Brooklyn Nets' Complete 2016-17 Season Preview

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2016

BROOKLYN, NY - DECEMBER 1: Brook Lopez #11 high fives Rondae Hollis-Jefferson #24 of the Brooklyn Nets during the game on December 1, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Dating back to 2010, when Mikhail Prokhorov first became the team's majority owner, the Brooklyn Nets have dedicated most of their time and resources to dodging patience and process.

Trading for Deron Williams, acquiring Joe Johnson, mortgaging the future for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, dealing for Thaddeus Young—that was more the Nets' speed.

Those moves came to define them. They chased immediate fixes without ever procuring permanent answers, slowly chipping away at their foundation until there was no way out—no slapstick solution to mask longstanding need for direction.

That direction came last February, with the Nets sitting at 14-40, miles outside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture, when the team named Sean Marks as its general manager. He made it clear he wasn't arriving to succeed where his predecessor, Billy King, had failed; he joined the Nets to build something different and create something that lasts.

Marks has since committed Brooklyn to a more traditional rebuild. He hired rookie head coach Kenny Atkinson. He traded Young to the Indiana Pacers for a first-round pick (Caris LeVert). He rolled the dice over and over in free agency.

His message is clear, even if the team's future is not: The Nets will no longer shy away from patience or process.

                

Biggest Offseason Move

BROOKLYN, NY - JULY 20:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Brooklyn Nets poses for a portrait at the HSS Training Facility on July 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, u
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

It's tough to single out one of the Nets' offseason moves. There were so many to like, each one signifying a meaningful change to how this franchise does business.

Hiring Atkinson immediately following the 2015-16 campaign was huge. He has never served as a head coach but is an ideal fit for Brooklyn's situation. The time he spent under Mike D'Antoni with the New York Knicks and Mike Budenholzer with the Atlanta Hawks more than prepares him to lead a large-scale reinvention project.

Convincing Allen Crabbe ($74.8 million) and Tyler Johnson ($50 million) to sign offer sheets helped put the Nets on the radar. Their incumbent teams matched those deals, but it says a lot that Brooklyn could sell players on its future mere months after winning 21 games.

Randy Foye joined the cause for this reason. The 33-year-old journeyman went as far as mentioning Brooklyn in the same breath as the San Antonio Spurs during a conversation with the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy:

A lot of places you go, they search and look for superstars to fill voids every year. But I think this here is more of a culture. And just see how the Spurs and how they build a culture, they have three guys and have other guys come in and are a part of that culture and help build that culture. And that was one of the most important reasons for me signing here.

Appealing to role players and up-and-coming restricted free agents isn't the same as poaching a superstar, but these are much-needed baby steps.

Jeremy Lin is the Nets' crowning addition. His three-year, $36 million contract is a steal by today's salary-cap standards, and he's coming off the most balanced season of his career. 

Lin became more nuanced under Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, defending better, making smarter decisions, lowering his turnover rate and passing more out of pick-and-rolls. He was one of three players to score on at least 58 percent and pass on at least 35 percent of his drives while staging 300 or more of those downhill assaults.

His company was Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul.

Playing for Atkinson should have a similar effect on Lin. The team around him is less talented and generally more inexperienced, but he has never been better fit for starting point guard duty than he is now.

                

Rotation Breakdown

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 1: Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets high fives his teammate Sean Kilpatrick #6 of the Brooklyn Nets during the game against the New York Knicks on April 1, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: U
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Brook Lopez is the Nets' starting center. Lin is the starting point guard. Everything else about the rotation is up for debate:

Brooklyn Nets' Projected 2016-17 Rotation
PGSGSFPFC
Jeremy LinSean KilpatrickRondae Hollis-JeffersonTrevor BookerBrook Lopez
Greivis VasquezRandy FoyeBojan BogdanovicLuis ScolaJustin Hamilton
Isaiah WhiteheadCaris LeVert Chris McCullough
Joe HarrisAnthony Bennett

Sean Kilpatrick should be the starting shooting guard if Brooklyn is catering to the big picture. Foye doesn't factor into the future, and Marks doesn't know when LeVert (Jones fracture) will be ready to rock, per The Vertical's Chris Mannix.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a good fit for the small forward slot. The Nets need capable stoppers, and he saved more points on the defensive end last year than anyone else on the team, according to NBA Math—despite missing most of the year with a right ankle injury.

