Lichtenstein: Inconsistent Efforts A Recurring Theme In Nets' Midseason Grades

Steve Lichtenstein
January 16, 2020 - 1:13 pm

Since general manager Sean Marks’ opening statement just prior to Nets Media Day that he expects superstar forward Kevin Durant to miss the entire 2019-20 campaign while recovering from Achilles surgery, this season has had the general feel of an evaluation period. As in, which players on this roster are capable of riding alongside Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving to give this franchise its best shot to garner its first ever NBA championship?

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Irving said as much following Wednesday night’s 117-106 loss in Philadelphia that dropped Brooklyn’s record to 18-22 as it nears the season’s midpoint. 

“Collectively I feel like we have great pieces, but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that complement myself, KD, (DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple), Spencer (Dinwiddie), Caris (LeVert) and we’ll see how that evolves,” Irving said.

Certain roster decisions and rotations, in my view, were not based on maximizing this season’s win total, especially when further injuries took a heavy toll. 

When Irving (26 games missed) and LeVert (25 games) went down nearly simultaneously and then energy bunny David Nwaba was lost for the season with an Achilles injury, Marks barely responded to the crisis, preferring to see how his development prospects performed under brighter lights. 

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets on Nov 14, 2019 at the Pepsi Center.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It's not like Brooklyn has a whole lot of time to figure this out. Durant and Irving each have opt-outs after year three of their contracts.  With that in mind, I’m going to hand out mid-term grades based on what I presume the Nets’ agenda has been. 

The grades below are based on how well each player has shown that they would fit onto a true contending team, though not necessarily in the role they’ve been performing this season. Anything below a B is “failing”, in that the player needs to amp up his game or the Nets should look elsewhere for upgrades.

The Nets mid-term grades:

Kyrie Irving (A-minus):  The fools who started the “Nets are better off without Kyrie” takes were silenced during Brooklyn’s seven-game losing streak that preceded his return. The numbers support the eye test—the Nets operate like a top-three offense when he’s been on the court and the second-worst offense in the league when he’s been off.  I need to see Irving defend more consistently before bumping him up further.  Otherwise, he’s been as sensational as advertised.

Spencer Dinwiddie (A-minus): His straight-line drives are unlike anyone else’s in the league. Decision-making, three-point shooting, and passing accuracy could be better, but he basically carried this team for almost two months.

Caris LeVert (B-plus): I’m not going to dock him for the time he missed. It’s the inconsistency on both ends. Sometimes he has looked like he has picked up right where he left off from last season’s terrific playoff experience.  He has been ineffective in too many others, leading to fourth quarter benchings.  The jury’s still out as to whether he can be Brooklyn’s “third star.”

Nets guard Caris LeVert

Joe Harris (B-plus): That Harris nearly hit on 40% of his three-pointers during Irving’s absence, when the whole arena was keying on him and Dinwiddie, made him a must-sign when he hits free agency after the season — One of the few Nets who consistently made effort plays that are so crucial in close games.

Taurean Prince: (B): No one missed Irving more than Prince. Playing up from his true position, the stretch-four has knocked down 41.1% of his 3s in games Irving played, and 33.3% when he hasn’t.  He just looks so much more relaxed and doesn’t try to do too much off the dribble.  Whenever KD comes back, Prince will turn into a very valuable bench contributor.

Jarrett Allen (B): I was waffling a bit here, but Allen’s improvement on the glass this season got him a passing grade.  An elite rim protector, I’d still like to see fewer instances where he’s bullied out of plays.  Free throws and paint shots outside the restricted area are other areas that require improvement.

DeAndre Jordan (B): Like a high school superstar jock, Jordan will pass no matter the true grade (C-minus).  He’s a FOK—Friend of Kevin.  It’s allowed him to get away with many lackadaisical efforts this season.  He’s still a fabulous dunker and can be an important defensive fulcrum on the nights he tries.

Brooklyn Nets' DeAndre Jordan, left, David Nwaba celebrate beating the Los Angeles Lakers in a preseason NBA game in Shanghai, China, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.
AP Photo

Garrett Temple (C): Was given way too much responsibility during the injury plague.  Even with a few standout outings, his shooting split this season stands at a putrid 35.8/31.5/73.7.  He’s a guy you want in the locker room, but on the floor? Only in dire emergencies.

Rodions Kurucs: (C-minus): A couple of throwback (to last season as a rookie) performances in recent games hasn’t undone Kurucs’ strange start.  He was a turnover machine and couldn’t shoot straight, playing his way from starter to reserve to the G-League.  Kurucs admitted that his offseason arrest for domestic violence had an effect on his play.  The rampant fouling is still a concern, but at least the energy and marksmanship from deep have returned.

Wilson Chandler (C-minus): The 25-game PED suspension messed Chandler up on many levels. He has come back rusty and then missed a couple of games with a hamstring injury.  He had opportunities to establish himself as an alpha dog for a decimated bench mob, but he just hasn’t had it.

Nic Claxton (C-minus): There’s not much to go on given that he’s played just 120 NBA minutes this season.  I have (irrationally) high hopes that the skills of this 20-year old rookie can be developed into a poor man’s Chris Bosh-type player.  I’m doubtful, however, that it will flower in the next two years.  Trade piece?

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (C-minus): The latest interest of coach Kenny Atkinson’s irrational love affairs.  He’s simply overrated, especially on the defensive end.  Twitter goes gaga every time he hits a three-pointer, yet he’s at 32.4% on the season.  Also sports the team’s second-highest turnover percentage behind Kurucs.  Of course, his two-way deal was converted on Wednesday into a 10-day contract — a waste of a roster spot.   

Dzanan Musa (D): ESPN’s Zach Lowe marveled at Musa’s outsized “ambition-to-talent-ratio”, knocking his offensive aggression.  He sometimes looks like he can be a useful player, but we need to see some results before he can be relied upon.   

Theo Pinson (F): Shouldn’t even be on the team given how poorly he played when presented with a golden opportunity.  As the emergency backup point guard, Pinson was a well of bad decisions.  He’s shooting 29.7% overall and 20.6% on three-pointers.  But his teammates do love him.   

Kevin Durant (Incomplete):  If you’re allowing anyone a redshirt season, it’s KD.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1