We haven’t ever written this before in our 17 seasons covering this team in New Jersey or Brooklyn: the Brooklyn Nets are the consensus No. 1 team in the weekly power rankings. Of the nine rankings we surveyed, the Nets top the league in six of them. In the other three, they’re ranked No. 2.
Of course, when you’ve won 10 of your last 11 and are on a franchise record seven-game road winning streak, you get noticed. Also getting noticed by the power ranking pundits, the Nets improving defense, James Harden’s electric play … and Bruce Brown!
And that’s before they signed Blake Griffin! Enjoy being the NBA villain.
The Nets ranked 16th defensively (112.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) as they won 10 of their last 11 games before the break. They clearly got a wake-up call when they lost in Detroit a month ago and that 16 ranking is progress, though not necessarily a breakthrough. The opposing offenses over that stretch were an even mix of good, bad and mediocre.
They’ll begin the second-half schedule hosting a team (the Celtics) that caught fire before the break. And with the Nets’ next five games after that against offenses that rank no higher than 18th, the Thursday game is the one to watch, especially if Kevin Durant makes his return and Blake Griffin, who signed with Brooklyn, is available.
Three numbers to know:
1. The Nets’ effective field goal percentage of 58.8% is the highest in NBA history. Among 305 players with at least 100 field goal attempts, DeAndre Jordan (76.2%) and Joe Harris (69.7%) rank first and third in effective field goal percentage, with Harris the leader among players with at least 200 field goal attempts.
2. The Nets have the best record (13-2) in games played between the 14 teams currently over .500.
3. The Nets have been the league’s slowest moving team on defense, averaging 3.67 miles per hour.
Health will be the top priority as Steve Nash manages the remaining regular-season schedule. The flipside, however, is the fact that the Nets’ big three have played together for a total of only 186 minutes in seven games. The talent is overwhelming — especially with the acquisition of former All-Star Blake Griffin — but as the games get important in April and May, chemistry will be a question, and there is a necessity to get some reps for the trio.
Games to watch
March 15 vs. Knicks: Three months ago, not many anticipated this being a compelling — and important! — Eastern Conference matchup. But there will be serious hype around this one and a lot of intensity because for the first time in quite a while, the battle of New York matters.
April 10 vs. Lakers: The Lakers make the trip to Brooklyn for a possible Finals preview. The first meeting in L.A. was good, but it was also missing key components (Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis). This one could be scaled more accurately to size.
April 14 vs. 76ers: The Nets and Sixers have created some separation as the two favorites in the East, and while it’s not guaranteed they’ll meet in the Eastern finals, it is a possible look ahead at a blockbuster playoff showdown.
Bold prediction: The Nets get better at defense. OK, so maybe this doesn’t seem like a bold prediction, but have you watched the Nets play defense? If they are going to achieve their goals, they are going to have to develop on the defensive end, and with that as a priority, they will show at least some signs of improvement.
Bruce Brown defines positionless basketball.
Free idea for the NBA: League Pass Player Alerts to notify users when selected players enter the game. Many people would choose players like LeBron James, LaMelo Ball, or Steph Curry. I would pick Brown.
“Bruce is remarkable,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said recently. “He mostly played point guard last year, and now he’s what—playing our center?”
Brown, at 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, played guard in his first two seasons with the Pistons and averaged four assists per game. Now he’s playing minutes at center on offense for Brooklyn, and doing all the things you typically see taller guys do: He crashes the offensive boards, stays ready for dump-off passes near the baseline, sets screens, rolls to the rim, and feasts inside.
When Kyrie Irving or James Harden run the pick-and-roll, Brown can shred defenses while diving to the rim with dunks or finesse finishes; he’s made 15 of his 21 shots when he rolls to the rim, per Synergy.
As a career 29.7 percent 3-point shooter, Brown’s jumper hinders his abilities as a perimeter facilitator. It’s also why he was a mid-second-round draft pick. But he’s always been a good passer with a knack for cutting and straight-line driving, and the Nets give him tasks that blend his strengths.
