Thursday, November 1, 2012
Season predictions: Brooklyn Nets
By Mike Mazzeo
Coach will be on the hot seat if ... The Nets don't make the playoffs. They haven't been there in five seasons, their longest drought since 1987-91. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov didn't spend $330 million on contracts this summer for his team to be playing golf by mid-April. Avery Johnson is in the final year of his contract. With this much talent on his roster, the coach has to deliver.
Things will line up perfectly if ... The Nets jell early, become a competent team defensively and stay healthy. With nine newcomers, finding chemistry early is of the utmost importance. Johnson wants the team to finish in the league's top 10 defensively. Given the personnel on his roster, that's going to be a tall task. Last season, the Nets were decimated by injuries and finished 22-44. They can't afford for that to happen in 2012-13.
See you at the All-Star Game: Avery Johnson said on media day that he wants Deron Williams to average 18 points and 11 assists per game this season. If D-Will does, he's a shoo-in to be in Houston on Feb. 17. Joe Johnson has played in every All-Star Game since 2007. Brook Lopez has never played in one. Even if he's worthy, it's going to be tough for him to make the team now that the center position is no longer on the ballot.
Leading scorer: D-Will and Lopez are certainly viable candidates, but Joe Johnson is the pick here. Johnson, 31, is a versatile scorer who can drain open 3-pointers, take advantage of smaller defenders in the post and create his own shot off the dribble. He's also going to be anchoring the team's second unit. While Johnson no longer has to be "the man," he's going to get his in the points-per-game column.
Leading rebounder: Assuming he maintains his spot in the starting five, it's hard to pick against Kris Humphries here. The 27-year-old power forward is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he averaged double-digit rebounds, including a career-best 11 per game last year.
Breakthrough player: C.J. Watson did a solid job backing up Derrick Rose last season with the Chicago Bulls. This year, he might turn out to be one of the biggest bargains in the entire league. Watson, who will make the veteran's minimum after signing a two-year deal with Brooklyn in the offseason, is fast and excels in transition. The Nets might end up playing him a lot with D-Will in a small backcourt.
Biggest disappointment: So far? MarShon Brooks. The second-year pro missed a ton of time in training camp and the preseason due to injury. Now he's playing catch-up and his role appears uncertain. Defense has never been Brooks' strong suit, so Avery Johnson might elect to play veteran Keith Bogans as his first shooting guard off the bench. Brooks' goal of winning the Sixth Man Award might not be attainable after all.
Toughest competition in the Atlantic Division: The Boston Celtics. They may be a year older, but they're still talented on both ends of the floor. Veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will be out to prove that they're not done just yet. Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jason Terry will provide solid minutes off the bench.
Record: 46-36, second place, Atlantic Division. In their first season in Brooklyn, the Nets are going to play with a chip on their shoulder. Defense is going to be the key to their success.
Playoffs? Yes. The Nets will get home-court advantage in the first round and win that series, but they'll fall to a more elite team like the Miami Heat in the second round.