It sure is hard being a Nets fan these days. Such a notoriously bad start to a season that had little promise to begin with makes it increasingly easy to give up on the players, the coaches, the organization altogether. The seemingly imminent move to Brooklyn hurts me personally because of all of the money and time my family has spent (hopefully not wasted) on this team at Continental Airlines Arena/IZOD Center since I started attending games in 1998. You can see my frustrations can’t you? After eleven years of support for this team, it is embarrassing nowadays to say I’m a fan of the Nets… but the optimistic and loyal sports fan in me won’t allow my faith to dissipate. I still have great hopes for the near future of this team with this core of players; it’s just the present that the fans need to endure. Let’s look at this objectively, shall we…
A record setting 0-18 to start the season, a combined 50 games missed by members of the opening day starting five and they currently find themselves at the basement of the league standings with a disastrous 3-30 record. No hope Nets fans? I implore you to reconsider.
Devin Harris: The go-to-guy, period. He has increased his scoring total every full season in the league so far since he was drafted in 2004 by Dallas. There have undoubtedly been some regressions this year mostly due to his lingering groin injury, but the aggressiveness is absolutely still there. He is still top 15 in the league in free throws attempted per game after finishing 5th last year only behind Dwight Howard, Kevin Martin, D-Wade and of course King James. It’s no secret that if the game is on the line, the ball is in his hands. He has the unique ability to either attack the rim with great success or create his own shot off the dribble; equally effective, equally deadly. Harris is easily the team’s most reliable player. Mark Cuban’s greatest fear has come true; Harris has turned into an all-star point guard and the aging Jason Kidd did not turn Dallas into a championship team in the mighty Western Conference.
Brook Lopez: A little history lesson dating back to the 2008 NBA Draft. During draft workouts, Lopez only worked out for teams within the first five picks of the draft. It was almost a lock he’d by gone by the time the Knicks had their pick 6th overall, the keyword being almost. His stock dropped the week leading up to draft day and the Nets snagged him at ten overall, while Brook asked his agent, “Lawrence Frank who?” Since then he’s been nothing but productive for the Nets. Let’s play the stat game. Chris Bosh leads the league in 20 point, 10 rebound games, tallying 20. Who’s second in the league you ask? That’d be Mr. Lopez with 14 through 33 games. That’s more than Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Al Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, Carlos Boozer and David Lee; impressive enough for a second year player?
Chris Douglas-Roberts: Think back to your high school coach and what he preached to you every day. One word boys and girls, practice, which is exactly what CDR did. He’s already totaled nine 20+ point games in 24 games played compared to zero last year in limited action. His unorthodox manner in which he scored at Memphis didn’t seem to translate to the NBA in his first year with the Nets. But with every game played this year it is increasingly apparent he worked on his game in the offseason. He still doesn’t have the strength like most NBA small forwards and he is undersized in most matchups, but he makes up for it by using his length. His great shot selection is showing up in the statistics: 16.4 PPG, 46.1 % from the field and 83.3 % from the line. That unconventional way in which he scores that I mentioned no longer seems like a problem. He’s an instinctive, smart scorer and has become one of the more trustworthy players on the roster.
Yi Jianlian: Let’s be serious for a minute. When the Bucks picked Yi 6th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, his expectations were ridiculously high. Much like his European big men counterparts drafted in years before and after him, he unrealistically drew comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. I’m all for optimism, but give the guy a break. When it’s all said and done Dirk will end up being the greatest European basketball player to ever play in the NBA, if he isn’t already. To compare Yi to Dirk is a losing battle (for Danilo Gallinari too, now that we’re on the subject). So forget about Dirk, let Yi make his own reputation. Yes, I understand his first two seasons were disappointing, averaging just around 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in both, but figure this: Last season, before breaking his finger on Jan. 9th, Yi was beginning to produce some very respectable numbers while logging heavy minutes. In those games where he logged 30+ minutes per game Yi averaged 15.7 PPG, 7.4 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.5 three pointers made. The verdict: give Yi minutes and he will produce. In limited action this season so far he’s failed to log 30 minutes only once (the game he returned from a sprained MCL). His response: doubling his lifetime PPG with 16.1 this season and increasing his rebounds as well, totaling 7.1 RPG so far. Okay fine, his on ball defense is weak and his post-up game leaves something to be desired, but he has one of the sweetest looking shots in the entire league. Remember, he’s still only 22 years old. The sky is the limit for Yi if he continues to improve at this pace.
Your outlook on the Nets may seem bleak at this point, but don’t give up hope Nets fans. This core of young players gives the Nets promise for the future. None of those four key players are over the age of 26, leaving a lot of room for them to grow as a group. Figure the Nets add some talent through the draft with their inevitably high draft pick this year and pick up a nice free agent in the offseason (no, not LeBron) and you’re looking at a very formidable playoff team sooner than you think.