Brown looks like he’s Draymond Green when he screens, while Irving or Harden do the job of Steph Curry. This arrangement works because instead of plugging Brown into a position based on his size, the Nets have placed him into a role that suits his skills. The positional lines have blurred more in recent years. Brown is just the latest example.
How can you not be impressed by the Brooklyn Nets at this point? Maybe you don’t believe they can or will win the championship, although not thinking they’re able to is crazy to me. They’re this successful, and we’ve hardly seen this team on the court together at full strength (when it comes to the big three). The Nets aren’t going to be good defensively this season, but they just need to be good enough with their historic firepower. Adding Blake Griffin doesn’t help the defense, but it adds potential to the offense. We’ll see what else they’re able to do in the buyout market, but the Nets look like contenders to just about everybody.
Positive spin? We’ve only seen seven games from the Nets in which Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving played. They’ve only played 186 minutes together. When they get more time on the court as a unit in the second half of the season, it’s going to get even better.
Brooklyn’s first half took a dramatic turn when it acquired James Harden, and it has become one of the scariest teams in the NBA since. With Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the court together, the Nets have put up a massive 122.4 offensive rating, and it’s hard to imagine a defense that’s going to be able to stop them if they’re healthy. Blake Griffin isn’t exactly the defensive-minded big man addition most expected the Nets to make, but we’ll see how he fits in. At this point, it’s hard to say anyone but Brooklyn is the favorite to come out of the East.
Brooklyn is rolling these days. It’s gone 9-1 in its last 10 games, sits a half game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference and has just been impossible to stop.
Even more impressively, the Nets have done all of this while getting just 19 games from Kevin Durant and 26 from Kyrie Irving.
The reason they have been able to play at this level has been James Harden, who has been amazing since getting to Brooklyn. He’s averaged 25.5 points, 11.4 assists and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 42.2 percent from three. If he keeps this up in the second half, he could enter MVP discussions.
The freshly bought-out Blake Griffin has agreed to a deal with the Nets, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and he should add some frontcourt depth to a thin squad as it continues to contend for a championship. How much he can actually contribute remains to be seen, but his passing ability should help keep the ball moving.
It was only a matter of time before the Brooklyn Nets ascended to the top of this list. Since the trade for James Harden, the Nets have the second-best record in the league (18-7) and the best offensive rating. They are still terrible on defense (27th) but despite that, they are still sixth in net rating, giving an indication that their elite talent may be enough to overcome that end of the ball.
Perhaps most impressively, much of this winning has come without Kevin Durant in the lineup. Durant has only played 11 games since the franchise-altering trade. Kyrie Irving has been slightly more available, appearing in 19 contests. Who is in the lineup has been of little consequence. Since the move, six players have averaged double figures for the Nets (although this is cheating with Nic Claxton, who has only played five games).
Harden, Irving and Durant are all over 25 points per game, shooting over 49 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. Harden is leading the league in assists and has thrived in his new role running the offense but not being the primary option. Bruce Brown is showing out, thriving as shooting guard playing small-ball center and torturing opponents. As the Nets look to add in the buyout market (already connected to Blake Griffin), the sky is the limit for this team in the second half.
James Harden is playing at an MVP level since coming over from Brooklyn, averaging 25.3 points, 11.3 assists, and 8.7 rebounds a game for the Nets (he’s not going to win the award after his ugly exit from Houston, voters will remember that). Brooklyn is rumored to be looking to pick up a center via trade or buyout, but small ball may be a better call — the Nets starting four with Jeff Green at the five (instead of DeAndre Jordan) is +26.3 per 100 this season. That lineup may be what Steve Nash leans on to close games.
The Nets won their lone game since last week’s ranking, a 132-114 victory at Houston. James Harden had a triple-double — 29 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists — in the win over his former team. The Nets begin the second half with home games against Boston, Detroit and New York.
We’re still waiting on a few votes from other pundits, but our Kornacki Sense makes us comfortable in projecting.