Are the Nets contenders? Our insiders debate.
Chris Mannix: I wanna talk about the Brooklyn Nets, Howard, because, like Lazarus, the Nets have come back to life. They have won eight of their last nine games. They’re sitting in the four seed in the Eastern Conference. They are 15–7 since Jacque Vaughn took over as a head coach. … They are clicking right now as a team. So, have the Brooklyn Nets turned the corner? Are the Nets suddenly a conference contender?
Howard Beck: No, they’re not a conference contender.
A couple other quick numbers to just throw out before we get into it. They’re 11–3 in their last 14. Over the last 14, they’re 10th in offensive rating in that time and 11th in defensive rating in that time. And seventh in net rating. Strong, not elite, but you know, just outside the top 10 in offense and defense. For the season now, they’ve climbed all the way to 11th in offense and 13th in defense. Solid. Not great, not spectacular, not dominant. Solid.
Perspective on the 11–3. They beat Washington twice. Washington’s terrible, and one of those games was without Bradley Beal. They beat Charlotte. They beat Orlando. Bad teams. They beat some good teams that are missing key players. They beat the Hawks without Dejounte Murray and some other guys. They beat Memphis without Ja Morant or Jaren Jackson Jr. or Desmond Bane. They beat Portland twice, and one of those games was without Dame.
In the most significant matchup of this entire 14-game stretch, they got their butts kicked again by the Celtics. So, O.K., the first step to being good and respectable in this league is beating bad teams and hopefully beating some of the other only solid to good teams. But if you wanna be a contender, you gotta beat Boston. And it’s one game. It’s one game. They might be better equipped to beat the Celtics and the Bucks and some others later in the season if your belief in their offense only improving is true. But we’ve got some bigger tests coming up.
The Warriors will be here next week to play the Nets. That’ll be followed by the Bucks. And then the Nets are gonna go play a road game at Cleveland. So there you have the defending champs plus two of the top teams in the East coming up. And I think those will be better gauges.
Where I’m not sold, Chris, is this: as constructed, they are never going to be great defensively. There’s no framework for a top 10 defense there.
By the way, quick aside: The bar for the Nets shouldn’t be “Oh, they’re a few games over .500 now and they’ve recovered.” The bar for the Nets, with three max players—three guys who are All-NBA, one of whom, Kevin Durant, is playing at an MVP level—the bar ain’t “being pretty good.” …
Let’s be clear, the bar is title contention. Nothing less than that. If they just have a nice season, I’m not here to praise them for having three max players, three guys who have all been All-NBA in the last few years who are gonna be just good enough to be a four or five seed. That’s not the bar here, and that’s just not the standard.
So, they’re good. They’re better than they were. They’re still not at the level I think that they’re supposed to be given their star power, and I don’t know that they’re going to get there.