyn has to show a little more in the East, too. The Nets are 0-3 versus the Heat and 0-2 against the not-so-good Milwaukee Bucks. Losses to the Celtics, Knicks, Bulls and Hawks question how dominant they can truly be.
Which brings us to “Need to see more.”
The Brooklyn Nets can join the NBA’s elite. They’ve done pretty well as a whole considering how underachieving most of their players have been in 2012-13.
If the starters get their “stuff” together, the bench takes it up a notch and the Nets ride out the season on a Dr. Jekyll run rather than a Mr. Hyde one, securing a top seed in the process, the Nets will be deserving of more notice.
If they flex their defensive muscle in one or two playoff rounds, then maybe we can start using “Brooklyn Nets” and “NBA’s elite” in the same sentence.
All stats used in this article are as of Feb. 11, 2013.