Expectations have plagued the Nets these past few seasons, with some of the most spectacular on-paper super teams assembled constantly falling short due to various melodramatic reasons.
This season will be a relief from that pressure, having traded all their superstars last year for a newly assembled young and scrappy lineup.
Internal development, injuries, chemistry, shooting and many other factors can sway the trajectory of a season, but barring too many outliers, it’s fair to ask what the proper expectations are for this team. Brooklyn is banking on guys like Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to be core franchise pieces, but how far can they lead their team in the short term and how much does it matter?
The oddsmakers currently paint the Nets as a 37-38 win squad, good for 10th in the Eastern Conference, just making the Play-In Tournament. That puts them behind the Bulls, Pacers and Hawks, and in 2023 would’ve seeded them 11th.
A Bleacher Report projections article gives them a few more wins at 41, but last year’s performance suggests less optimism. The Nets went 12-15 post-trade, a 36-win rate over a full season.
They had a negative point differential per 100 possessions, good for 19th in the league during that stretch. They were below average defensively and in the bottom eight offensively.
In their defense, the entire roster was upended and didn’t get much time to find chemistry. They now have a full offseason with less rotational clutter and distraction to prove they’re better than what we’ve seen.
Brooklyn has every incentive to, without their own picks to tank for and assets to trade for added talent. Show their retool is real, secure another major piece and it’ll be like they never left the upper tier of the East.
Though they were swept in the 2023 playoffs, the individual performances from their key cogs are a good takeaway. If Bridges and Johnson keep improving toward their potential ceilings, the Nets can surprise some people.
Bridges averaged an efficient 26.1 points and Johnson 16.6 in their short regular season stints in the black and white. They’ll need to improve their playmaking and creation but should have more help around them this year.
Brooklyn didn’t make their big trade yet, but moved away from duplicative veterans that couldn’t find consistent roles and ate away rotation minutes. In their place are some interesting young prospects, and whatever Ben Simmons turns out to be.
Between the newly-secured Dennis Smith Jr., Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith, Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton, Brooklyn should have the goal of a top-ten defense. Pile together even a middling offense and you can make the postseason that way.
The playoffs shouldn’t be looked at as do-or-die for this team, however. As is, they’re in no shape to contend, and while the added experience would be helpful it’s not world-changing if they don’t make it.
Exceed expectations in the regular season and/or steal a series from a higher seed and you have undeniable proof the franchise is getting back on track. It would take a lot going right, especially from Simmons and the injury front, but isn’t unthinkable.
Ultimately, it’ll be the internal development that marks how successful of a season this is for the Nets. They’re now a younger team trying to rebuild their identity and culture, and steps made there should define what’s a winning year.