NEW JERSEY NETS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Despite winning just 24 games last season, the Nets have positioned themselves as one of the buzziest teams in the NBA entering 2012. They traded the majority of their assets in Devin Harris and rookie Derrick Favors to acquire Deron Williams at last year's trade deadline, and should Dwight Howard be lured to the swamps, they'll follow in the footsteps of the Heat, Knicks and at least one Los Angeles team by adopting the "hoarding superstars" approach. The supporting cast leaves much to be desired, however. This is a team that, at 94.2 PPG, ranked 28th in the league in scoring. They lost two of their better scorers, Sasha Vujacic and Kris Humprhies, to Europe and reality television, respectively, and while recently signed Shelden Williams will provide depth at the four though he's unlikely to replicate Humphries' production. They received modest output from wings Anthony Morrow, Stephen Graham, and the sorely overpaid Travis Outlaw, who became the Nets’ amnesty victim. This year, playing time at the wing should go to to second-year forward Damion James, who showed multi-category promise in 25 games last year before succumbing to a foot injury, and to free-agent signee Shawne Williams. It remains to be seen how the Nets' two rookies, Marshon Brooks and Jordan Williams, will be utilized by coach Avery Johnson, although both could be forced into action if Outlaw becomes an amnesty casualty and the team can't bulk up its front court. Brook Lopez swapped points for rebounds last season, and his surprising 6.0 RPG average may have stamped his ticket out of town. Backup guards Sundiata Gaines and Jordan Farmar both proved to be more than capable when pushed into action, while 12th men Johan Petro and Ben Uzoh are likely to continue in their limited roles.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Assuming he remains with the team, Lopez will once again push 35-plus minutes at the center position. With no other players besides Petro above 6'11, it seems foolish to think the Nets won't test drive some more front court bodies before the beginning of the season. The recent acquisition of Sheldon Williams is a testament to that, although he projects more as a PF and could emerge with upwards of 20 minutes per game while rookie Jordan Williams cuts his teeth in a backup role. Shawne Williams saved his career with an impressive run with last year’s Knicks - he and Damion James are both in line to see 20-25 mpg, with a slight edge to James who projects as the opening night starter. Morrow is all but locked in for 30-plus minutes at the two, with Graham and Brooks spelling him for 5-15 mpg each. Williams will play as much as the Nets need him to, and isn't likely to dip below 35 mpg even with two worthy backups breathing down his neck. Farmar wont' receive more than 15-20 mpg unless Avery Johnson decides to go small, while the gritty Gaines will probably only see garbage minutes barring a Williams injury, but could force his way onto the court for 10-12 mpg to spell Morrow.
Brook Lopez: Regardless of whether he lands in Orlando or remains in New Jersey, Lopez will continue to showcase one of the most polished all-around games of any big man in the league. The drastic dip in rebounds is troubling (8.7 to 6.0), although a surgically removed calcium deposit in his arm may have contributed to the slide. His real value lies in his percentages - especially his FT shooting - which remains stellar for his position at nearly 80 percent. He also earns an A-plus for reliability, as he hasn't missed a game since entering the league. Offensively, he was forced to take more shots than he was used to last season in his attempt to compensate for a lack of consistent point guard play, but was still able to keep his FG percentage near 50 percent. A healthy Deron Williams will remove some of the scoring burden, meaning the rebounding and shot-blocking levels he displayed during his rookie season (8.1 and 1.8, respectively) could be used as a baseline for 2012. Despite the turmoil surrounding his whereabouts, he projects as a safe option at a scare position.
Johan Petro: A career backup who couldn't revive his career in New Jersey, his fourth team in seven seasons. May see more minutes due to Humphries' absence, but fantasy owners should know not to bet on Petro's potential anymore.
Shawne Williams: Out of the league in 2009-10, Williams was signed off the scrap heap by Donnie Walsh and emerged as an important sub for the 2010-11 Knicks. This year he’ll join New York’s cross-river rival. He’s particularly dangerous hitting threes from the corner (40.1 shooting from three last season) and is a fairly capable defender at both forward spots. He could push second-year man Damion James for the starting spot at small forward or serve as a “stretch four” to replace Kris Humphries in the lineup.
