Are the 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets Good?

The last time the Brooklyn Nets were a relevant force in the NBA, they played in New Jersey, Jason Kidd was their point guard and LeBron James was in high school.

Since moving to Brooklyn in 2013, they started out with a 49-win season and first-round playoff exit, traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and faceplanted to a 44-win season in 2014, and promptly fell off a cliff.

And they traded away their climbing equipment.

Thankfully, the worst of the storm has passed, but because this is Brooklyn we’re talking about, their highest-paid player is Dwight Howard, who has never worn a Nets uniform and who is on the Washington Wizards. His cap hit—almost $19 million—is the result of some weird offseason chicanery that mostly involved accountants shuffling cap numbers around.

The move ultimately clears a bunch of cap room later…but that gets into the question we’re trying to answer now, which is are the 2018-19 Nets any good?

The answer is no, but this time it’s on purpose. I’ll explain.

2017-18 record: 28-54
2018-19 Vegas over/under: 32.5 wins.

The Strategy, As It Appears From Here

As far as can be gathered, the Nets taking on Howard’s cap hit is a sign that (a) they know as well as anyone that the roster they have is hot garbage in need of draft picks, free agent signings, and savvy trades in order to get out of the hole that Billy King dug and Danny Ainge pushed them into, and (b) they know that Rome wasn’t rebuilt in a day after Brennus and his Gauls got done laying waste to the place in 390 BC.

Which, in turn, means they look content to take a team that couldn’t win 30 games, and go out there and not win 30 games.

They have their own draft pick, and since the incentives for all-out tanking are gone with lottery reform, there doesn’t seem to be a Sam Hinkie Sixers “trust the process” thing going on here. The indication is more of the same, like another 25-30 win season.

The Roster

Can we pretty much agree that Allen Crabbe at $18 million is one of the NBA’s worst contracts?

Crabbe came over from Portland and became a shot misser supreme, hitting 40.3 percent from the field and 37.8 from three, watching his True Shooting plunge from .602 to .558, and basically becoming a role-player specialist…who makes $18 million.

It’s not that Crabbe is a total loss; he’s a positive-VORP guy, a wonderful instant-offense sixth man (too bad Brooklyn has to start him because their roster’s awful), and a bad but not completely atrocious defender.

But that means you’ve got a mediocre sixth-man level shooting guard starting. 28 wins don’t happen in a vacuum.

Spencer Dinwiddie, meanwhile, got fished out of the G-League, rescued off Detroit’s scrap heap, pressed into service when Jeremy Lin ate it in the first week of the season in 2017-18, and…

Look at that. 38.7 percent shooting, 32.6 from three, and an even worse defender than Crabbe.

Now, granted, Dinwiddie’s emerged as a good ball distributor, racking up 524 assists against just 128 turnovers, with none of the gunslinging that you see from guys who cost their teams possessions while thinking they’re Magic Johnson (Lonzo Ball, looking at you.)

Of course, that means I pretty much just compared Spencer Dinwiddie to Trent Dilfer, but there are worse things to be than a “game manager”, especially on a bad team that plays so up-tempo that mistakes tend to multiply.

Elsewhere on this roster, there’s D’Angelo Russell (draft bust!), DeMarre Carroll (hasn’t been good since he left Atlanta), Kenneth Faried (last seen on a milk carton), Jared Dudley (averaged 3.2 points on the worst team in the league last year), and Ed Davis (because why have one mediocre former Trail Blazer on your team when you can have two?)

Signs Of Hope

The real sign of hope on this team is young Jarrett Allen, who at 20 years old is a raw talent who showed flashes last year of being one of those guys who’s either going to be a superstar or a complete bum, with almost no in-between.

On the one hand, he’s already shooting 33.3 percent from three as a stretch 5, he’s possibly the best defensive talent on the team, and he was a significant plus-VORP guy even as he was pressed into starting duty as a 19-year-old rookie.

On the other hand, when the Nets played the Pacers, Al Jefferson mopped the floor with Allen and made him look like he couldn’t start in the G-League. Could this be a sign that the scouting report on Allen will be to go big on him and dare him to move his game outside? If that’s true, his ceiling is “poor man’s Myles Turner” rather than the Super Saiyan Brook Lopez the Nets hope Allen will be.

Caris LeVert, who turned 24 in August and who enters his third season in the league (and yes, that means he’s getting an Is He Any Good on one of these Thursdays during the year, stay tuned), improved his three-point shooting to 34.7 percent even as his eFG% dropped and his fundamental advanced stats were iterative rather than meteoric in their rise.

LeVert has the potential to be a slick-passing small forward with an outside shot who can be a Swiss Army knife on offense, befitting the wildly over-optimistic nickname of “Baby Durant” that Nets fans want him to live up to. He’s not Kevin Durant—he will never be one-tenth the player Kevin Durant is—but an ersatz Durant, style-wise if not stat-wise, that’s a fair ceiling.

Or he could just be that guy the Pacers traded for Thaddeus Young, and the Pacers decisively won that trade.

THE VERDICT!

The Nets simply are not good. If Allen has a breakout year, if Crabbe and Dinwiddie and Russell ever learn to shoot, if LeVert continues to evolve, if the pile of nobodies the Nets call rookies because Cleveland drafted Collin Sexton with the pick Brooklyn gifted them via the Celtics turn into anything worthwhile…

If.

You see where this is going. The Nets won 28 games last year. They play in a viciously difficult division alongside the Celtics, Sixers, Raptors, and even the beat-them-last-year Knicks (who we’ll cover tomorrow.) They have nothing that isn’t just “the same but more” on their roster.

So I’m going to predict they win 28 games again. That’s under 32.5, so that’s me on the record.

Are the Nets good? This one’s Busted. Bet the under.