STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
When Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov officially took over as majority owner of the Nets back in May, he had one hell of a mess to clean up. Nets fans weren’t quite sure what to expect either. They had just completed a season of epic ineptitude, finishing 12-70, narrowly avoiding the single season record for least regular season wins. Their home base will continue to be in flux until they settle in Brooklyn in 2013. And Ivan Drago had just bought the team. Fast forward four months later, and the “Nyets” have undergone a complete 180. The current roster sports 12(!) new faces – almost all of who figure to play a significant role on this year’s team. Gone is the old regime of Kiki Vanderweghe and Rod Thorn. Enter former 76ers GM Billy King, and boisterous new head coach Avery Johnson. They’ve ridded themselves of bad apples like Chris Douglas-Roberts and injured veterans Tony Battie and Keyon Dooling, while adding a plethora of new pieces. First-round picks Derrick Favors and Damion James both figure to have bright futures, and, along with trade acquisition Troy Murphy, shore up the power forward slot previously occupied by the maddening inconsistent Yi Jianlian. Other welcome additions include lengthy sharpshooters Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw, defensive stalwart Quinton Ross, capable yet underachieving center Johan Petro, former No. 1 pick Joe Smith and Derek Fisher’s former sidekick Jordan Farmar (and his hardware). These pieces will surround a core of Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and Terrence Williams, certainly giving this current Nets incarnation the potential for a drastic turnaround in the win column.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Expect Brook Lopez to play upwards of 35 minutes, with Johan Petro playing the Josh Boone role and snagging around 15. Undrafted rookie Brian Zoubek could see around 10 minutes should he make the roster. Assuming Johnson plans to bring rookie Derrick Favors off the bench to begin the season, Troy Murphy will likely eat up around 25-30 minutes, with Favors seeing 15-20 and Kris Humphries settling for 5-10. Travis Outlaw looks to be penciled in at the three and should see 20-25 minutes, with Quinton Ross spelling him for around 15 and Damion James getting garbage time minutes unless he impresses during the preseason. Terrence Williams and Anthony Morrow will share time at the two, with both probably looking at 20-25 minutes apiece, with the edge going to Williams. Recently acquired Stephen Graham could also be in line for 5-10 minutes at either the two or the three. Devin Harris will once again log big minutes at the point, likely around 30-35, while backup Jordan Farmar will see what’s left – typically between 10-15.
Brook Lopez: Lopez took the proverbial “next step” last season and progressed across the board as the Nets constantly struggled to find offense and leaned on Lopez for productivity. He responded by playing all 82 games, averaging 18.8 points and 8.7 rebounds while still managing to shoot 50 percent from the floor despite having to take more shots (nearly 14 per game, up from 10 in 2008), and not having a fully healthy Devin Harris feeding him the rock for much of the season. Lopez gets to the line fairly often and strokes it at nearly 82 percent – tops amongst seven-footers, making him an elite asset in fantasy.
Johan Petro: Petro has been in the NBA since 2005, never once averaging more than six points, five rebounds or one block per game. In fact, Petro’s career high in blocks came during his rookie season when he averaged 0.8. He'll be more of a lane-clogger than anything else while he gives Brook Lopez a breather.
Brian Zoubek: At 7-1, 260, Zoubek is a big boy. A big boy with big foot issues. He’s broken his left foot twice, but managed to stay healthy last season and post some respectable numbers at Duke (5.5 points, 7.7 rebounds). It remains to be seen if he’ll stick with the squad given his injury history, and he’ll likely see his fair share of DNP-CDs should the Nets decide to keep him.
Derrick Favors: The 6-10 Favors averaged 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 2.1 blocks as a freshman at Georgia Tech last season. He’s an offensive rebounding machine and an excellent finisher around the basket. Favors also lacked genuine playmakers at GT to get him the rock, so having former All-Star Devin Harris will benefit his offensive numbers. On the downside, Favors is fairly turnover-prone, and his biggest test will be his ability to hit a mid-range shot with consistency. He’ll also have healthy competition for minutes, with Joe Smith and Troy Murphy also vying for time.
Troy Murphy: The Nets traded one of their core pieces, Courtney Lee, to the Rockets in a three-way deal to acquire Murphy. And while his stay in NJ may not be a long one, the Nets did well to find a salary dump as productive and professional as Murphy. He’ll likely be everything Nets fans hoped Yi Jianlian would become. He’s not afraid to shoot from distance (and he does so with accuracy, 38 percent last season), and unlike Yi, the man crashes the boards (10.2 last season). Plus, Murphy’s range means fewer double teams on Brook Lopez, also a bonus.
