Five bold predictions for the Nets ahead of the 2019-20 season: Brooklyn wins in first round of the playoffs
Even with Kevin Durant sidelined, the Nets will still make noise in the playoffs
The Brooklyn Nets' offseason went as well as any team in the league would want, especially if you're a Knicks fan. They brought in Kyrie Irving, while executing a sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant, sending D'Angelo Russell to the Bay Area. Durant will likely miss the entire 2019-20 season, but the Nets will still be competitive this year.
A season ago, Brooklyn was the fun, upstart team that surprised everyone by, first, making the playoffs, and then, challenging the far superior Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the postseason. They were lauded for finally getting out from underneath that abysmal 2014 trade, where they sent five players and three future first-round draft picks to Boston for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce tandem. They created a young, promising core worth talking about, and in signing Durant and Irving expedited their championship timeline by a couple of years.
This might be the final season the Nets won't have championship expectations on them for a while, but that doesn't mean there aren't high goals for this team. Before the 2019-20 season starts, here are five bold predictions about what could happen in Brooklyn.
1. Nets start season fast, finish slow
Brooklyn has the benefit of a favorable schedule to start the season, which will help this team build chemistry with a player like Kyrie Irving. Before the All-Star break, the Nets get to play most of the bottom of the barrel teams around the league multiple times. They play the Knicks four times, Pistons, Hornets and Hawks three times and the Bulls and Suns twice. Those are 17 very winnable games in the first half of the season, while only playing Milwaukee once, and not playing the Clippers at all until March. The first half of the schedule does get balanced out by three meetings against Philadelphia and Toronto, and two games each against Boston, Houston, Denver and Utah, but the Nets could win a handful of those matchups.
The downside to that, however, is the second half of Brooklyn's schedule is a bit rocky. There's a week in March where the Nets go on the road to play the Lakers, Warriors and Clippers, with the last two being on back-to-back nights. Brooklyn also ends their schedule playing Milwaukee twice within the final two weeks of the regular season. These stretches will test this young team's ability to perform against some of the best teams in the league, which will surely prepare them for the postseason. The stretch at the end of the season may be rough, but with a lighter schedule to start the year, Brooklyn will have already stacked up enough wins against the worst teams in the East to finish high in the standings.
2. Kyrie Irving's leadership doesn't hurt or help the Nets
Last season, Irving was under a microscope -- largely because of his own doing -- for how he was leading the young Celtics core. He consistently criticized the younger players for lacking experience in pressure situations, despite the fact those same players made it to the Eastern Conference finals without Irving. After making an early commitment to the Celtics in front of a packed TD Garden at the start of the 2018-19 season, everything from that point on went downhill. Irving quickly changed his tune, from wanting his No. 11 jersey hanging in the rafters, to saying he didn't owe anyone anything.
Irving tumbled out of Boston and into Brooklyn, where there's another young core looking for an elite player to push them over the edge. On media day, Irving owned up to the mistakes he made in Boston, and how he failed that team. He showed humility, and that he's turned over a new leaf. While much has been made about how Irving will mesh with this team, and if he will fall back into old habits by publicly calling out his teammates, that shouldn't be an issue in Brooklyn.
That's not because Irving will miraculously become the leader who motivates those around him and uplifts his teammates, instead, he may just not say anything at all. Irving's never been considered a leader, and he was forced into that role in Boston. Trying to place those expectations on a player who is not accustomed to being a leader can create situations like we saw with the Celtics team last year.
Remember, Irving didn't choose Boston, he was traded there. Irving may have learned from the mistakes he made with the Celtics, but that doesn't mean he'll do a complete 180 with this young Brooklyn squad. Instead, he may just be stuck in neutral this season until Durant returns in 2021 to take on that leadership role.
3. Joe Harris leads the league in 3-point shooting for second-straight season
Playing international ball can either help or hurt a player in the following season. Many of the league's top talents elected to not compete for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, afraid that fatigue would affect them ahead of the 2019-20 season. That fear is legitimate, and it has caused players to get off to slow starts. Don't expect that from Joe Harris though. During the World Cup, Harris shot 50 percent from beyond the arc, and those reps will only help him get into a groove early in the season and maintain a high average as the season wears on.
All the usual suspects who top the league in 3-point percentage will be there, with both Curry brother's poised for big seasons, but Harris is as consistent and automatic as they come. He moves effortlessly without the ball, much like Klay Thompson for the Warriors, and while his silky smooth jumper gets all the attention, his ability to lose his man when cutting to the basket while he's fed an easy layup is underrated.
This year, Harris will have an upgrade at the point guard position with Irving bringing the ball up the court. Irving will command even more attention than Russell did, which will create even better looks for Harris on the perimeter. Last season, Harris started in every game he played in for the first time in his career and showed he can be one of the best sharpshooters in the league. With a slightly upgraded roster, and higher expectations for Brooklyn, expect him to build on last season's shooting numbers.
4. Jarrett Allen's development is hindered by DeAndre Jordan's presence
One of the more head-scratching moves made during free agency was when the Nets agreed to sign DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal, not because they needed him but because it was essentially a favor to Durant and Irving. The trio are all friends, and Jordan benefited from having the right friends. That's not to say he's completely useless, Jordan just hasn't been his All-Defensive self since he formed a fearsome tandem with Blake Griffin in Los Angeles.
The move also doesn't bode well for Jarrett Allen who became a full-time starter last year while averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and nearly two blocks a game. Allen and Jordan could split the starting center minutes, with Jordan being used against bigger, stronger centers seeing as that was a weak spot for Allen last year. That could potentially be harmful to Allen's growth, because if his role is reduced to only a part-time starter, he'll never be able to improve on the success from last season.
5. Nets will get past the first round of the playoffs
The Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have the top two spots in the East as good as locked up, but after that, the East is up for grabs in the standings. The Nets will compete with Boston, Toronto and potentially Miami for the third and fourth spots in the East, and each of these teams is dealing with integrating new players or adjusting to losing a key piece in the offseason. Boston will most likely finish in the third spot, leaving the door open for Irving and the Nets to finish in the top four, while securing home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Last season, Brooklyn ranked 29th -- that's right, behind even Phoenix -- in home attendance. Even with a state-of-the-art arena, and an exciting young team, the Nets couldn't draw interest to the Barclays Center. With Irving, that will likely change, giving the Nets a true home-court advantage.
That will come in handy in the first round where they could likely go against the Heat in a 4/5 matchup. This has the potential to be a must-watch playoff series, with it going the full seven games. Jimmy Butler will be a problem on both ends of the floor, but in the end Irving, Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert will prove to be too much for the Heat. Brooklyn would win its first playoff series since the 2013-14 season, before bowing out to the No. 1 seed in the East.
The 2019-20 season won't be without growing pains for the Nets, and they will receive a lot more attention than seasons past. Without Durant, expectations will be tempered, which will allow Brooklyn to surprise people around the league again. Irving may not fully figure out how to lead this team, but his on-court performance will negate any speculation that he's ruining this young core. They may not be the team to beat in the East this year, but a first-round playoff win, and establishing chemistry between Irving and the rest of the team, are solid consolation prizes ahead of Durant's return from injury.
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