If Atkinson wants some established scoring at the wings, Bojan Bogdanovic will bump either Hollis-Jefferson or Sean Kilpatrick to the bench. He averaged 15.1 points per 36 minutes while drilling 38.2 percent of his triples in 2015-16 and then tore up the scoreboard with Croatia during the Olympics.

Power forward is a coin flip. Luis Scola offers more spacing, but Trevor Booker is Brooklyn's third-highest-paid player ($9.2 million), a better defender and sporadic three-point chucker. Chris McCullough flashed range and shot-blocking in 24 appearances as a rookie, so the 21-year-old should factor into the frontcourt carousel as well. Former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett isn't assured of any spin—though his fully guaranteed deal suggests he'll get some burn at either forward spot.

With no real depth behind Lopez, aside from Justin Hamilton, the Nets are primed to run out some interesting combinations. The two-way potential of a lineup featuring Lin, Kilpatrick, Hollis-Jefferson, Bogdanovic and McCollough is fairly high and should translate into plenty of fast-break opportunities.

         

Reasons for Confidence

BROOKLYN, NY - July 20:  General Manager Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson introduce the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets team at the HSS Training Facility on July 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, b
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Those who are invested in wins and losses have no reason to be confident in this squad. But the Nets aren't interested in using victories as a barometer for success, as Marks said, per Bondy:

This is not going to be something that's turned around in two or three months. As we've said before, we want something that's done strategically and systematically, build a strong foundation and not something that's a fleeting moment, something that will last and the couple of acquisitions that we've made so far and developing as Kenny said the young guys, that will help to establish that foundation.

This represents a small miracle, given the Nets' track record. We don't have to worry about them absorbing long-term money via trade just to pad the win column. They will play out next season as they are, perhaps taking the occasional flier, without any pressure to deploy veterans over prospects or projects.

The temptation, of course, will be there—Brooklyn doesn't control its own draft pick until 2019 and, therefore, has incentive to drum up its win total. But everything Marks said runs counter to that approach, and the Young trade was a dead giveaway that the kiddies won't be put on a short leash.

             

Reasons for Concern

BROOKLYN, NY - July 20:  The Brooklyn Nets introduce Joe Harris, Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin, Caris Levert, Justin Hamilton, and Anthony Bennett at the HSS Training Facility on July 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

There is no shortage of red flags in Brooklyn. That comes with the wholesale-rebuilding territory. But as HoopsHype's Jorge Sierra outlined, the Nets' situation is more precarious than most:

No stars and no depth … Also hard to get super excited about the club’s young players … Just too many fringe NBA guys … You have to wonder how many will be in the league in 2-3 years … There’s an inordinate amount of shooting guards on the roster … So many new faces … So many players looking to establish themselves in the NBA … It will be hard for a rookie head coach to make them play as a cohesive unit … They were the worst club in the league in opponents’ field goal shooting percentage … How much can they improve defensively? 

The Nets might unearth silver linings as the season wears on, but they ranked in the bottom four of offensive and defensive rating last season and don't have a ton of two-way performers. 

Of all their players who were in the NBA for 2015-16, only three even finished as above-average contributors on one side of the floor, according to NBA Math:

Lopez has made strides on defense in recent years, but calling him your best two-way player is far from ideal. And there's no guarantee he'll finish the season in Brooklyn. 

The Nets already changed out Young for a first-rounder. Faced with the prospect of swapping selections with the Boston Celtics and knowing Lopez will become a free agent in 2018, they could go full-tilt rebuild and turn him into more picks and prospects.

