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Everything You Need to Know About the Brooklyn Nets' 2015-16 NBA Season

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 20, 2015

Oct 8, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) looks on during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Nets won 93-83. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a first-round exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, the Brooklyn Nets enter the 2015-16 campaign hoping to get back into the weak Eastern Conference playoff field. But given some of their offseason changes, as well as the relative lack of convincing backups or young contributors with unrealized potential, that could be more of a pipe dream than a realistic vision. 

It's hard to believe that just a few offseasons back, the Nets were a much-ballyhooed team—on paper—that graced the cover of marquee magazines and seemed to have legitimate championship aspirations. They had brought together a collection of All-Stars and potential All-Stars, overlooking the fact that nearly every major contributor on the roster boasted an advanced age or a bloated salary. 

Coming back to the present, things look...a lot different. Earning the No. 8 seed is now the goal, and given the status of this roster, even that may be a bit of a stretch. The same aging core is in place (minus one big name) but surrounded by a makeshift collection of pieces in an attempt to circumvent salary-cap restrictions and a dearth of draft picks. 

Still, there's reason for tempered optimism in the Barclays Center. A few young players have untapped potential still at their disposal—albeit in limited quantities—and the starting lineup is filled with players capable of excelling if they can either turn back the clocks or stay healthy for the first time in a long while.  

Key Additions/Subtractions

Sep 28, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Deron Williams (8) poses for a photo during Media Day at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  • Additions: Andrea Bargnani (free agency), Wayne Ellington (free agency), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (draft), Dahntay Jones (free agency), Shane Larkin (free agency), Chris McCullough (draft), Donald Sloan (free agency), Quincy Miller (trade)
  • Subtractions: Alan Anderson (free agency), Earl Clark (waived), Cory Jefferson (waived), Darius Morris (waived), Mason Plumlee (trade), Mirza Teletovic (free agency), Deron Williams (waived)

The biggest change comes at point guard, with Jarrett Jack moving into the starting lineup while Deron Williams and whatever remains of his previously immense talents head to the Dallas Mavericks. Considering Williams was once viewed as the free-agent acquisition who could turn this franchise into a yearly contender, that's a big deal. 

However, it may not make too large an impact on the court. As Tim Bontemps wrote for the New York Post, the organization is hoping this unfolds as an addition-by-subtraction situation, even if there's less on-paper talent: 

It’s no secret the Nets won't be as talented this season—not after agreeing to buy out three-time All-Star Deron Williams and replace him with Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. But the Nets haven't hid from the fact they’re hoping the improved chemistry they will have in the locker room without Williams' dour presence will mean as much as anything he would’ve done on the court.

Beyond Williams, the offseason moves involved a few other rotation members leaving—Alan Anderson, Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic—while the team acquired a couple of upside players via free agency and the draft. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should emerge as a defensive specialist and the crown jewel of the offseason moves. 

Storylines to Watch

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during a preseason game on October 18, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

It's not entirely inconceivable that Jack is more effective at point guard than Williams was during the 2014-15 season. He doesn't have the same household name recognition, but he's a savvy floor general who can control an offense when he's not falling in love with plays that involve him taking over possessions. 

Still, this team will ultimately rise and fall along with the health of Brook Lopez. The 7-footer has a checkered injury history, but he's undeniably impactful when he's actually in working order. Take a gander at the on/off impact he's had over the last few seasons, per Basketball-Reference.com

The major outlier there came during the 2013-14 campaign, when Lopez's foot injuries limited him to just 533 minutes. Take that out of the equation, and it should be clear that he's a difference-maker on the offensive end, capable of spreading out a defense with some mid-range shooting and showcasing his touch from every area around the hoop. 

"He's been working on them, so there may be times we might let him," Brooklyn head coach Lionel Hollins said about Lopez's burgeoning perimeter game and three-point marksmanship, per Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com. The Stanford product went 1-of-10 from beyond the arc in 2014-15 after missing his first seven career looks during prior seasons, so that would be a substantial boost, both for his individual prowess and the team's overall offensive success. 

Joining Jack and Lopez in the starting five will likely be two more veterans (Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young) and an inexperienced contributor we'll come back to (Bojan Bogdanovic). But the bench is just as important, since it's basically a collection of first-year players and guys who have washed out elsewhere before coming to the Nets for a second chance. 

That's not exactly the best team-building strategy, but it's been necessary, given their severe lack of financial flexibility and all the ill-advised trades that have left their draft coffers relatively bare. If they hit on even one of the reclamation projects—here's looking at you, Thomas Robinson—rising expectations will become more permissible in the Big Apple. 

X-Factor: Thomas Robinson

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 5:  Thomas Robinson #41 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball against Fenerbahce during a preseason game on October 5, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Even though he looked like a future double-double machine while causing nightmares for Kansas' collegiate opponents, Robinson has struggled to find much success in the Association. For that matter, he's even struggled to find a long-term home. 

Still only 24 years old and just three seasons into his professional career, the power forward has been drafted by the Sacramento Kings, traded to the Houston Rockets, traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, traded to the Denver Nuggets, waived by the Nuggets, signed by the Philadelphia 76ers and then signed by the Nets.  

