Despite Cohesion Issues, Inaugural Season in Brooklyn is a Success
The Brooklyn Nets currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and second in the Atlantic Division. Sporting a record of 45-32, they have more than doubled their win total from last year, with 5 games left after their 104-83 thrashing of the 76ers Tuesday night. In Nets' 39 years in the NBA, only five other squads have more wins than this team currently does.
Yes, the Nets disappear for quarters at a time. Ok, sometimes they disappear for games at a time. They can look great and drop 30 points in a quarter or let a 16 point 3rd quarter lead disappear, as they did against Chicago last Friday. The inconsistency within games has been a theme since the beginning of the season and can be attributed to the hot-and-cold play of star guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
There have been too few games where both guards have both had strong offensive play at the same time. It's clear that Williams was not feeling completely healthy until after the all-star game and has since averaged 22.5 ppg and 8 assists. The Nets have been able to win despite this inconsistency, if Williams or Johnson are not shooting well, then center Brook Lopez is picking up the slack. Lopez is having a breakout season and playing like an all-star, averaging 19.6 points, 7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per contest.
The biggest charge levied at this team is that they can't beat the league's top teams and there is some validity to that. Their record against other teams currently projected to head into the playoffs is a lackluster 14-26. But while they lack a signature win against a top opponent, they have a road win against the Oklahoma City Thunder and a two victories over the cross-town rival Knicks. The Nets also have had several buzzer beater shots from Joe Johnson in January. There have been plenty of things for Brooklyn fans to cheer about, as they have done so during the packed Barclay's Center home games.
The move to Brooklyn has reinvigorated this franchise, it's obvious that Williams and Lopez enjoy playing in front of a capacity Barclay's Center more than a half-filled Izod Center. Nets gear and paraphernalia sales have skyrocketed. People are walking throughout the city in "Hello Brooklyn" t-shirts, when a year ago you could spend two days looking for someone in a New Jersey Nets hoodie. Instead of hearing 9,000 half-asleep "Let's Go Nets" chants, opponents hear a raucous "Broooklyn....Brooooooklyn," after a Lopez reverse lay-in. With the new fanbase comes the added pressure to perform. While the Nets looked like they would crumble under that weight in December, the coaching change to P.J. Carlesimo has given this team a needed kick in the butt. The Nets still lose focus at times--but what NBA team doesn't? Now, when the Nets fall behind in a quarter you know that 8 times out of 10 they are going play really hard and fight their way back.
While they have been overshadowed by their ostentatious Manhattan counterparts, their accomplishments this season shouldn't be dismissed. In particular, GM Billy King overhauled a 22-win roster last season and brought in solid bench players. Whether it's C.J. Watson, Andray Blatche, or even Mirza Teletovic, all the bench players have stepped up at different points in the season. Joe Johnson, the big free-agent acquisition of the summer, has shown he has the potential to be dominant.
Whether or not they advance far into the playoffs, this is a season that should be remembered by Nets fans. While it's true that this is a year to build on, if the Nets start to gel some more, the rest of the league should take notice, because Brooklyn is here.
Julian Atienza is a reporter covering the Mets and Nets for WFUV Sports.