How will these Nets respond to losing? Do they have enough talent to forge even one specialty, whether on offense or defense? Will the veteran placeholders on one- and two-year deals be able to play within Atkinson's system and overlook growing pains, or is Brooklyn subject to rampant stat-chasing?

It's good that the Nets are here, trying to reset and plan for the future. But surviving in the interim, until they control the rights to their own draft picks free and clear, won't be pretty.

           

Player to Watch

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 20:  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson #24 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after a foul is called against him during the second half at TD Garden on November 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

LeVert is a sleeper if he ever gets healthy: He shot over 40 percent from long distance during his final three seasons at Michigan, scores on the bounce or off the catch and can play some point guard.

Hollis-Jefferson, however, is the more notable name with LeVert on the shelf. Though injury cut his own rookie season short, he still managed to leave an impression on the defensive end.

During the 615 minutes Hollis-Jefferson spent on the floor, the Nets played like a top-seven defense, allowing just 101.4 points per 100 possessions. Opponents shot at above-average clips when going up against him, but he saw time on some of the toughest assignments and needed to leave enough space between him and ball-handlers to account for shoddy rim protection behind him.

There is no reason to think Hollis-Jefferson, 21, won't continue to improve as an individual defender. He moved well after returning from injury, and while the talent around him isn't markedly better, it's not much worse.

Generating enough offense to stay on the court is a bigger issue. The Nets' offensive rating was low to begin with and dipped even further with him. He shot less than 21 percent from deep in two years at Arizona and went 4-of-14 (28.6 percent) during 29 appearances with Brooklyn. And he doesn't make up for his lack of range as an exceptional finisher at the rim.

If Hollis-Jefferson can improve as a scorer—around the basket or from the outside—he would give the Nets their first legitimate building block not named Brook Lopez. His development, then, is worth watching.

                 

Predictions

DENVER, CO - MARCH 4: Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets high fives his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets during the game against the Denver Nuggets on March 4, 2016 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Bart Young/Getty Images

Every team enters the regular season upbeat and determined, but not even the most optimistic person can predict 30 wins for Brooklyn. This team is short on proven talent, and its question marks aren't blessed with high ceilings.

The Nets are very much in the experimental phase, so the rotation should be fluid. They could view more established players such as Booker, Lin and Lopez as building blocks, or they could see them as midseason trade bait. The makeup and play style of this squad could vary from week to week. The biggest victories will be whatever small steps are made by the youngsters, projects and shots in the dark.

And you know what? That's all fine. Sensible fans and hoops heads will find it refreshing. The Nets aren't peddling themselves as potential playoff contenders or as a team that might feign relevance if everything breaks in its favor.

This year's Nets will not be good. They're not supposed to be. 

More importantly, they aren't trying to be.

Final Record: 25-57
Division Standing: 4th
Playoff Berth: No
B/R League-Wide Power Rankings Prediction: 29th

                      

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.

Related

    Luol Deng Retiring as a Bull 🙏

    NBA veteran will retire from basketball after signing with the Bulls

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Luol Deng Retiring as a Bull 🙏

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Atkinson Updates Kyrie's Status for Preseason Finale

    Brooklyn Nets logo
    Brooklyn Nets

    Atkinson Updates Kyrie's Status for Preseason Finale

    SNY
    via SNY

    KAT, Book, D-Lo: NBA's Goodfellas

    Slam sits down with the three young stars

    NBA logo
    NBA

    KAT, Book, D-Lo: NBA's Goodfellas

    Max Resetar
    via SLAM

    Steph: Warriors Still Chasing a Title 🏆

    'A championship is still the goal. It's always been. We've experienced it all, and we're going to keep pushing to get back there.'

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Steph: Warriors Still Chasing a Title 🏆

    Tim Daniels
    via Bleacher Report