Damion James: James' limited 2011 sample size doesn't tell the whole story about his overall ability. In college, he proved to be an imposing presence in all defensive statistical categories, totaling 10.3 RPG, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks his senior year at Texas. Slowed by a foot injury and a concussion last year, he'll likely get a second chance to see if he can translate that production to the pros because of his potential and the Nets' lack of capable bodies at the three.
Shelden Williams: Recently signed to a one-year deal, he'll provide New Jersey with much needed front court depth. Played in just 17 games for the Knicks last season, and sports career averages of 4.5 PPG and 4.0 RPG. Has played on seven teams in six seasons and at this point he's more of an asset in the locker room than he is on the court. Will provide minimal help from a fantasy prospective even if he sees minutes as a result of New Jersey's depleted frontline.
Jordan Williams: The 6-9 rookie from Maryland steps into a favorable situation as former starter Kris Humphries' absence has left a gaping hole at the four. However, Avery Johnson has been known to lean heavily on his veterans, and questions remain about his weight (250 lbs) and overall athletic ability. Averaged 16.9 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 1.4 BPG as a sophomore, although his passing and mid-range game still needs to be developed.
Stephen Graham: Provides defensive consistency and little else from both a fantasy - and reality - standpoint.
Marshon Brooks: A true scorer, the 25th pick in this year's draft averaged 24.6 PPG for Providence last year, and has been compared favorably to the Wizards' Nick Young by scouts. Scored 48 points at a Nike Pro City tournament in July, clearly demonstrating the ability to create his own shot. He'll start off the year behind Anthony Morrow, but at 6-5 could challenge for some time at the three as well.
Anthony Morrow: Morrow is an efficient gunner who's always a threat to knock down a three-ball. He'll remain the third scoring option regardless of Lopez's final destination, but could see even more open looks if New Jersey acquires Howard, as he garners greater attention in the low post. He's improved his scoring average each of the past three seasons, and his FT percentage is now at near-elite levels. As close to a sure thing as it gets on this team.
Jordan Farmar: Averaged career highs in points (9.6) and assists (5.0) last season, as Devin Harris' and Deron Williams' fragility allowed Farmar to shine in spurts. He remains one of the top backup PGs in the league but won't help much in fantasy unless given a starting gig, and owners can't bank on the Nets running consistent three-guard sets.
Sundiata Gaines: Gaines parlayed his brief fill-in success into a two-year contract, showcasing effective offensive ability and a nose for the ball (0.9 steals per game) in limited minutes. He's unlikely to overtake Farmar as Deron Williams' primary backup, but he's physical, feisty, and one to watch if Avery Johnson decides to play small ball.
Deron Williams: It doesn't get much better than Williams at the point. A wrist injury contributed to the slide in FG percentage (35 percent) during his 12 games with his new team, although he was still able to raise his assists to career-best levels (12.8 APG). His health will need to be monitored entering the season, but count on top-5 production regardless of who ends up manning the middle in New Jersey.
Damion James: Projected to step into the starting role due to his impressive, albeit limited showing last season, combined with the uncertainty surrounding Travis Outlaw's future. He's a hustler who may find himself putting back a lot of misses (there will be many with trigger-happy guards Morrow and Brooks) and crashing the offensive boards. He's not the best in one-on-one scenarios and needs to improve his mid-range game, but players with five-category upside are typically useful if given minutes, and he will see his fair share. Shawn Marion upside, Thabo Sefolosha downside.
Jordan Williams: He'll be pressed into action early because of New Jersey's lack of bigs, so the possibility of playing time and his gaudy collegiate numbers may entice some owners to take a late-round flyer. But he's not impressive athletically and works almost exclusively in the paint, which has posed problems for other heavier, undersized power forwards in past during their transitions to the NBA (see: Tractor Traylor, Marcus Fizer, et. al). The minutes may be there, but it remains to be seen how his game translates from NCAA to the pros.