But to his credit, Robinson has persevered, and he finally looked as if he were making the proverbial leap during his short time with the Sixers. In 22 appearances, he averaged 17.1 points and 15.0 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and posting a strong player efficiency rating of 19.3, via Basketball-Reference.com

This summer, he picked up where he left off, dominating on the glass through his first three preseason games with the Nets and providing efficient, well-rounded contributions everywhere else. 

If Robinson can keep the momentum going, he should be able to carve out a large rotation gig as a late-blooming prospect. It's unlikely he moves into the starting lineup, since that would presumably involve supplanting Thaddeus Young, but he could very well become the credible big off the bench this team so desperately needs. After all, flaming out means Brooklyn has to become reliant on Chris McCullough, Willie Reed, Justin Harper or Andrea Bargnani as the leader of the second unit's frontcourt. 

Making the Leap: Bojan Bogdanovic

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 19: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against the Boston Celtics during the preseason game on October 19, 2015 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

During the 2014-15 season, Bojan Bogdanovic averaged only 9.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 steals while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. But the rookie swingman seemed to gain more confidence during Brooklyn's first-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, highlighted by his 19-point outburst in Game 3. 

Though he's already 26 years old, Bogdanovic still has plenty of time to get better. Making the transition from Fenerbahce Ulker to the NBA is a difficult one, and substantial improvement can realistically be expected in the second year of his stateside career.

Don't be fooled by his lackluster showings during the preseason. Those, as Thaddeus Young told Newsday.com's Roderick Boone, are largely the product of following his first NBA season with EuroBasket competition, as well as a sprained ankle: 

Right now, you can tell that he is a little bit banged up. I think if you look at it, he's played a whole year of basketball and hasn't really had a break. Hopefully, we can get him some rest and get him back ready to go. But right now, I think he's just a little tired. That's all. I think he's only had like 13 days off over the whole summer.

So long as he gets a little time for rest and relaxation, Bogdanovic should tear through plenty of twine during his second campaign with the Nets. He's a tremendous sharpshooter who twice knocked down more than 40 percent of his looks during EuroLeague seasons while taking at least five attempts per game. 

Best-Case Scenario

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets shakes hands with Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets during a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 18, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Given the aging nature of this core, as well as the fragility of of Brook Lopez, the Nets aren't guaranteed to have their best players on the court nearly as often as some of the other playoff hopefuls in the Eastern Conference. 

But if the injury gods smile favorably upon the Barclays Center, this squad does have a number of talented players. Though it's unlikely the Nets boast any All-Stars outside of Lopez in this best-case scenario, the quality of the starting lineup should supersede the uncertainty surrounding the second unit, propelling Brooklyn back into the playoffs. 

How high can it rise? Even the most optimistic would have trouble justifying anything more than a first-round exit, as this roster just isn't set up to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers or the welterweights who figure to populate the top of the Eastern Conference. 

Worst-Case Scenario

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 14: Joe Johnson #7 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against the Boston Celtics during the preseason game on October 14, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Joe Johnson is 34 years old and well past his prime. Thaddeus Young is only 27, but it's tough to call him a true star. Jarrett Jack will turn 32 at the end of October, and he hasn't served as a full-time starter since his 2011-12 campaign with the New Orleans Hornets. Brook Lopez has a history of foot trouble, which is awfully foreboding for a 7-footer. 

Couple that with an entirely unproven bench and a crop of young talent that Bleacher Report's Dan Favale recently ranked as the worst in the NBA.

If Thomas Robinson's breakout isn't a legitimate one, Andrea Bargnani could very well be the best frontcourt player starting games on the pine, and the depth isn't exactly much better at other positions. Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are about as good as it gets. 

This season could have disaster written all over it if even a few injuries pop up at inopportune times. The Nets roster enough legitimate NBA players that they should avoid falling all the way down into the Eastern Conference basement, but they could come close. 

Predictions

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14:  Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles against the Boston Celtics during their Preseason game at Barclays Center on October 14, 2015 in New York City.    NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Al Bello/Getty Images

It's not that the Nets will take a massive step backward now that Deron Williams is no longer running the show at point guard. Losing him hurts the on-paper talent of this squad, but the bigger problems are that A) another year has taken key players further from their primes, B) there's no reliable depth and C) the best player is fragile. 

Heading into the season, Brooklyn has earned the right to think about the playoffs, even if they'll ultimately prove out of reach. The question is how long that hope will remain legitimate, given the superior nature of at least nine other squads in the weaker half of the NBA—the other seven playoff teams from last year, as well as the Paul George-led Indiana Pacers and the new-look Miami Heat

You can also make a case that the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets are more competitive teams in 2015-16, even after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was likely lost for the season in Charlotte. That's the pack Brooklyn finds itself in, and finishes at the top or bottom of that mid-level morass are equally likely outcomes. 

But should push come to shove, it's tough to see this team staying healthy enough for a single-digit finish. Even if it does avoid too many bruises and bandages, that will be because of extra minutes from the lackluster bench, which isn't exactly a positive. 

Hope for more, but expect a significant drop-off from last season and a fight to finish with the No. 12 spot in the East. 

  • Final Record: 30-52
  • Division Standings: Fourth in Atlantic Division
  • Playoffs: No
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