With baseball, golf and the New York Rangers’ playoff run about to consume this city’s sports pages and sports programs, the Nets and Knicks inability to get into the postseason makes them as topical, as trending as the final bit of snow that fell last month.
To the Brooklyn Nets’ credit, there has been no discrepancy about the geometric shape of their offense. No Jedi mind tricks with its players, and all former players are welcomed at Barclays Center. All court dates are reserved for basketball on Barclays’ court located on Flatbush and Atlantic. With Brooklyn, it’s about a win, not Zen.
The 2016-17 regular season is officially over. Like the Knicks, Brooklyn is now just one of 14—14 being the number of teams that didn’t make the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday. Brooklyn didn’t make it because of their last-place finish in the Eastern Conference. They own the worst record in the NBA, the least number of wins and the most losses. Of this season’s 82 games, which began in late October, it took the Nets until Saturday to win their 20th, six months later. There were only six road wins, 60-plus total losses comprising an 11-game losing streak and a 16-game losing streak. It can be analyzed in one of two ways. Either they’ve won just 25 percent of their games, or they’ve lost 75 percent of them.
Brooklyn has only won a back to back twice this season. Their longest win streak has been three, both achievements made during the second half of this season. Although there has been no real decline in Brooklyn’s 21-61 record, 14th place from last year, their last-place standing this season is more pronounced, embellished because of the minor improvements of the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly, in last place last season, a 10-72 record, bounded over Brooklyn this year, winning 28 games, a plus 18 in this year’s win column.
Brooklyn has several assets, the most notable being veteran center Brooke Lopez, 29, and seventh-year guard Jeremy Lin, along with rookie guards Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead. Lopez, playing in more than 70 games this season, is one of the league’s most consistent players. He averaged 20.5 points and 5 rebounds per game this season. Lin, injured for more than half of this season’s games, his first one with Brooklyn, averaged 14.5 points and 5 assists when healthy. LeVert, the rookie from Michigan, averaged 8 points and approximately 2 rebounds. Whitehead, from Coney Island, Brooklyn, a graduate of Lincoln High School who attended Seton Hall, averaged 7.5 points and 2.6 assists.
Forwards Rondae Hollis Jefferson, 22 (8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds), in his second year, and Trevor Booker, 29 (10 points, 8 rebounds), in his sixth year, have also been bright lights for the Nets.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t complacent, and like any coach, he wants to make his team better, but he’s been pleased with the nucleus of players that he’s developed in his first year with this team. He’s the first to recognize that they’re a much better defensive team than an offensive team, something that he’s understood since training camp, all the while hoping that the offensive play will eventually catch up.
In regard to improving this Brooklyn team, Atkinson emphasized, “I’m so focused on how we can get the guys on our roster better. We’re obsessed with that as a staff. One through 15, how we can get those guys better. That’s going to be our mindset going into the offseason.”
When asked about augmenting this group, Atkinson said, “I’m sure that I have a list that’s utopian. I think where we are, we really have to take a lot of pride in developing the players that we have. I think when you look down the list, I feel like there’s been improvement. We’re looking for a lot more, so to me, that’s your wish list. Get these guys better that are on our roster.”
For Atkinson, that’s essential for this team, and their supportive fans.