Joe Smith: It’s hard to believe Smith has been meandering around in mediocrity for 15 years now, with New Jersey being Smith’s 11th NBA city. He’s only once played a full NBA season (his rookie year), and averaged a career low 3.0 PPG in 64 games in 2009 with the Hawks. He’ll bring a veteran presence and not much else to the table.
Kris Humphries: Humphries emerged from obscurity to become a solid contributor for the lowly Nets during the second half of 2009. He averaged nearly 7.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 19 minutes per game post All-Star break, making him serviceable, but not much else. He now finds himself buried on the PF depth chart, and will have a hard time cracking the lineup.
Travis Outlaw: At just 26, Outlaw has already amassed eight NBA seasons, making him a full-fledged veteran when he should just be entering his prime. His most productive season came in 2007 for the Trail Blazers when he averaged 13.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in 26 MPG. He’s got nice height for a SF and can shoot the three relatively well (36.4 percent career), but injuries the past two seasons (34 games combined) have stunted his progress. If healthy, he could be in for his most productive season yet as an undisputed starter.
Quinton Ross: Ross, like Bruce Bowen, has found minutes in the league strictly for his defensive capabilities. Unlike Bowen, Ross doesn’t shoot the rock particularly well from any range, and injuries limited him to just 52 games last season. He’s seen his minutes drop significantly over the past two seasons since leaving the Clippers (one of the rare cases when a player’s career worsens after leaving the Clips). He averaged a paltry 1.5 PPG in 2009.
Damion James: The 24th pick in this year’s draft, James finished his career at Texas as the leading rebounder in Big 12 history. He brings tons of energy to both sides of the floor, and a 7-1 wingspan to boot. He averaged 18.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks as a senior, making him a valuable Shawn Marion-like commodity at 6-7. He’ll have a chance to unseat Ross for the backup SF spot, but he’ll need to improve his midrange game to advance at the NBA level.
Stephen Graham: The Nets signed Graham mainly as insurance, and he’ll likely shuffle between the two and the three should he see minutes at either position. He played a career-high 70 games for the Bobcats last season, but only managed 4.2 PPG.
Devin Harris: Harris’ 2009 season was a serious letdown, all things considered. His average dipped from 21.3 in ’08 to 16.9, while the rest of his stats also dipped across the board. He dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season, and missed significant portions of time in November and again in January. Harris finished strong though, and should certainly benefit from the improved talent surrounding him this season. If healthy, Harris could be in for a rebound year and is a nice sleeper entering 2010.
Jordan Farmar: After four seasons and two championship rings as Derek Fisher’s caddy in Los Angeles, Farmar brings his playoff-tested resume to the opposite end of the spectrum in NJ. He’ll haul in roughly one three-pointer and one steal per game should he see around 20 minutes. He’s one to keep an eye on considering Devin Harris’ injury history.
Terrence Williams: Williams’ 2009 season fluctuated from immense potential, to being benched for nearly three months midseason due to attitude issues, to rounding out the season as an all-around force. He’s earned the starting shooting guard spot as of now, but his FG percentage (40.1 percent) must improve.
Anthony Morrow: A shrew pickup from the Warriors, Morrow will split time with Terrence Williams at the two and give the Nets a legitimate deep threat. Morrow shot a blistering 45 percent from downtown last season (averaging exactly 2.0 threes a game), in just under 30 minutes. He’s also lights out from the charity stripe and will grab around one steal per game.
Ben Uzoh: Physically, the 6-3 prospect from Tulsa is a freak, with a 6-9 wingspan and massive leaping ability. Somewhat resembles Beno Udrih from a statistical (and nominal) standpoint - he averaged 15.3 points, 4.7 assists, and 1.0 steals his senior season. How his game translates to the NBA remains to be seen, but he’s currently third line for minutes at the point behind Harris and Jordan Farmar.
Terrence Williams: Williams’ average over the final two months of the season: 14.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.6 steals. That’s elite production, despite the fairly limited sample size. The Nets had nothing to lose giving their first-round pick some increased minutes, and he responded dramatically. He’s crazy athletic, an all-around stat stuffer, and a huge breakout candidate in 2010 as long as he keeps his head on straight.
Derrick Favors: He’ll likely be drafted earlier than expected based on potential and name recognition alone. Not to say he won’t have a solid year or an impressive future – but given the logjam of talent the Nets accumulated at power forward, it’ll be hard for Favors to see worthwhile minutes unless he explodes onto the scene or injury hits Murphy, Humphries, Smith, James or Petro.