The Brooklyn Nets are going to look a lot different next season than they did last season. But you probably won’t notice the difference until the starters take a seat and the bench gets involved.
General manager Sean Marks has executed a role-player overhaul this summer, adding six new players to the roster and subtracting a handful more to hopefully bring something resembling stability to a team that suited up 22 men last season.
It is unlikely, however, that any of the Nets’ newcomers will be in the starting five on 2018-19’s opening night.
Brooklyn’s offseason haul include 2018 draft picks Dzanan Musa and Rodion Kurucs; free agents Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis; and trade acquisitions Kenneth Faried and Jared Dudley, whom the Nets landed via trades with the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, respectively.
The Nets also traded for future Hall of Fame center Dwight Howard, but promptly bought him out. (He then signed with the Washington Wizards.) Darrell Arthur, who came to Brooklyn in the Faried trade, didn’t even get fitted for a Nets uniform before the team sent him to Phoenix in the Dudley deal.
Brooklyn also acquired the draft rights to 21-year-old French guard Isaia Cordinier in the Jeremy Lin trade, but Cordinier is recovering from double knee surgery and is viewed as a draft-and-stash prospect. He may never make an NBA appearance – at least not this upcoming season.
None of the Nets’ newcomers are expected to supplant returners D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen — the team’s projected starting five.
But they can make a difference and help Brooklyn take the small steps necessary toward returning to the playoffs … or at least crack the 30-win barrier for the first time since 2015.
Which Nets newcomer will make the biggest impact?
Looking at the roster and the resumes, Faried would look like the one with the greatest potential to contribute right away.
The 28-year-old big man fell out of the rotation in Denver, but he’s not too far removed from the days when he was good enough to be on the U.S. national team at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. That same year, the Nuggets inked “The Manimal” to a four-year, $50 million contract extension and appeared ready to make him the face of the franchise.
Faried was good for about 13 points and nine rebounds per game at the time. With his high-energy, high-flying, power-dunking style, he was a fan favorite and was starting to pop up in some of the NBA’s national marketing campaigns.
But Faried never made that leap to the next level of stardom. Then after the Nuggets hired Mike Malone as their head coach in 2015, Faried’s role decreased gradually, as his skill set just didn’t fit with Malone’s system. Last season, Faried saw action in only 32 games, and played just 14 minutes per night when he did make it off the bench.
In Brooklyn, Faried is penciled in as a backup to starting center Jarrett Allen, who is only 20 years old and still has a lot of developing to do. He’ll have to compete with Davis for time, but Faried is a natural power forward, so there can be minutes for him at that position as well. There should be an opportunities for Faried to become a productive player in the league again.
Napier is also a strong candidate to be the Nets’ biggest impact newcomer.
He had some standout moments last season as the backup to All-Star point guard Damian Lillard with the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 8.7 points and 2.0 assists in 20 minutes per game. In the 10 games Napier started, he averaged 15.0 points and 4.2 assists in 33 minutes per game.
But on the Nets’ depth chart, Napier is slotted at No. 3 behind D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie at point guard. Russell and Dinwiddie also happen to be arguably Brooklyn’s two best players; Russell led the team in scoring last season (15.5 ppg) while Dinwiddie led the team in assists (6.6 apg).
Unless one of them gets injured, or Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson plans to run a lot of small-ball and guard-heavy lineups, Napier may not get as much playing time as you’d expect for a player who left a playoff team to join a lottery team.
Among the Nets’ new additions, I think the one who will make the biggest impact next season is rookie Dzanan Musa.
Listed at 6-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Musa is a 19-year-old from Bosnia & Herzegovina who will most likely play shooting guard and/or small forward, but also played some point guard with his Croatian League team and could even be a power forward in a small lineup.
Musa averaged 12.3 points per game last season for the Croatian club Cedevita, hitting 47 percent of his field goals and 31 percent of his three-pointers. He won the EuroCup’s Rising Star Trophy, as well as the ABA League’s Top Prospect honor and was named to the All-ABA League team.
The Nets landed Musa with the 29th pick in the first round, but his talent and potential had him projected by a lot of draft experts to go earlier.
Musa will have some veterans ahead of him on the depth chart going into training camp — including Crabbe, Carroll, Caris LeVert and Joe Harris — but his versatility and ability to play more than two positions could buy him court time wherever the Nets may be lacking depth at a given time.
Musa’s game reminds me a lot of Bogdan Bogdanovic, who averaged 11.8 points as a rookie for the Sacramento Kings last season. Bogdanovic may have been the best pure shooter in the 2017-18 rookie class. Musa has a similar ability to shoot with range and create his own offense, plus he’s three inches taller than Bogdanovic.
Of course there are weaknesses and areas in Musa’s game where he’ll struggle, and that will cost him playing time. He’ll almost certainly be pressed to add some muscle to his slender frame, which could impact how much Atkinson uses him until he gets stronger; especially as his strength (or lack thereof) will play a factor into how he’s able to defend on the NBA level.
In Europe, Musa played with the confidence of Stephen Curry on a hot streak and appeared to have a green light to do pretty much whatever he wanted. How will he respond when he doesn’t get as much freedom and room to take risks on an NBA court?
Musa has a lot of upside and the look of a player who can be very good in a few years. But I think he will be better than a lot of people expect this year.
More than a long-term project, Musa could be a short-term solution and Brooklyn’s most valuable newcomer.