Most preseason forecasts had the Brooklyn Nets around 44 wins, with some picks even more dire. At 21-27, the Nets shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
After a frenetic offseason during which the Brooklyn Nets dramatically turned over their roster, the buzz surrounding New York’s “other” franchise landing superstar free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving seemed to drown out a lot of legitimate concerns for the team entering the 2019-20 season.
For starters, Durant was ruled out for the season before training camp opened. General manager Sean Marks said on Sept. 24 — three days before camp started — that he didn’t expect to see Durant play in 2019-20.
At media day three days after Marks’ comments, Durant confirmed he was going to take this season to recover from the ruptured Achilles’ tendon he sustained last June. The former NBA MVP had missed nine games — including the first four games of the NBA Finals — with a calf injury before returning for Game 5 at Toronto on June 10.
That return lasted roughly 12 minutes before Durant went down with the Achilles tear.
So right off the bat, expectations should have been tempered. While it remained true the Nets had signed two superstars, they would go into 2019-20 with just one available … and not the one with the greater pedigree.
It also should not have come as a surprise Irving has had problems staying healthy this season. He had missed 10 games or more in seven of his first eight NBA seasons and his career-high for games played in a campaign was 75 for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014-15.
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But Irving has really had a problem staying available this season. An impingement in his right shoulder — an ailment originally believed to sideline Irving for a few games — turned into a nearly two-month ordeal, with Irving missing 26 games before returning on Jan. 12.
Since then, Irving sat out the Nets’ Jan. 20 loss at home to the Philadelphia 76ers due to tightness in his right hamstring and then was not with the team for their Jan. 26 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden as he dealt with the death earlier that day of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv.
And now Irving will miss some more time, at least a week after an MRI Sunday showed he sprained the medial ligament in his right knee after getting tangled up with Bradley Beal in the third quarter of Brooklyn’s loss to the Washington Wizards Saturday night.
Irving will be re-evaluated in a week, according to a report from Brian Lewis of the New York Post, but the injury appeared to have the potential to be much worse.
But here’s the naked truth about the 2019-20 Brooklyn Nets, as led by their lone superstar in Kyrie Irving. In the 28 games Irving has missed thus far this season, Brooklyn is 13-15. In the 20 games Irving has played, the Nets are 8-12.
Brooklyn currently has a winning percentage of .438 with its 21-27 record. One media outlet that fielded much ire from the Nets fan base before the season started was FiveThirtyEight, which projected the Nets to grab the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with a 36-46 record.
That would be a winning percentage of * checks math * .439. In other words, almost exactly where the Nets are right now.
The Brooklyn Nets of 2018-19 were lightning in a bottle in many ways. While they finished 42-40 — the franchise’s first winning season since 2013-14 — and claimed their first playoff berth since 2015, the Nets got hot after an eight-game losing streak to close November and open December.
Brooklyn was 8-18 entering their Dec. 7, 2018, game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center, a game it won in overtime to launch a seven-game winning streak. The Nets didn’t appreciably slow from that point on, with their 34-22 record to finish the season tied with the 76ers for the eighth-best mark in the NBA over that span.
But the roster churn in July was massive. Eight of the 15 players who finished the season on the regular roster opened this season with new teams. Allen Crabbe was traded to the Atlanta Hawks, while Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham were dealt to the Golden State Warriors.
Five free agents also departed: DeMarre Carroll (San Antonio Spurs), Ed Davis (Utah Jazz), Jared Dudley (Los Angeles Lakers), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Toronto Raptors) and the biggest, All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell, who re-signed with Brooklyn as part of an elaborate sign-and-trade deal that brought Durant to the Nets.
So when Brooklyn opened camp, there were eight new faces to integrate into the system. Besides Irving and Durant, the Nets also added Taurean Prince in the Crabbe trade and inked free agents Garrett Temple, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, re-signed free agent Theo Pinson — who played on a two-way contract for most of last season — and drafted Nicolas Claxton.
Throw in the loss of assistant coaches Chris Fleming (hired by the Chicago Bulls to be Jim Boylen’s lead assistant) and Pablo Prigioni (who joined Ryan Saunders’ staff with the Minnesota Timberwolves) and there were a lot of introductions taking place.
Last year’s rookie sensation, Rodions Kurucs, has struggled to find a role with this year’s club. While he’s started four games, he’s only appeared in 30 and is averaging 4.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per game. Fellow second-year man Dzanan Musa has played in 33 games, averaging 4.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 11.9 minutes a night.
So how do the two very different teams compare?
After 48 games in 2018-19, Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 110.1 and a defensive rating of 110.0 for a net of plus-0.1 points per 100 possessions. Their turnover percentage was 15.0, they had a 58.5 percent assist rates and were getting 28.9 percent of the available offensive rebounds and 50.5 percent of the total rebounds.
This season after 48 games, the Brooklyn Nets have an offensive rating of 106.4 and a defensive rating of 108.2, a net of minus-1.8 points per 100 possessions. Their turnover percentage is 15.4, they have a 59.6 percent assist rate and are getting 27.5 percent of the available offensive rebounds and 50.6 percent of the total rebounds.
Their NBA rankings for 2018-19 through 48 games and at the same point this season:
- Offensive rating: 13th/22nd
- Defensive rating: 18th/14th
- Net rating: 17th/18th
- Turnover pct.: 22nd/27th
- Assist pct.: 18th/15th
- ORB pct.: 9th/11th
- REB pct.: 14th/12th
What does all that boil down to? That at the end of the day, the Brooklyn Nets were an average, middle-of-the-pack team in 2018-19 and when all is said and done this season, that is very likely going to be the case again.
Anyone who saw anything else coming? They just weren’t paying attention … or they were blinded by the hype.